Muscular Endurance, Size & Strength - A Guide

Beefy. Big. Bulky. Buff. Cut. Fit. Hench. Lean. Pumped. Ripped. Shredded. Stacked. Toned. Tonk.

When someone says they want to get [insert stupid term from above] what do they actually mean? To simplify, what do we mean when we say “I want to get stronger”?

Let’s put the question under the microscope and learn about the distinction between muscular strength, size and endurance. Defining each in turn:

  • Strength: the ability of a muscle or muscle group to create high force to lift a heavy weight
  • Endurance: the ability of a muscle or muscle group to keep contracting and work for a long period of time
  • Size (Strength / Endurance): the overall mass of muscle fibres you've got! 

So it transpires that (at least for guys wanting some extra beef for beach-season) when most of us say “I want to get stronger” what we actually mean is “I want to increase muscle size”.

Contrary to the popular belief that very heavy weights must be lifted to build big muscles, the optimum approach for growth in muscle size (muscular hypertrophy – if you’re a fitness fanatic then read our Muscle MSc blog) is in the 8-12 repetition range at moderate/heavy weight. And for those of us aiming to ‘tone-up’ (i.e. build lean muscle and burn some fat) a focus on Endurance could be effective.

It’s worth noting that there is no absolute cut-off where endurance starts and strength training ceases or vice versa. Rather, there is a gradual shift in emphasis along the continuum:

Of course, different approaches will work differently for different people! But – whatever your body type, age, fitness level, genetic make-up – next time you tell a PT “I want to get [insert term]” you’ll both be on the same page!