Muscle Strength and Endurance in Weight Training

There are two types of people who lift weights: those who want big muscles and those who just want to tone and tighten up without getting bigger. Those looking for size tend to grab the heaviest weights and stick to fewer reps. Those who are afraid of “bulking up” generally reach for the lighter weights and do more repetitions to achieve a “toned” look.

So is this the right way to go? Is there a difference between these two types of training? 

Strength vs. Endurance

Young woman at gym working her arms with dumbbells
Lucy Lambriex / Getty Images  

Yes, there is a difference between these two types of training, but everyone needs muscle strength and muscle endurance training for a well-balanced muscular system and a high-functioning metabolism.

Doing fewer repetitions with more weight will help you increase your strength. On the other hand, doing more repetitions with lighter weights will help you build endurance. You absolutely need both in your everyday life.

Muscle strength is the ability to exert a maximal amount of force for a short period of time. For example, lifting something very heavy. In the gym, that may be bench-pressing a heavy barbell for 5 to 8 repetitions. In your real life, this may look more like moving a heavy piece of furniture or pushing your car out of a snow ditch—that requires strength.

Muscle endurance, on the other hand, is the ability to do something over and over for an extended period of time without getting tired. In the gym, that may be doing 50 bodyweight squats in a row, moving to a rhythm. In your real life, this might look more like using your legs to push a lawnmower for an hour, or carry boxes back and forth when you are helping someone move.

How to Plan Your Strength Workouts

While at the gym, you will see a variety of people doing a variety of strength and endurance exercises. Effective strength classes should incorporate some exercises that build muscle strength and some that involve muscle endurance to round out the participants’ training. In the real world, you never know whether you’ll need strength or endurance to complete everyday tasks.

When you plan your own workouts, try to focus on both muscle strength and muscle endurance.

Some days it will be good to focus on endurance and use lighter weights going for more repetitions. This is often combined with cardio exercises. However, it is crucial that you also spend at least 2 days a week using heavy weights so that after only a few repetitions you are at muscle failure. This not only keeps you strong but boosts your metabolism to run at a higher rate.

How? More muscle on your body, more calories you will churn through every single day even at rest.

Lastly, using heavy weights will help build strength and increase muscle mass. Men genetically can develop more muscle mass through heavy lifting. However, women, for the most part, do not have the type of testosterone to create that huge muscle-bound look. And having more muscle is a good thing.

The more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn throughout the day and the more strength you will have to perform any activity that comes your way.

Where Do I Go From Here?

If you are looking for a lean, sculpted appearance the answer is simple, though perhaps not easy:

  • Choose a healthy, clean diet including lots of lean protein and vegetables along with some fruits and complex carbohydrates. Limit your sugar and alcohol intake.
  • Do at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise a week; that’s 30-minutes a
    day for most days to burn calories and reduce body fat. Your best bet is to focus on interval training that combines cardio activity with muscle endurance exercises. For example, bodyweight jump squats or jumping jacks or punches.
  • Strength train with heavy weights at least 2 days a week.
1 Source
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  1. Braith RW, Graves JE, Pollock ML, Leggett SL, Carpenter DM, Colvin AB. Comparison of 2 vs 3 days/week of variable resistance training during 10- and 18-week programs. Int J Sports Med. 1989;10(6):450-4. DOI:10.1055/s-2007-1024942

By Chris Freytag
Chris Freytag is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. She is also the founder of