4 Muscular Endurance Goals for the New Year

Many strength athletes are creatures of habit. They do the same thing day in and day out. They get big; they get strong; and sometimes they get bored! A great way to cure boredom is to set a challenge. Forget about adding more weight to the bar. Do something different. In fact, forget the bar altogether. Set a challenge that involves strictly your body weight, something for your upper body, lower body and core. Here are 4 muscular endurance goals that any bodybuilder or powerlifter should be able to do:

20 Chin-Ups

Ask any 250+ pound bodybuilder or powerlifter to perform as many chin-ups as possible – and I’m talking about strict, controlled, “dead-hang to chin-clearing” chin-ups – and you’ll be able to count the reps on one hand, maybe two if they’re lucky but no more than that. Most guys in the gym that weigh considerably less will knock off 10 or 12 clean reps.

The main factors that determine chin-up success are body weight, body composition and strength, but the one that trumps them all is the power of the mind. If you perceive that you can’t perform 20 chin-ups, then you won’t! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mind plays a huge role. You must believe that you can do it first in order to succeed.

Many people limit themselves before they even begin. So if you constantly max out at 12 reps, your brain expects you to fatigue at that point. It’s going to be tough to do another 8 reps, but there is a way. You need to trick your brain.

Here’s a tip I learned from Karsten Jensen, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Danish National Elite Sports Institution in Copenhagen, Denmark. Start counting reps at number 10 instead of 1. By the time you hit a count of 20, you have performed a manageable 10 reps. Next workout, start the count at 9, the following workout at 8, and so on. According to Jensen, part of the reason why you fail to achieve 20 reps is because you expect to get tired by the 12th rep, but altering the count and creating the experience of achieving 20 reps will help break the plateau.

For more tips, check out How to Get to 20 Chin-Ups.

100 Push-Ups

Remember back in high school and university you could pop these off like they were nothing. I recall doing over 100 push-ups in a minute back then. Fast forward a few years and all of a sudden, they’re not so easy!

Here are 4 methods to use in a situation where you must perform 100 non-stop push-ups but can only do 40 or 50 at present:

  1. Start with 4 sets of 25 reps with 3-minute rest intervals and decrease the rest each session by 10-15 seconds.
  2. Perform as many sets as it takes to reach 100 total repetitions and record the time. Each session, aim to complete the task in less time or with fewer sets.
  3. Use a ladder technique where you perform 1 rep then rest as long as it took to complete the rep. Next, do 2 reps then rest for that length of time, and continue “up the ladder” in this manner until you can no longer complete the desired number of repetitions. At this point, you either start over again from the bottom or “climb down the ladder” to the beginning.
  4. Decrease the resistance to achieve 100 consecutive repetitions by using modified push-ups or push-aways. Increase the resistance slightly each session by raising the height of the knees on modified push-ups, or lowering the height of the hands on push-aways, or with the use of a weighted vest on either version.

10 Pistols

Any competitive powerlifter should easily be able to squat double their body weight. That’s a given, so it stands to reason that they should be able to squat their body weight on one leg. Right?

Well, get them to try it.

The movement is called a “pistol” and it’s tougher than it looks, especially for big guys and especially when it’s done in a controlled, butt-to-heel manner. They may have all the strength in the world, but balance, coordination and flexibility may be another issue!

Any strength athlete should be able to knock off 10 reps per leg with their body weight alone, and once that becomes easy a weighted vest can be used.

Determine what the limiting factor is:

Is it flexibility? Then do some stretching and get some body work done.

Is it balance? Then use support initially (hang on to the side of a power cage) and eventually wean yourself off one finger at a time.

Is it strength? Then build it up with unilateral movements such as step-ups, split squats and single-leg squats (with rear foot elevated on a bench).

A great resource for pistol training is The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline. You’ll go from zero to hero in no time!

2-Minute Static Back Extension

Your core is really strong. You hoist hundreds of pounds, but your back always hurts. Maybe it’s not strength that you need… maybe you require some endurance? Research by Dr. Stuart McGill, a spinal biomechanist and author of the book Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, has determined that endurance is more important for low back health than strength. A great test for this in the gym is a static back extension (also known as an extensor endurance test or Biering-Sorensen test).

All you do is perform a typical back extension and hold the top position for a goal of 2 minutes. Anything less than 2 minutes and you fail the test. If you don’t succeed initially, keep trying! Add the movement to the end of every workout and make sure to beat your previous time, even if it’s only by a few seconds. You’ll get up to that 2-minute mark in no time.

Strength athletes should have some endurance. We’re not talking about running a marathon, but being able to do 20 chin-ups, 100 push-ups, 10 pistols, or a 2-minute static back extension is not unreasonable. And if you accomplish these 4 goals by the end of the year, expect a leaner body, some added muscle mass, and improved low back health for your efforts. The challenge has been set.

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