Danny O'Dell provides an overview of strength endurance and an example training programme
"Strength endurance is the specific form of strength displayed in activities which require a relatively long duration of muscle tension with minimal decrease in efficiency" (Stiff 2000). Sports that involve strength endurance are numerous in nature from the rower to the swimmer to the wrestler on the mat. Even these examples are differentiated by the abilities expressed, dynamic or static, general or local strength endurance.
All forms of competition, however, necessitate maximal output over the duration of the event. It is not always the strongest athlete who wins in all cases, rather the one that can sustain the most power over the full term of the activity. Therefore, development of all the various types of muscle fibres benefits the athlete.
Predominantly the fast twitch muscle fibres create maximum power output in the explosive sports such as sprinting and weightlifting. Slow twitch fibres are the prime fibre cells used in long distance aerobic events. Combining, and training, these two types of fibres at all speeds and angles produces strength endurance.
There are muscle fibres that are not what you would call exclusively fast twitch or exclusively slow twitch (Brunner and Tabachnik 1990). They are a combination of the two not fully fast twitch or fully slow twitch. But, strengthening these muscle fibres will enable a greater expression of strength endurance to occur.
Dynamic and static strength endurance
Another aspect to this particular strength continuum is dynamic and static strength endurance which can be improved by following proper training schedules. The athletic movements and the muscular tension displayed during these movements differentiate between these two forms of strength endurance. Endurance is thus a matter of dividing muscle tension into large or moderate magnitudes and the length of time for each.
"Dynamic strength-endurance is typically associated with cyclic exercises in which considerable tension is repeated without interruption during each cycle of movement" (Stiff 2000). It is also apparent in acyclic events requiring maximum power repetitions with short rest periods between such as jumping or throwing activities.
Static strength-endurance implies isometric tension of varying magnitude and duration or in holding a certain posture. "Static strength endurance is associated with relatively long or short term sustained muscular tension, its duration in each case being determined by its magnitude.
General and local strength endurance
These can be further broken down into General strength endurance and Local strength endurance. Both of which depend upon how many muscle groups are involved in the activity.
For example general strength endurance is built around the utilization of large muscle groups to power the activity such as the case with rowing, where for example the quads, gastrocnemius, biceps, triceps, deltoids and the Latissimus dorsi muscles predominate the scene.
In local strength endurance, a particular muscle group is targeted for improvement based upon its use during the sport. An example would be the upper body muscles of the chest and upper back, deltoids, and the triceps for a bench press using body weight for repetitions contest.
Measurement of strength
Further examination will lead to differentiations in measurement. Do we measure absolute, static, acceleration, or explosive strength endurance?
If measuring absolute strength endurance then the overall result would not consider the level of development of the separate motor abilities. If the object of the measurement is partial endurance then "the level of development of specific motor abilities calculated when the influence of other abilities is in some way excluded."
As a practical matter when determining partial endurance in a strength exercise a weight requiring exertion at a percentage of ones maximum one repetition is used. It must be statically held, (static strength endurance) or moved to failure in a repetitive manner, which indicates dynamic strength endurance.
An incomplete index follows if there is either no correlation with maximal strength or a negative correlation between the two tests. Where a person is able to raise the same weight the relationship to absolute strength and maximal strength has a high correlation.
To set apart the differences between lifters the load lifted by each one must be divided by the body mass of the individual subjects. Strength endurance is highly specific to muscle activity.
Special work capability of strength endurance is expressed mainly in the cyclic events, which are those requiring powerful repetitions in a constant recurring fashion. In the acyclic sports arena the ability to exert powerful muscular motion in the static form is even more pronounced. Take for example, the wrestler holding his opponent, and then over powering him for the point or match win.
Forming the base of strength endurance is general endurance. The best way to develop strength endurance is under the most demanding conditions and that is through the simulation of contest conditions or in high volume workouts. This does not however preclude the use of special strength exercises to help build the strength base of the athlete.
Here is a brief example of a strength endurance program used with great success by the Soviet athletes prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's.
Start with three sets of three repetitions at 80% to 90% of a one Repetition Maximum (1RM) with rest of two to three minutes. Then drop the weight to 40% to 50% 1RM and perform four sets of fifteen repetitions each in a medium to slow pace.
At a weight of 40% to 50%, perform the maximum number of lifts you can in twenty seconds, rest twenty to thirty seconds, and then repeat for one to two extra sets. Maintain pulse at 120 to 140 beats per minute. (Authors suggestion: Maintain your pulse at around the 80% target heart rate levels.)
Perform eight to ten different circuit exercises in a medium to slow pace with thirty to sixty seconds of rest between exercises. Keep pulse below 140 repetitions. (Authors suggestion: Maintain your pulse at around the 65% to 70% target heart rate levels.) Choose exercises common to your sport.
As an example of the wrestler's circuit, these exercises are performed according to the schedule above in a twenty-minute time span.
This circuit illustrates a method of improving all strength endurance fibres.
Stiff (2000) states an "objective, reliable means of evaluating strength endurance in sporting activity has not yet been devised." Keep that in mind as you contemplate the results of the research available in the field of strength and conditioning
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About the Author
Danny O`Dell is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of a number of training manuals including: The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living the healthy fitness lifestyle.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: