Training for Strength Endurance requires implementing CHALLENGING body weight exercises such as weighted pull-ups, handstand push-ups, weighted parallel bar dips or using heavy weights for low reps & high sets. It also comes from heavy odd object or strongman movements executed for high sets and low reps.
We do a lot of weighted pushups at The Underground Strength Gym. We use chains around the neck, around the upper body or a weighted vest. We perform pushups on the floor or on rings. Dips are used if you have healthy shoulders so these are an exercise I incorporate by feel. We also perform band resisted push-ups.
Push-ups, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, parallel bar dips as I just mentioned are tough to do, and are some of my favorites, especially when adding weight through weight vests, weighted backpacks, weighted belts, etc. Doing 1 pull up might be difficult for you & we can improve strength simply by doing 1 rep at a time, aiming for a grand total of 10 throughout the span of the day, or 15, etc.
Strength Endurance is your ability to lift heavy weights/exert strength for extended periods of time.
Another favorite rep range I like to implement is either 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 or 10, 8, 6, 4, 2.
Here are samples of each.
The athlete finishes heavy or speed floor presses, and we follow up with this:
- Log Clean & Press x 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
- Mixed Grip Pull Ups x 10, 8, 6, 4, 2
Another Option is to perform heavy Dumbbell / Kettlebell Rowing starting at 5 reps, going to 1 rep, then reversing this and zero rest between sets. The only rest is when 1 arm work is rowing, the other arm is resting:
1 Arm Row Running the Rack Style: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 reps.
For example, I would perform this 1 Arm Row Complex with these weights:
60 x 5
70 x 4
80 x 3
90 x 2
110 x 1
100 x 2
90 x 3
80 x 5
70 x 5
I have also done this 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rep range with 1 arm rows coupled with pull-ups. This is a heavy horizontal row coupled with a bodyweight vertical pull. You can do push/pull, an upper/lower, a push/push or any other type of couplet to challenge the body.
Here is a sample of Push + Push Couplet for Strength & Power:
1A) Bench Press 5 x 3
1B) Burpees or Plyo Push Ups 5 x 3
The Bench Press would be heavy followed by the explosive pushups. Jumping while under fatigue forces the body to recruit more muscle fibers.
This can be done for lower body with:
1A) Pause Squat 8 x 3
1B) Hurdle Jumps 8 x 3
Strength followed by Speed work or vice versa is the contrast method. It is excellent for athletes. Athletes need strength & speed. As I always say, NO such thing as weak and successful.
For the athlete who struggles with bodyweight exercises, I give them some guidelines and encourage them to work on their calisthenics when at home or in Phys Ed class, every day jump up on the pull-up bar and hit a set of pull-ups with perfect technique.
This is called GTG or Grease the Groove.
GTG is excellent for developing strength. Once a baseline of strength is developed, you can begin implementing bodyweight couplets to develop strength endurance / muscular endurance.
Perform the bodyweight exercises with shorter rest periods in between each set (30 seconds – 1 minute) and try doing 4 – 6 sets per exercise (maybe more if you are feeling strong) and reps will vary greatly here according to your strength levels. Pull-ups you may only be able to get 5 or 6 at a time, maybe even less. Some athletes can do more, up to 20.
I started doing 20 + pull-ups by age 14 because I practiced them so often, always varying my grip to attack the pulling muscles from different angles.
It’s important you understand WHAT you’re doing and WHY you’re training the way you are. Otherwise, it is difficult to meet your goals and attack your goals. Understanding and learning the training methods and principles, not just blindly following them will give you the edge. Although there are months and months of sample programs here, you will do best if you tweak them for your personal benefit, or the benefit of your own athletes, if you’re a Coach.
Sample muscular endurance bodyweight the only workout performed as fast as possible:
10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps of each in a circuit:
- Squat Jumps
- Lunge Jumps
- Clapping or Regular Push Ups
Sometimes I like having my athletes do low reps on pull-ups, sometimes 2 or 3 reps only, but they will do 6, 7 or more total sets, pulling explosively on each rep. This way, they are pulling explosively on each rep, exerting maximum force on each rep and the tempo of the exercise is as fast as possible. When you train towards muscular fatigue, your reps start slowing down and your exertion lessens with each successive rep.
When training college or my advanced lifters, I might perform a bodyweight power circuit before we lift heavy. Sometimes for Time or sometimes for specific sets.
