When was the last time you participated in structured muscular strength or muscular endurance exercises? Now be honest—I am not referring to the occasional ten push-ups you may have done or lifting a heavy box at work—I am asking about a planned, intentional workout session (especially a workout including a variety of exercises targeting all your major muscle groups). Chances are, most of us have not done that type of workout in a long time, and some of us have probably never done it.
In the United States, only about 24% of adults 18 years of age and over meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for muscle-strengthening physical activity. The guidelines specify that we should exercise all of our major muscle groups at least two to three times per week. Muscular strength and endurance training is clearly an underestimated fitness factor! This is unfortunate because there are a plethora of benefits one can reap from this type of training, including:
- Increased muscular strength & endurance
- Improved body composition (more muslce and less body fat)
- Higher rate of metabolism and increased metabolic health
- Increased longevity
- Lower risk of injuries
- Increased resistance to muscle fatigue
- Reduced risk of heart disease due to improved blood fat levels
- Toned, healthy-looking muscles
- Increased delivery of oxygen and nutrients
- Reduced risk of disease (Arthritis, etc.)
- Helps manage diabetes by improvied glucose metabolism, reducing blood pressure, increasing HDL cholesterol and reducing LDL cholesterol (in some people), improving blood vessel health.
By choosing not to participate in muscular strength and endurance exercises, we make the conscious choice to abandon all the amazing physiological benefits listed above. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is never to late to start doing these types of exercises and reap the benefits! We’re here to teach you how to begin adding these types of exercises to your weekly agenda.
We mentioned that we should be targeting all of our major muscle groups. For those who haven’t taken biology since high school, here is a quick review of the major groups you’ll want to target:
Bicpes (front of upper arm)
Deltoids (top of shoulder)
Erector Spinae (low back)
Gastrocnemius & Soleus (back of lower leg)
Hamstrings (back of thigh)
Latissimus Dorsi (the midback) & Rhomboids (the upper back)
Obliques (side of body)
Pectoralis (front of upper chest)
Quadriceps (front of thigh)
Trapezius (upper and mid-back)
Triceps (back of upper arm)
There are two dimensions people use to measure their muscle fitness. Muscular strength refers to the amount of force that muscles can create with a single maximum effort. When people build their muscle strength, they focus on more weight and fewer repetitions. On the other hand, Muscular endurance refers to the ability to repeat or hold a muscular contraction for a period of time. These types of exercises are done at lower weight levels, but with many more reps. Although both types of muscular exercise are important, we clearly depend more on the endurance of our muscles than the strength in our daily lives.
So how can someone start training? Good question! There are many different ways you can choose to participate in muscular strength and endurance training. Below you can find a few suggestions that you can mix and match (in fact, variety is better!):
- Using your own body (calisthenics)
- Using free weights (such as dumbbells)
- Using a resistance band
- Using a resistance ball (Swiss ball)
- Using weight machines
- Using medicine balls
- Using kettlebells (However, I would not suggest using them without proper instruction or supervision.)
As you can see, it is not necessary to purchase a fitness center membership or expensive equipment. You could simply use your own body or get some cheap, long-lasting devices for your home. Need a good source to learn about different exercises and workouts? Here is a great one I use often: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/exercise-library-main/
To be safe and have an effective muscular strength and endurance training workout session, there are some basic guidelines and rules one should adhere to. First, it is always important to warm up your muscles and raise your body temperature before engaging in strength training exercises. Usually, a five to ten minute warm-up should suffice and it could include fast-paced walking, slow jogging or biking (other options clearly exist). You should also conclude your workout with a proper cool-down of about 5 minutes of light cardiovascular physical activity and then a thorough stretching routine. Here is an outline of the suggested structure for a muscular strength or endurance training workout:
- Warm-up (5 – 10 minutes)
- Conditioning Phase (muscular strength & endurance exercises)
- Cool-down (5 minutes)
- Static Stretching (all major muscle groups used during the workout)
Other important guidelines include the following:
- Always rest each muscle group 24 – 48 hours inbetween workouts.
- For the purpose of health-related physical fitness, two to three sessions per week should suffice.
- Take a 30 – 60 second break inbetween sets during your workout.
- Go slow! Strength training is not about speed!
- When you complete one repetition of a particular exercise, count to two on the way there, and to four on the way back (again, if you go slower, the movement will be safer and more effective.).
- Do not overtrain! Start slowly and increase your reps, sets and weight in small increments.
- Make sure to address all major muscles groups as outlined at the beginning of this article
Muscular strength and endurance exercise is not only beneficial, healthy, and life changing, but it is enjoyable as well! Find the type of exercises and equipment that are fun to you and if you are note sure what to do, I highly suggest to seek the assistance and advice or a degreed and certified personal trainer, who can help you get started in the right direction. Start today and do not underestimate this powerful fitness factor!
References: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010. Adult Obesity Facts. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html  Fahey, T.D., Insel, P.M and Roth, W.T, 2011. Fit & Well: Core Concepts and Labs in Physical Fitness and Wellness. New York: McGraw-Hill.  Ibid