Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations: Part 4

The recent review by James Fisher, James Steele, Stewart Bruce-Low and Dave Smith should be on the “must read” list for everyone with an interest in exercise. In fact, you should download and read it before you read the rest of this post which is the fourth of several commentaries I will be writing on their review.

Click here to read part 1 on anti-HIT bias, intensity and one rep max testing

Click here to read part 2 on momentary muscular failure

Click here to read part 3 on rating of perceived exertion and load and repetition range

Muscular Endurance

Over forty years ago in Nautilus Training Principles Bulletin Number 1, Chapter 15, Arthur Jones wrote,

There is no slightest evidence which indicates a difference between strength and endurance; accurately measuring one of these factors clearly indicates the existing level of the other. That is to say; if you know how much endurance a man has, then you should also know how strong he is – or vice versa. But such a relationship between strength and endurance is only meaningful in individual cases; it does not hold true for the purpose of comparing one individual to that of another – thus you cannot fairly compare one man’s endurance to another man’s strength. Secondly, I am using the term “endurance” only in the sense of “muscular endurance”, the ability of a muscle to perform repeatedly under a particular load – I am not momentarily concerned with cardiovascular endurance, which is an entirely different matter.

and

By training for endurance, increases in strength are produced in direct proportion to increases in endurance – and vice versa.

The majority of studies on muscular endurance performed since confirms this. Muscular strength and endurance are related. If you become stronger in an exercise you will be able to perform more repetitions with a specific amount of weight or perform some task involving the same muscles longer or more times because it requires a smaller percentage of your strength to do so.

For example, you can complete many more repetitions of an exercise with a quarter of your one repetition maximum (1RM) than with half. If you double your strength the amount of weight that used to be half of your 1RM will now be only a quarter and you will be able to complete many more repetitions with it than you could previously.

Relative muscular endurance – the ratio of muscular strength to endurance – appears to be largely genetically dictated and not trainable. If you become stronger you will be able to perform more repetitions with some absolute weight, but all else being equal the number of repetitions you can perform with an amount of weight relative your 1RM will be around the same.

Suppose when you started doing an exercise your 1RM was one hundred pounds. At the time you could perform a certain number of repetitions with seventy pounds, or seventy percent of your 1RM (which is a measure of relative load, and not intensity, as discussed in part 1). If you increase your 1RM for that exercise to two hundred pounds you will be able to perform many more repetitions with seventy pounds because it is now only thirty five percent of your 1RM (absolute muscular endurance), but you will be able to perform around the same number of repetitions with seventy percent of your 1RM as when you started (relative muscular endurance).

I wrote “all else being equal” above because there are other factors which can affect this, neural adaptations and skill being big ones. This is part of the reason muscular strength increases may not always appear to translate into muscular endurance increases when comparing workout performance with other activities. As you practice and improve a particular athletic or vocational skill your movement will become more economical, resulting in less wasted energy and reduced rate of fatigue. This will result in a greater improvement in endurance than would come from muscular strength increases alone.

What does this mean in practical terms? If you want to improve your general muscular endurance you should focus on becoming stronger and use a repetition range that works well for you for that purpose. You could also do this by performing more repetitions with less weight, however it is not necessary to do so. If you want to improve your muscular endurance in a specific activity focus on both becoming stronger and improving your skill in that activity.

Coming in Part 5: Resistance Types

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29 Responses to Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations: Part 4

  1. Ryan February 14, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    Does this mean, for all practical purposes, that rep ranges in the low-to-mid range (3-8 reps) is best?

    • Drew Baye February 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      Ryan,

      No, because relatively low reps and heavy weight isn’t necessary for strength either. I think people should start with a moderate repetition range to err on the side of safety and adjust over time based on how their body responds.

  2. Steven Turner February 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    You’re exactly right, I don’t know why but most people just don’t get it. Train separately for muscular strength and separately for muscular endurance. It is so simple and basic anyone can do a simple test to prove it. If anyone is using progressive overload and accurately recording their result, which they should be. At least once every year I go back and complete the same workout – using the same weights and TUL that I had done previously. In all exercise my reps increased significantly. On one exercise I went from 13 reps to 27 reps.

    When I say to people to do the same to show that strength and endurance are “relative” they are some what surprised usually the reply is “…but don’t you have to train differently for both?”.

    • Drew Baye February 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      Steven,

      It’s one of those things that is easy to demonstrate yet hard to convince people of because they’ve been told you need to train differently for muscular strength and endurance for so long. It can take some of them a while to get it, but if they pay attention they’ll notice their endurance improves as they get stronger.

  3. Jake February 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    So would it be correct to say that if you kept adding reps your 70 percent of your 1rmax that your 1 rmax would increase? So lets say you can do 10 clean reps with 70lb dumbells. After a few months of training with those 70 pound dumbells you can do 20 clean reps. The one rep max should increase? Also if this is correct is there a rep range where it wouldnt increase your one rep max? As a side note the reps would each be performed in same speed/cadence ie 2 secs up 4sec down.

