Have you ever noticed young mothers carrying babies without showing signs of exhaustion, whereas a buff muscular male may complain that his arm is going to "fall off" after just a few minutes? Resisting fatigue when holding a position or carrying something for an extended period of time is muscular endurance in action. Muscular endurance allows for people to enjoy recreational activities without exhaustion and increased success at athletic activities.
There are four basic types of muscular endurance--aerobic, anaerobic, speed and strength--which are directly related to the energy systems of the body. Each of these energy systems provides the fuel for a specific length of time and for specific types of muscular activity. Understanding and using these fuel systems is the key to improving muscular endurance.
Aerobic Muscular Endurance
Aerobic means 'with oxygen' and when performing aerobic activity, the body requires lots of oxygen. The aerobic energy system is the most versatile energy system, and provides working muscles energy for long periods of time as in marathon races or an afternoon of cross-country skiing. Aerobic training invokes cellular changes that improve the body's efficiency in using macronutrients, specifically fatty acids, allowing the body to use more available fats for energy.
Anaerobic Muscular Endurance
Anaerobic means 'without oxygen.' When most people think about muscular endurance, they reflect on the burning sensation they feel as muscles approach exhaustion. The point at which muscular failure occurs is referred to as the anaerobic threshold. The combination of strength and endurance results in anaerobic muscular endurance--the ability to perform many repetitions against a less than maximum resistance for a prolonged period of time.
Also referred to as alactic anaerobic endurance, speed endurance is when the body produces energy for approximately five to 12 seconds of maximum output, utilizing fuel previously stored within the muscle for an immediate burst of energy. Jumping to dodge an oncoming car, or the burst of speed required to grab and pull a curious toddler away from danger are examples of the speed system at work.
Strength endurance refers to an athlete's capacity to maintain the quality of muscular contractions and generated force. An example might be a climber who would require strength endurance in his forearms and shoulders. With each pull, strength generated must be enough to pull the full body weight up another few feet. Examples of activities which assist in developing strength endurance are weight training, circuit training and hill running.
Increase Your Endurance
Training to improve aerobic, anaerobic and strength endurance should concentrate on repeatedly exposing the muscles to high-intensity exercise sustained over a period of time to produce elevated levels of lactic acid. Utilize an interval training program--30 to 60 seconds of resistance activity using a weight that is challenging but that you can handle with good form throughout the set, followed by 30 seconds of rest.
Increase aerobic endurance by walking or running at a comfortable pace for three to five minutes, followed by a one- or two-minute "rest" period. Rest completely or walk (if you were running). Continue performing intervals for 10 to 20 minutes, increasing intervals until you can run or walk several miles without rest.
Always consult with your physician before beginning any new fitness program.
- Photo Credit IStockPhoto.Com, Deborrah Cooper
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