Muscular endurance vs. muscular strength. The never ending battle in the fitness world. Most people know that muscular endurance and muscular strength are two different things, but not much more than that. Often, they don’t know how the two differ, what muscle types are prevalent with each, or how to train properly. The knowledge starts and ends with knowing that they aren’t the same.
Are you looking to move quickly and powerfully, or are you more of a take ‘my time and enjoy the view’ type of person? Do you like running marathons, or would you consider yourself more of a strongman (or woman)? For most people, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but do you know how to get there?
In order to achieve a balance, you first need to understand the difference in muscle types and what they react best to. Then, you need to train accordingly and consistently.
Strength vs Endurance
Strength can be defined as the ‘maximum force you can apply against a resisting force’. The word describes how much you can lift, squat, move, or otherwise press against in terms of weight or mass.
Endurance, on the other hand, is often defined as how long your muscles can work against a resistance before they grow tired.
The human body is amazing, and will adjust, based on how we train it. Our muscles will develop according to what we regularly do, and our bodies will display different characteristics based on our chosen activities. This is so true, that you can usually tell a strength athlete from an endurance athlete just by looking at them. Basketball players and powerlifters have incredibly different physiques, after all.
Activities Define Dominant Muscle Types
Long distance runners, basketball players, and soccer players are usually classified as endurance athletes. The ‘active’ periods of their sports generally last longer than a few minutes per event, meaning that their muscles grow and feed off of different energy sources than strength athletes.
Powerlifters, football players, and sprinters, however, are generally considered strength athletes due to the ‘active’ periods of participation being just seconds or minutes at a time.
The muscular buildup of the individual athlete differs based on activity, and their bodies react by developing Type 1 or Type 2 muscles.
Type 1 Muscles
Slow-twitch, or Type 1 muscles are those that can work over long periods of time without getting tired. These muscles usually don’t grow too much in size and differ from Type 2 based on their main source of energy.
When trained properly, the amount of mitochondria present in these cells increases. When this happens, the primary energy source ‘switches’ to more of a fatty acid based consumption. This allows Type 1 muscles to work longer without tiring, and explains how marathon runners are able to keep going for miles on end.
Type 2 Muscles
Where Type 1 muscles are geared towards long periods of time without growing tired, Type 2 muscles move quickly and powerfully to do the work they are meant to. Actions that require explosive bouts of power to conduct, such as sprinting, HIIT, and weight lifting, all recruit Type 2 muscles.
Type 2, or fast twitch muscles utilize ATP (the main energy source held within our muscles) very quickly. They need those stores to be replenished much faster than Type 1 muscles do. In order to combat the much faster rate of consumption, these muscles begin to store far more ATP, creatine phosphate, and glycogen than their Type 1 siblings. Once they reach their maximum capacity for ATP, CP, and glycogen, they increase in size. This is called hypertrophy, and is why strength athletes are generally more muscular looking.
What is Muscular Strength
Strength is defined as the force muscles can apply against outside resistance. It is determined through muscle size, structural build, physiological and environmental factors. Muscular strength can be seen in weight lifters piling on extra plates onto the barbell, marathoners running 26.2 miles, and everything in between.
There are different types of strength, and each is measured differently, applying to various actions. Among them include:
- Anaerobic Strength
- Aerobic Strength
- Speed Strength
- Maximum Strength
The crazy thing about strength is that it is semi-fluid. Our one-rep max can be higher or lower based on equipment, mood, weather/temperature, and a whole host of other factors. This is why it is important that athletes and fitness minded individuals do their best to control the factors they can (nutrition, hydration, sleep, etc.).
How Do I build Strength
Building up muscular strength is something that takes time, and is where resistance and endurance training comes into play. Lifting weights, sprinting, and doing other explosive type exercises helps muscles to build up their ability to perform.
How you build up strength depends on your goals, but they all are based on the same idea.
Higher levels of work = more gains in strength.
When it comes to weightlifting, extra resistance will bring along with it higher levels of strength. Cardiovascular strength, on the other hand, can be increased through high intensity activities.
What is Muscular Endurance
Where strength measures how much pressure you can apply to an outside object, endurance measures how many times you can apply force to an object without growing tired.
Sports are a fantastic way to describe the difference between strength and endurance. Wrestling, for example, has two-to-three minute rounds of all-out activity followed by a few minutes to recover. Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, rarely has any breaks and participants may find themselves skiing for hours without a break.
Endurance, like strength, can be impacted by internal and external factors, but usually by a lesser degree. This is especially true when you consider that endurance athletes generally train in multiple environments. Strength athletes, on the other hand (for the most part, barring certain exceptions), train in static environments. Gyms don’t usually deviate too far outside of their normal 65-70 degree temperature, and you definitely don’t find water on the equipment, for example. Runners, however, will participate rain or shine, and often regardless of the temperature.
How Do I Build Endurance
Endurance is equally difficult to build up, but is done so differently. Strength is built by increasing resistance levels, but endurance is created by repetitions. Activities such as long-distance running, often further than what is being trained for, helps runners to get themselves ready for their chosen events. Weightlifters, on the other hand, reduce the resistance levels but increase the amount of repetitions they conduct.
What is ‘Power’?
‘Power.’ One of the most misunderstood words in the world of fitness. It’s a term often equated with strength, but that’s not a completely accurate definition. Power is best described through a formula:
(Weight x Distance) / Time = Power
As a good example, let’s say someone could bench press 200lbs and they lowered it 2 feet each time. Then, let’s throw in that they followed a good tempo, taking 3 seconds to lower it it. The equation would then be:
(200 x 2) / 3 = 133.3 lbs of power each lift
Compare that to someone who also lifted 200lbs over a 2 foot period, just taking 2 seconds instead of 3:
(200 x2) / 2 = 200 lbs of power each lift
The difference is pretty obvious when put into mathematical terms, and best displayed when comparing weightlifters and bodybuilders to powerlifters. Weightlifters/Bodybuilders often do lifts faster than powerlifters, choosing power and speed of maximum strength.
Most people don’t need to see it as a battle of muscular endurance vs muscular strength. In terms of day-to-day needs, people need a balance of the strength and endurance. This is where functional fitness comes into play.
The term ‘functional fitness’ was derived as a way to convey a type of fitness that helps you with your daily life. Most people don’t run miles on end or lift heavy things all day, after all. Most of our lives demand a balance that sees us moving quickly sometimes, and slowly others. Occasionally, we will find ourselves lifting boxes over head, while other times we need to move quickly and efficiently to an area.
Your daily life will determine if you need to skew one way or the other, but balance is key for most of us.
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