The below can be done for 10 x 3 reps or for 7 minutes of max work:
- Box Jumps (High Box) x 3
- Plyo Push Ups x 3
- Mixed Grip Pull Ups x 3
*DO NOT CONFUSE SPEED & CONTROLLING THE EXERCISE FOR A SLOPPY, OUT OF CONTROL REPETITION!*
If you are having trouble controlling a weight, lighten up and/or slow down until the form is mastered. As you gain strength & control, you will start feeling more comfortable with speeding up your rep tempo while using heavy weights or light weights. As always, your technique is # 1 priority. Do not sacrifice proper form to lift heavier.
If I am short on time I do Bulgarian split squats, then chin-ups, followed by dips with no rest in between movements. I will do this for maybe 10 minutes straight.
Any single leg exercise will do, or a squat jump as well.
- Bulgarian Split Squats x 10 / 10
- Pull-Ups x 5-10 reps
- Dips x 10-20 reps
You can also use a barbell lift for the first exercise, here would be another sample for a 10 to 15-minute circuit when on the time crunch:
Sample 1: 15 Minutes x MAX Work:
1A) Sumo DL x 3
1B) Pull-Ups x 6
1C) Push-Ups x 12
Sample 2: 15 Minutes x MAX Work:
1A) Double KB Clean & Press x 5
1B) Recline Row x 10
1C) Push-Ups x 10
Sample 3: 15 Minutes x MAX Work:
1A) Sandbag Shouldering x 2 / 2
1B) Rope Climb x 1
1C) Ring Push-Ups x 10
The above sample workouts develop strength, endurance, and mental toughness. They will also build size because of the density training – performing a lot of work in a short period of time.
There are not too many valid excuses for missing a training session, even if you only have 15 minutes. Doing 1 exercise is 100% more than Zero!
I’ve done these time-crunched training sessions when I was short on time and had a hectic day, but I did not want to let the day go without some form of training. Here’s a sample I recently did in my garage and sidewalk:
- Ring Pull-Ups x 5
- Hanging Leg Raise x 5
- Sandball Shouldering or Sandball Squats x 5
- KB Farmer Walks x 200 ft
- Push-Ups w/ Hands-on KBs x MAX Reps
The above training session, I only planned on doing pull-ups and carries. But then I started getting warmed up, more so mentally. I got fired up and kept attacking. Sometimes the goal is to just do 1 exercise because you know, once you get moving, your attitude changes and your body begins to respond.
The less you do, the less your body wants to do. Movement is the best medicine. The more work you do, the more your mind and body want to do. Feel free to add some form of sprints, prowler pushes or jumping rope as well to these circuits.
As always, my hand spacing and grip changes on pull-ups, pushups, and dips. Constantly add variation to your workouts to keep your muscles working from all angles. I bet you if every athlete out there did this workout twice a week he/she would be in awesome shape compared to their current fitness levels. This training is aggressive and challenging. The easy stuff doesn’t produce results.
Through the years, I have noticed a consistent trend: athletes and people, in general, are getting weaker and weaker. Not just physically, but also mentally. Any kids knocking on your door to mow the lawn or shovel the snow? When I was 8 years old my brother and I would shovel 5 or 6 houses a day on snow days.
The problem is that many athletes do not take strength training seriously. Too many schools have a part-time weight room supervisor who is simply NOT an expert when it comes to athlete development and sports performance.
On my STRONG Life Podcast, I interviewed Dr. Andy Galpin & asked him WHY high school boys are showing up at my gym unable to perform pushups, have man boobs, beer bellies and have skinny arms.
He said because they do not do anything outside of sports practice and maybe some lifting at the local gym. That is NOT enough, he said. In addition, as I mentioned above, Andy said the lack of manual labor makes them weak.
The kids who live in more rural areas or have to work with the family on a farm or a Summer job of landscaping, those athletes tend to be fit and strong. So, as you can see, it’s not enough to just train in the gym. You must do work outside of the gym.
Good Enough is The Death of Greatness.
Changing the Norms of Physical Education…
These habits start young. Phys Ed teachers need to step it up. Why are middle and high school kids unable to jump rope? Unable to do 1 push up? We need to bring STRENGTH back to the forefront!
When I pass by the local high school, I see 20 kids sitting on the bleachers, 20 kids just walking slowly (is this acceptable exercise?) and maybe 20 kids playing the game. The PE teacher is off to the side doing nothing. There is NO standard of excellence here. It’s a shame because those kids get cheated.
I would like to see more Physical Education teachers educated on proper strength and conditioning methods. It could be as simple as incorporating calisthenics, sleds and carries into the overall curriculum.
Because Phys Ed classes in middle school and high school tend to be so crowded, the equipment should be made, accumulated over time and teachers should apply for grants.
