I hear this statement all the time: use heavy weights with low repetitions to bulk you up, but use light weights with high repetitions to get toned. Is there a difference between these two types of training? The answer is YES—but it’s not about the way you look, it’s about different muscle functions. These two tasks are the difference between muscle strength and muscle endurance.
Muscle Strength Vs. Muscle Endurance
What is the difference between muscle strength and muscle endurance? Muscle strength is the ability to exert a maximal amount of force for a short period of time, like bench pressing a heavy barbell for 5-8 repetitions or pushing your car out of a ditch. Muscle endurance, however, is the ability to do something over and over for an extended period of time without getting tired. That may be doing 50 body weight squats in a row, or skiing. When you are going down the slope, bending your knees, firing your quads, and swooshing down that mountain for several minutes or longer, you need endurance.
While at the gym, you will see a variety of people doing a variety of strength and endurance exercises. When teaching a strength class, I always incorporate some exercises that will build muscle strength and some that involve muscle endurance to round out the participants’ training because in the real world, you never know whether you’ll need strength or endurance to complete everyday tasks.
Doing fewer repetitions with more weight will help you increase your strength. On the other hand, doing more repetitions with lighter weights will help you build endurance. And the truth is, you need and use both in your everyday life. If you can’t lift heavy objects, you may hurt your back or injure yourself in other ways. And if you can’t endure physical activity, you’ll find yourself quitting ten minutes into that ski trip. So the truth is this: you need both muscle endurance and muscle strength to be a well-rounded, healthy person.
Lastly, I want to dispel the myth that using heavy weight will bulk you up. Men genetically can develop more muscle mass through heavy lifting. However, women, for the most part, do not have the type of testosterone to create that huge muscle bound look. And remember: more muscle is a good thing. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn throughout the day and the more capable you will be to perform any activity that comes your way.