Muscle Strength vs. Muscle Endurance

Blog written by Brianna Alexander, personal trainer and founder of BriannaFIT.


There are a variety of rep ranges you can use while strength training and they can be broken up into two distinct categories: muscle strength and muscle endurance.


Muscle strength refers to working with smaller rep ranges with more weight and muscle endurance involves working in larger rep ranges with less weight. I would argue that both strength-focused and aesthetic-focused programs should feature a variety of rep ranges where both muscle strength and muscle endurance are improved.


Strength Goals

If you are getting ready for a powerlifting meet, I would recommend that your program feature mainly lower rep ranges asking more from you in terms of sheer strength. However, most people would not be able to sustain only doing 1-3 rep maxes all the time so incorporating some volume rep ranges could be beneficial to avoid injury or burn out. You can always estimate your strength increases based on your personal records in the bigger rep ranges. You would want to progressively overload the lifts that you are going to be performing for your meet with a goal of getting a little bit stronger from workout exposure to workout exposure by means of progressively overloading each lift.


Aesthetic Goals

When it comes to aesthetic focused goals (hypertrophy or losing weight), I would advise you to also train using a variety of rep ranges to build muscle and or to work towards body recomposition (building more muscle while simultaneously losing body fat). Also, although you are not trying to win a powerlifting meet, your goals of increasing strength week after week by means of progressive overloading your lifts you are prioritizing should be the same.


You might be thinking that heavy weights with low repetitions will make you “bulky” and light weights with high volume will “tone you up.” If this is you, please dissolve this archaic idea because it is simply not the case. Hormones are the main culprit when it comes to how someone can become bulky and quite frankly women don’t have the best hormonal profile without the help of steroids to build a bulky body.


When I trained for my last bodybuilding competition (an aesthetic based sport) I tracked (wrote down weight used and repetitions achieved for every set) and progressively overloaded (attempted to incur a little more stress by means of increasing the load or increasing the repetitions achieved) my lifts with a variety of rep ranges from 1-3 repetitions all the way up to 15-20. The only difference was as I got closer to my show it became more dangerous for me to lift heavy loads with low rep ranges while I became leaner and leaner.


Variety of Rep Ranges is Key

No matter if your goals are primarily strength based or aesthetic, the goal should be the same in a given workout: to increase your strength. However your strength will not improve linearly on any lift over the course of a year. Strength will progress in a zigzag over time but will generally reflect a positive progression if you are doing everything else in your lifestyle to promote muscle growth. Each year you should be using heavier and heavier loads on the same lifts you are prioritizing.


I highly encourage you to incorporate lower rep ranges, medium rep ranges, as well as large rep ranges for strength and aesthetic focused programs alike to prevent boredom or frustration if and when you experience a plateau. This way you will reap the benefits of both the strength and hypertrophy worlds. In addition, your muscular strength and muscular endurance will feed off of each other in the long run.


Sample Muscle Strength & Endurance Workouts

Upper Body Workout

1. Bench press 3 x 8
2. Neutral grip chin ups 3 x AMRAP
3. Seated dumbbell Arnold press 3 x 10
4. Pendlay barbell row 3 x 12
5. Standing single arm cable side raises 3 x 15/side


Lower Body Workout

1. Smith machine hip thrusts 3 x 10
2. Smith machine split squats 3 x 10/side
3. Seated hamstring curls 3 x 12
4. Dumbbell 45 degree hip extensions 3 x 20
5. Cable kickbacks 3 x 15


Abdominal Workout

1. Decline bench plate loaded sit ups 10
2. Decline bench plate loaded Russian twists 10
3. Single arm loaded farmer carries 20 steps each way