Day 1 for a warm up could be a calisthenics circuit going from 10 down to 2 reps (Squat Jumps + Push Ups x 10, 8, 6, 4, 2). Next class, the warm-up would be 3 sets of carries. Next class, the students would sprint with sleds coupled with pushups and other calisthenics. All of these options are 100% more than zero!
Breaking The Norms of Traditional Strength Development…
In the early days of Westside Barbell VHS tapes (I recommend you try to find these old tapes), their original Special Strength VHS tape showed the crew doing safety bar box squats for 30 sets of 2 reps! 3 guys in a group, 1 guy after the next. You can’t fake strong!
I recall watching that VHS tape at night while watching my son and daughter who were just babies. I was fired up to get into my garage and see how much weight I could handle for 30 sets. The Westside Barbell Crew is some of the strongest powerlifters in the world. This is advanced training to the highest degree. What was most impressive is that every set and every rep was explosive, all the way to the final, 30th set.
When I see an athlete slowing down and grinding reps, I might have them drop the weight 25-50% and then do 3 x 3-speed work on the same exercise, or 1-2 x of 10+ reps for hypertrophy yet still working the technique of the same exercise. This gives them extra practice and also allows them to work more on the weak areas.
Notice how I always emphasize variety & experimentation, constantly learning and always being a white belt. As soon as you think you’re too good to learn or you’re good enough, it’s over!
Athletes are all so different, some kids are age 14 but look 18, and vice versa. This will change the way they train. A young athlete can improve athletic performance on almost any strength training program because it is a new stimulus. After some time training through, the program should be solid and well planned.
What are you training for? Have a goal. Organize the training to meet your goals.
It’s So Simple, It’s Complicated!
For the young athlete, I like using the lower reps with free weights. Lots of 5 x 5 or on dumbbell movements I’ll do a descending rep pattern: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps. This way as they get fatigued and/or add weight, cutting off 2 reps each set keeps technique in check.
Some of the lifts are better served with a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rep range. I will do this with a 1 arm clean & press, trap bar deadlift, etc.
You can still become strong by doing sets of 5 with submaximal loads. It’s one of the old school, results proven set-rep protocols. I use it very often to this day but like anything else, your body will adapt to the exercises must be varied as do the sets and reps.
Bodyweight exercises might be different with regards to rep ranges. On Pull-ups, you may only be able to do 1 or 2 reps. I’ve seen the same with pushups. So, for this athlete, I might have them do 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 on pushups. On pull-ups I might tell them to get a total of 10 pull-ups, resting as long as needed to get all 10.
The Mental Barrier
I’ve seen athletes struggle to get 2 or 3 pull-ups and through proper training, they are hitting 10 pull-ups in a few weeks. On the flip side, I’ve seen athletes create a mental barrier, where they consistently get stuck on 3 pull-ups or 5 pull-ups and they can’t break that barrier. This is where the athlete needs the coach to help him/her breakthrough that barrier mentally first & foremost.
If an athlete is NOT OBSESSED with getting better, their gains in strength will hit a wall. Unfortunately, some athletes don’t really care, they’re just there to be part of the team. I’ve had to tell athletes that they do NOT Need a Strength Coach to get better at calisthenics. There’s NO reason to be struggling to do 6 or 10 pushups for 6 months with no improvement.
When I was in 7th grade and began doing pushups, it was after every kid on the block beat me in arm wrestling one night. I went home and began doing pushups that night! None of this wait until tomorrow BS. I failed on the 3rd rep. I got 2 pushups! It was sad. I told myself that once I can do 20 pushups, I’ll start winning arm wrestling matches. I planned on doing 1 additional push up daily until reaching 20 in a row.
The next morning, I did 3 pushups. That same night, I decided NOT to wait until tomorrow, so I did 4 pushups. The next morning, 5 pushups. I said to myself, I’m not waiting 3 weeks to do 20 pushups! I’m gonna do pushups morning, afternoon and evening! In one week, I was doing 20 pushups. Why? Because I became obsessed!
No matter how good or great your training program is, the results are in line with the athlete’s mindset, nutrition, and overall lifestyle. Two athletes can train side by side for a year. One athlete will make some gains and the other will add 20 lbs of muscle and transform him/herself like nothing you’ve ever seen. Why? One athlete was obsessed and did ALL the right things in AND out of the gym, the other, he was just “happy to be part of the team.”
Injuries with Calisthenics?
That’s the good thing about calisthenics. Most athletes are not going to get injured on bodyweight training unless they try something wild. A beginner will struggle with calisthenics and their mechanics might be off. Once they get stronger, the mechanics and overall technique dramatically improve.
