The Muscle Strength Endurance Continuum

The Ultimate Guide To Calisthenics

The Ultimate Guide To Calisthenics

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Muscle strength and muscle endurance exist on a continuum. Given that muscle strength is the amount of force generated by one repetition and muscle endurance is the ability to exert force repeatedly over time, improving muscle strength will improve muscle endurance. If your one repetition maximum weight is increased, your submaximum multiple repetitions can be performed with more weight (resistance).

Muscle strength is developed by performing low-repetition (6-12), high-resistance exercises. When more than 12 repetitions can be performed, the resistance should be increased, and the repetitions decreased. Muscle endurance is developed by high-repetition (>12), low-resistance exercises.

A set for an exercise is the number of repetitions performed per unit weight.

Increasing the number of repetitions per set develops endurance. For example, if an individual can perform only 10-12 sit-ups using proper technique, the exercise will develop muscle strength. Once an individual can perform over 15 repetitions per set, muscle endurance is being developed. Table 8-1 outlines the strength-endurance continuum and illustrates the training schedules used to develop various degrees of endurance. Note that strength and short-term efforts have no effect on aerobic capacity because the aerobic/endurance system is not recruited with maximal or heavy loads. In contrast, sustained efforts with a light load recruit the aerobic system and have minimal effect on strength. Generally, activities of longer duration require more muscle endurance. SEALs should modify their training programs according to the principles of strength and endurance specific to mission requirements.

Table 8-1. The Strength-Endurance Continuum


Short-term Effort

Intermediate Effort

Sustained Effort


Maximum force 3 sets 3 times/week

Endurance with heavy load 3 sets 3 times/week

Endurance with intermediate load 2 sets 3 times/week

Endurance with light load

1 set 3 times/week


6-10 RM*

6-12 RM

12-50 RM

Over 100 RM

Enhances Strength

Muscle contractile proteins: actin and myosin; connective tissue

Some strength; anaerobic metabolism

Some aerobic and anaerobic metabolism; slight strength improvement

Aerobic enzymes; fat utilization

Does Not Alter

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic Capacity


RM = Repetitions Maximum Effort

Modified from Sharkey, BJ: Physiology of Fitness, 3rd Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1990, p 91.

In general, calisthenics develop muscle endurance. There arc two occasions, however, when calisthenics develop muscle strength. The first occasion depends on individual fitness level and how many repetitions can be performed, individuals who can only perform a low number of repetitions of a calisthenic exercise (less than 10-12) will develop muscle strength. Those who can perform a higher number (more than 10-12) will develop muscle endurance. For example, when you first start doing pull-ups you may only be able to perform 9 repetitions. At this point, you are developing muscle strength. As your performance improves, and you arc able to perform over 12 repetitions, you begin to develop muscle endurance.

The second occasion occurs where calisthenics are modified to overload the muscles so that they contribute to strength development. This can be achieved by any of the following:

♦ Adding weight (e.g., pull-ups or push-ups while wearing a weighted pack)

♦ Using a buddy for resistance (e.g., having a buddy sit on your hips while doing bent over calf raises; buddy- assisted leg extensions)

♦ Exercising on one side of the body only (e.g., one-legged squats or calf raises)

♦ Modifying the exercise (e.g., elevating the legs during push-ups)

♦ Super sets/pyramids

These modifications can be particularly helpful if weight training facilities arc not available and a strength workout is required.

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  • joshua
    What is the strength endurance continuum?
    6 months ago

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