Strength versus Endurance: What’s the Difference?

When we hear the word “endurance,” we might think of marathons; when we hear “strength,” we think . . . well I think of Superman. In the exercise world, strength goes hand in hand with powerlifting, but marathons and powerlifting are two ends of a broad spectrum. Most people who exercise regularly, even professional athletes, fall somewhere between absolute strength and absolute endurance (besides marathoners and powerlifters, of course). The reality is that most people are not training to run super-long distances or lift the heaviest weight they can. People just want to feel good and like the way they look, but knowing how endurance and strength differ can help you succeed with your exercising.

First up, let’s talk about endurance. How long can your body continue to exercise without stopping until fatigue? Exercise is a broad category, but endurance comes down to aerobic capacity and anaerobic endurance. Aerobic capacity comes into play when someone is running a 5K race, for example. The faster he completes the race, the greater his aerobic endurance. And the greater his ability to continuously contract his muscles while using oxygen (i.e., breathing) as his main pathway for energy. Aerobic-capacity training varies quite a bit depending on the program, but all programs should follow a structure similar to this: warm-up, dynamic stretching, main conditioning, cooldown, and flexibility work. An example of anaerobic endurance would be when someone is performing as many push-ups as she can. It might seem odd, but anaerobic endurance relates more to strength exercises because it involves muscle contractions while not using oxygen as its energy pathway.

Strength is a person’s ability to generate force, and it can be measured with a one-repetition-maximum (1RM) test. All strength training falls under the category of resistance training, or weight lifting. The results that can be obtained from resistance training are increased muscle strength, power (which refers to a muscle’s ability to generate force rapidly), size, and endurance. These four aspects of resistance training are produced by a certain number of reps at a certain percentage of a person’s 1RM or maximum effort (ME), depending on the exercise and availability of testing time. The accompanying chart explains this further.

Muscular Attribute Reps Sets % 1RM/ME Exercise Type Examples Description
Strength 1–5 2–4 > 80% Major Muscle Groups Leg Press;

Bench Press

 

Slow and Controlled
Power 1–8 2–4 40–70% Powerlifts Squat;

Deadlift;

Bench Press

Explosive but Controlled
Size

 

10–15 > 4 40–70% Isolated Contractions Dumbbell Presses;

Bicep Curls;

Quad Extensions

Slow and Controlled; Focus on Reps and Form Rather Than Weight
Endurance > 15 > 4 40–70% Compound Movements Swimmer Curls;

Step-Ups

Controlled; Focus on Reps and Form

 

Strength and endurance are both valuable in different activities. For more information on strength versus endurance, please contact us at info@sptny.com.

References:

  1. Linda S. Pescatello, ed., and the American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 9th ed. (Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins Health, 2014).
  2. Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle, eds., and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd ed. (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008).