It is common for athletes to struggle on:
- Squats (tight hips & ankles)
- Push-Ups (upper back crumbling, elbows flaring, abs sagging)
- Lunges (upper body collapsing, knees caving in, ankles wobbling)
- Pull Ups (Legs Swinging, body squirming)
If you get too scared, you’ll end up trying to do “corrective exercises” when the reality is, all of these collapsing, tight, wobbling areas are primarily happening because the athlete is WEAK. The stronger we get this athlete, the better the mechanics and technique become.
Beginners might do this at my gym as part of a warm-up which is like a workout for them:
- Push Ups + Recline Row 5 x 5
- Squats + Band Pull Aparts 3 x 10
- Walking Lunges + Back Extensions 3 x 10
From there, some KB or DB farmer walks coupled with sleds. Then a few sets of DB curls with some abs, then some grip work. It looks so basic and simple yet it’s powerful. You can watch the athlete get stronger literally every training session!
Lots of bands pull apart get snuck in there as well as some basic ab work. Then, I tell the athlete to do the morning, afternoon and evening Grease the Groove method.
- 10 squats & push-ups in the morning
- 10 lunges & push-ups after school
- 10 squats & 10 push-ups at night
Unless these kids start getting jobs working landscaping, they are not going to get stronger unless you give them daily calisthenics. Every day, get better!
Lessons from Louie Simmons
One interesting way of training for strength endurance is doing exercises for longer periods of time under tension. I learned a lot of these ideas from Louie Simmons in my early days as a Strength Coach. I would call Louie on the regular, every week when I was a teacher during my prep period. We’d chat on all kinds of training methods and he’d share stories with me.
He used to train PRIDE fighter, UFC Champion and D1 national champion, Kevin Randleman. He had Kevin doing chest presses with dumbbells on a stability ball for up to 10 minutes using dumbbells as heavy as 70 lbs. Kevin used to get exhausted on his back during fights and would often times get submitted by the higher skilled fighters because of his lack of submission skills. Louie found that if Kevin could improve his muscular endurance from his back, he could escape instead of getting exhausted.
Louie tried to make this movement more specific by placing Kevin on a ball (similar to being on his back, squirming with an opponent on top of you). This movement can also be done on the floor as a floor press using dumbbells or kettlebells as well.
If you have shoulder issues, use the physio ball for benching and push up variations, ab work as well. The physio ball is excellent for training and you might assume, I don’t use such tools. That said, this is a great tool.
Another interesting workout looked like this for Kevin Randleman:
- power clean x 1 rep
- hang clean x 1 rep
- hang clean and press x 1 rep
The 3 rep Barbell Complex above made up one set, each rep was done after the other without placing the 205 lb barbell down. Kevin would then rest for 30 seconds and repeat again. This went on for 10 minutes and this workout was used for strength & power endurance. The 205 lbs was Kevin’s fighting weight.
Mark Bell told me when he was a pro wrestler training at Westside, Louie would take 10 exercises as a circuit and have him do them each for 1 minute:
- Banded Box Squat
- Glute Ham Raise
- Bench + Chains
- Farmer Walk
- DB Tricep Rollbacks
- DB Hammer Curls
- KB Swings
- DB Bench on Physio Ball
THAT is a brutal circuit. It’s also something you can do lighter during a deload “aka reload” week. I’ve used circuits with the wrestlers I train and sometimes ALL athletes need a circuit. It’s good for them both physically and mentally. Athletes get bored if your workouts always have the same style or organization.
There are MANY ways to get an athlete better and sometimes the “best way” has been used so often they need a break. You might take a week and do team strongman challenges, bodybuilding/high rep work including some machines and cables, all calisthenics, etc. Autoregulation comes when the Coat can assess the athletes and understand when they need that change.
Here is another strength endurance work out I have used with grapplers/combat athletes utilizing a sandbag, doing 5 reps per movement. This is more of a full body strength endurance work out and also allows the athlete to work on conditioning and toughness.
- zercher squat x 5
- zercher good morning x 5
- zercher reverse lunge x 5 / 5
- bent over row x 5
- clean & press x 5
- shouldering x 5 / 5
I would implement sandbag complexes like the above with our wrestlers, BJJ and Judo athletes. Those guys were tough, and they loved it. It was brutal on the grip as well. Big Football Players can perform some sandbag complexes to raise their GPP levels in the off-season. Hockey players can use Sandbag complexes. Swimmers can use sandbag complexes. Strength never discriminates.
For more information, you will want to review the Underground Strength Coach Certification.