Training for Low Weight, High Rep Workouts

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

Compared to most things in life, building strength is gratifyingly simple. Lift heavy, lift often, and you’ll quickly start stretching the limits of your shirt sleeves.

Many guys stop there, taking a literal approach to strength training that keeps them at the beefy end of the weight rack. But if your fitness goals extend beyond simply moving as much iron as possible, your program needs to include one of strength training’s other key pillars: muscular endurance.

What Is Muscular Endurance?

Not to be confused with cardiovascular endurance, which is your ability to sustain aerobic exercise, muscular endurance refers to the number of times you can contract a muscle before it fatigues. In the weight room, that means how many reps you can do at a given resistance—whether it be from iron, bands, or even your bodyweight—before reaching technical failure.

Unlike building strength and power (the other two pillars of strength training), increasing muscular endurance requires high (12-plus) rep sets using lighter loads and minimal (30 seconds or less) rest.

Benefits of Muscular Endurance

In addition to increasing your overall exercise capacity—which, by the way, can pay dividends for your strength and power goals—emphasizing muscular endurance in your workouts can also help boost muscle growth by targeting the type I muscle fibers that strength and power-oriented lifting tends to miss.

In short, no matter what your primary objective is, you’ll benefit from occasionally working the lighter end of the weight rack.

How to Train for Muscular Endurance

Athletes often emphasize muscular endurance during specific phases of their training programs, but you can reap its benefits by simply weaving more high rep/low weight sets into your weekly workouts.

As with training for strength and power, the key is to select the most challenging resistance or exercise progression that allows you to complete all of your sets and reps with good form.

You’ll need to go lighter than you typically do for strength-focused regimens when you train for muscular endurance, but don’t err too much on the side of caution. If you have more than two reps left in the tank at the end of your last set (ie, you could complete two more reps with good form), you need to increase your load next time.

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