Muscular Endurance for Sports

Article by Kari Fry with Kelly Pegler and James Luscombe

For athletes and those engaging in sports, muscular endurance can be an important factor to consider when looking to improve your performance. We caught up with Fitness Educators, James Luscombe and Kelly Pegler to give us their thoughts for anyone wanting to learn more about this area of fitness.

IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are purely for information only – please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and, if necessary, received medical clearance. Always warm up and cool down and never do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support of a qualified professional.

Kelly, can you give us an overview of what muscular endurance is?

Muscular endurance is the ability to maintain muscular force or tension for an extended period of time. An example could include the longer you can sustain an activity like running, the more muscular endurance you have.

Endurance in general can be viewed from two different areas, resistance training and cardio training. In resistance training, endurance would relate to the number of reps you can complete for a given exercise, e.g., squats, press ups, etc. In cardio training however, endurance would relate to the length of time that a person can carry out a cardio activity such as running or swimming and maintaining a steady pace throughout.

James, are there certain sports where conditioning is an important aspect?

I think conditioning is important for any sport, however it is especially important for contact sports due to the physical contact nature of such sports. For example, with the twisting and turning involved in many sports techniques it is vital that the tendons, ligaments, and muscles are conditioned to withstand the forces put upon them. From a muscular endurance perspective, the ability for the body to perform a specific, and often very coordinated movement time and time again relies on a decent level of muscular endurance, which is why this is so important to sport athletes.

Another for you Kelly, why is muscular endurance and muscular strength important for sports?

In exercise, muscular endurance will allow you to perform for longer, and carry out a higher number of repetitions at a higher capacity. Muscular endurance, while important for sport, will also improve daily life as it helps with everyday tasks.

Muscular strength is also important in sport (as well as daily life) as it can enhance and improve athletic ability as well as helping with functional tasks. Muscular strength has been shown to improve explosive strength or force development and external muscular power, which have been linked to improved running speed, agility, and quickness. Having strong muscles also helps in contact sports such as American football or combat sports, as the greater the muscular strength of an individual, the greater they will be able to exert their own bodies force against that of another. It has also been documented that higher muscular strength in an individual or athlete reduces the risk of injury.

James, would weight training help with performance in combat sports? What would you recommend?

Absolutely – a well-designed resistance programme using weight training techniques is incredibly important for a combat sports athlete. However, this must be in conjunction with a range of other exercises so that different components of fitness are catered for. For example, using weights for muscular strength and endurance must co-exist alongside training for cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, agility, speed etc, so there really is a big picture to consider. Once all components of fitness are catered for, then a sports athlete would start to see benefits.

Back to Kelly, are there certain things you could recommend for strength training and conditioning for combat sports particularly?

Combat sports require a key focus on strength training and conditioning. Most combat sports on a professional level require an incredibly high degree of conditioning hence the comprehensive training schedules that occur at elite level.  At an amateur level it is still important to ensure a certain level of conditioning exists. Combat sports are “whole body sports” so a whole-body approach is needed. It is important to consider different areas of conditioning such as strength, agility, speed, and reaction time– all of which need careful planning to train for. As combat sports throw the unpredictable at you, mixing up training techniques works well to keep your body guessing. To achieve this, you could use a combination of free weight, resistance machines, body weight exercise as well as the use of functional equipment like kettlebells. This must be a whole body approach so that no muscle groups get neglected.

And a final question for James, what strength training can a person do to improve their sports performance?

Focusing on whole body exercises like the squat or deadlift are very effective for sports performance as these do not just train one muscle group – more so they work a range of muscles across a range of joints across the body. This encourages muscles to work together in synergy which of course is very much the case for sports performance. It’s also important to target weak muscle groups which could be identified by a movement or postural analysis, which is something that a qualified Personal Trainer would be able to advise on. Finally, never neglect core stability exercises as the core is so important in all moves and techniques that a sports athlete would routinely perform.

Conclusion - Muscular Endurance for Sports

Thank you, to both James and Kelly for taking the time to discuss with us the importance of muscular endurance for sports. As we have learned, a whole-body approach is key for building strength and conditioning for any athlete, including those in the areas of contact or combat sports. Muscular endurance is important not only for improving performance in your chosen sport, but also for supporting the whole body and reducing the risk of injury.

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