    • Drew Baye February 15, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      Jake,

      Yes. If you go from ten strict repetitions on an exercise to twenty with the same weight your one repetition maximum will also increase.

      I don’t think there is a practical repetition range that wouldn’t increase your one rep max, but if the repetitions get extremely high there may be a point beyond which the ratio starts to change slightly. For example, if you go from doing five hundred repetitions of an exercise to one thousand with a very light weight you would still have to become much stronger because your local muscular endurance would still be the primary limiting factor. Your one rep max might not double, but it would go up significantly.

  4. Pete Collins February 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    @Steven Turner
    Hey Steven, if you have time please get in touch, I am planning a trip to Sydney, would love to catch up and share the passion & knowledge on HIT
    Pete

  5. Johnny C February 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Great series of posts, Drew. In reading the research paper referenced, I noted that they make no mention of rep cadence explicitly. I suppose one could infer something from their suggestions to maintain continuous tension on the loaded muscles. I know if I think about a flat bench press using 185 lbs of weight I really struggle with moving this slowly (5/5 or so), and I could use more weight were I to speed up to a 3/3 cadence. I weigh in at 160 these days and have gotten quite lean. Given all this, how should I determine my 80% of 1RM that they are suggesting as a minimum loading for best results? I am against attempting any personal 1RM testing for obvious reasons (injury). I was a bit surprised to see the 80% figure recommended as I feel it is possible to work very intensely and more safely with less weight (say, 65-70%). Is there reason to believe this would be less effective than 80%. Many thanks for all you contribute to this pursuit.

    • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

      Johnny,

      Don’t worry about your one rep max or what percentage of it you are using during exercise. Use a heavy enough weight that you are able to achieve momentary muscular failure within a reasonable time frame (I believe 60 to 90 seconds is a conservative starting point) but not so heavy you are not able to maintain very strict form throughout. Over time, adjust based on your body’s response.

  6. marklloyd February 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Would it therefore be fair to say that weights used are a matter of personal choice,(within reason)? I find that I consistently work my hardest with weights that invoke failure at about 80secs. Over 120 & I’m not always sure if I really failed or just lost focus. On the other hand, my weights are somewhat tough right from the first rep, which can be off-putting to some subjects, who might thrive on longer sets that begin more easily.

    • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      Mark,

      Starting resistance levels should be low enough to allow for correct learning and practice, and the repetition range should be adjusted over time based on individual response. Since this is something that requires a bit of explanation I plan to write a separate post on it.

  7. Johnny C February 21, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    After more thought and reading, I have come to the following conclusion: Select my preferred cadence that ensures continuous tension and “gentle turnarounds, then select the weight that allows MMF at the eighth rep or thereabouts. That should be a close approximation of my 80%1RM. Once I can achieve a tenth rep without breaking form or cadence, I’d then add a very small amount of weight to the bar and attempt to progress reps again to ten. Sound reasonable, Drew? What threw me was the recommendation in the paper to use 80% 1RM to achieve the BMD benefits from training. I know from experience that any %1RM is highly dependent on how slowly and smoothly I attempt to move that weight.

    • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      Johnny,

      I don’t think 80% is necessary. Consider most of these studies were done with older, previously untrained subjects, who were probably not very strong and one repetition maximum tests are skill dependent and initial tests often understate actual strength. A smaller percentage is probably required, and as a person gets stronger and becomes capable of using more resistance they will reach a level that is effective for stimulating improvements in bone density and bone mineral content.

  8. dan r February 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    i read and preformed on the basis of both of jones tablets

    they are true , moreso he states that it it only to train a bodypart a max of three sets twice or 3 times a week.

    • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Dan,

      Later Jones recommended even less than that, and research MedX performed at the University of FL showed only one or two workouts a week had a similar effect as three on spinal extension strength.

      • dan r February 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

        well thats about my system, i really had a seriouse back injury,several . heavy squats .heavy equipment, got run over . twice..
        so its the cable machine . oly bench ,sometimes easy curls
        all the basic stuff . 15 20 reps . light weight .preexhaust with a set of squats . you know total body . that another thing jones said do the whole body. im 57 i have to really be intune with my body , reast diet program . mentel ststus.
        it was very difficult when i was training with rock stonewall in the 70s . 75 76 . rock stonewall rip . still dont know what killed him ,but he died at 54. i think in 93. i like your blogs Dan r

        • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

          Dan,

          Thanks, I’m glad you like the site and hope you find the info here useful.

          I remember reading Rock suffered from a degenerative neurological condition which eventually killed him. It was blamed on his steroid use but I don’t think they proved it was the cause.

          • dan r February 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

            wow never heard that, but i happen to know he was on 10 mills of dianabol ,(sp) not all the time. but there could of been another chemical that he was on that caused that…
            i spotted rock once in our gym we co managed. whole set 10 times whats that310? he seldom used the collars it was to much work.. bur he could grab 1the 100 pound dumbells and do them on a prone bench 20 times , he weighed 185. everything was pure power legs back all of it. and i have to calculate he was in his mid 30s late 30s then.. so who knows. Dan

            • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

              Dan,

              I highly doubt the steroids caused it. In any case, it is unfortunate for anyone to die so young.

  9. dan r February 21, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    thanks drew, i just noticed we were once neighbors.im from oshkosh.
    did you ever go to wisconsin athletic club in appleton? .in 75 rock and i were there for a lil exhibition.
    . thanks again Dan R

    • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

      Dan,

      I never went to the athletic club in Appleton, but I lifted at the YMCA there a few times when I was younger.

      • dan r February 21, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

        it wasn’t really equipped well , the same owner owned the one in Milwaukee where rock and i trained. rock immediately brought in what he needed, he was very unorthodox, but the basics were always there,
        you know i don’t think i ever saw him do a curl.he would do 20 wide grip behind the neck pullups like nothing, sets of them.
        dips.stuff like that, i think he was getting bored ..

        well its supper time in clearwater. ya i ended up down here to!
        later Drew. Dan r

        • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

          Dan,

          It just goes to show what a person with reasonably good genetics (and a little pharmaceutical assistance) can achieve with hard, basic training.

          Take care,

          Drew

  10. Glenn Magee February 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Hi Drew,
    You have made note that there is no point comparing different individuals in their strength v’s endurance, but I’m wondering what your take is on the legendary squatting contest between Tom Platz and Dr Fred Hatfield. On a one off Platz’s 765lb was soundly beaten by Hatfield’s 855lb. But then in a repping contest with 525lb Platz completed 23 reps v’s Hatfields 11 reps. There is a much greater differential between Platz’s one off and his endurance in the squat compared to Hatfield. Would this differential be a constant, i.e., would this be the case irrespective of his training rep ranges? Both would have been exceptionally proficient in the movement but Platz would have focused on high rep work and Hatfield more on low rep work.
    Cheers.

    • Drew Baye February 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

      Glenn,

      The ratio of muscular strength to muscular endurance appears to be genetically dictated and relatively constant for an individual. Platz’s ratio of endurance to strength is just much higher than Hatfield’s and would be regardless of the rep ranges he trains with.

  11. Johnny February 23, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Drew, I am currently applying all the info I have learned from you over the past few years and am really making some progress toward a strong, lean and healthy body at 48 years old. I have acquired quite good form on all compound movements and on occasion someone in the gym will comment on how tough the slow, constant tension I use appears in comparison to the usual slop you see in the gym. I enjoy it. Anyway, I don’t think I have ever heard you comment on an exercise like the trapbar deadlift wherein it is not possible to maintain constant tension throughout the rep given that the weight is lifted from the floor and reset at the end of each rep. I do make every effort to ramp up my force application gradually (no jerking) so as to minimize the risk of connective tissue strain. My question is what shall I do at the top of the movement? Do I stop shy of lockout (15 degrees) like I would on a leg press or plate loaded squat or do I continue to hip extension and contract the glutes? I typically move at about a 3/3 or 4/4 cadence on these and use my bodyweight (160) on the bar. I don’t see the point at using more weight and speeding up the cadence. I could easily use less weight and still get a great MMF experience and inroad. Thoughts? Many thanks!

    • Drew Baye March 6, 2013 at 11:34 am #

      Johnny,

      It is possible to perform trap bar deadlifts with relatively continuous tension; don’t set the weights down at the start point. Let them just barely touch the floor then immediately but slowly start the next rep. To keep the target muscles meaningfully loaded towards the end of the movement turn around a few degrees shy of full extension without pausing.

      It isn’t absolutely necessary to do so, however (read my comments on rest-pause training in part five). It isn’t going to significantly reduce the effectiveness of the exercise if you have to set the bar down a few times to reset your grip. The most important things are using a high level of effort and keeping your form tight, especially during the turnarounds or when unloading and loading at the start if you have to set the weight down.

  12. Jim Null February 23, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Drew,

    For the past couple of months I’ve been experimenting with sets taken to failure within the 2 to 3 minute range as opposed to 45 to 60 seconds. So far I’ve experienced what feels like a reduction in post workout fatigue. Any thoughts on how the percentage of 1RM used in training influences recovery?

    Jim

    • Drew Baye March 6, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Jim,

      Great question. I don’t think different absolute loads would make a big difference assuming a similar degree of relative effort and reasonable rep ranges or set durations on average, but heavier loads might increase recovery time somewhat due to greater microtrauma.

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