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Muscular Strength & Endurance Assessments: Worth the Risk?

There is an abundance of literature illuminating the positive benefits of resistance training. Public health guidelines and position statements recommend participating in structured resistance training due to its protective benefit against diseases and disabilities. Resistance training programs have been shown to increase strength(3), musculoskeletal health(4), maintenance of functional abilities(5), prevent osteoporosis(6), sarcopenia(7), and falls, fractures, and disabilities(4). With the benefits evident, there has been an increasing demand for resistance training. However, prescription of resistance training has demanded a need for parameters for exercise prescription. Muscular strength and endurance testing have been frequently used to assess these parameters. However, performing muscular assessments may propose a greater harm than benefit to your client.

Muscular Strength & Endurance Tests: Defined
Muscular strength testing is most often assessed through a one repetition maximum (1-RM) test. The 1RM measures maximum strength through the maximum capability of a muscle or muscle group to generate tension(8). Furthermore it is the heaviest load one can move over a specific range of motion in correct form for one repetition. On the other hand, muscular endurance assessments, involve submaximal loads with maximum number of repetitions performed (repetitions until failure)(8).

Potential Risks
Implementing maximal and submaximal strength tests may impose dangerous consequences due to the stresses imposed upon on the muscles, tendons, bones, and connective tissue. Performing maximal load lifts or repetitions to failure with an inadequate joint positioning, suboptimal coordination, or poor mechanics can result in muscle tissue injuries, tears, and muscle soreness. A study examined the effects of 1RM in healthy individuals and found that 2.4% sustained an injury, and 58% endured muscle soreness(9). Although, the injury response may seem low, the goal of the fitness professional is to enhance clients musculoskeletal health without putting them at risk. The large response of muscular soreness may arise as something necessary to stimulate strength and/or hypertrophy. However, despite the common conception - it is widely misinterpreted. It has been clearly documented by Flan et al. that muscle damage is not necessary for strength and size(10). His study included two groups, one beginning with a large intensity and continuing throughout and another group utilizing a slow gradual acclimation to exercise with no structural muscle damage. Despite one group experiencing muscular damage, both groups’ exhibits similar net increases in muscle size and strength(10). Therefore it is evident muscle damage is not necessary to receive strength training adaptions. Imposing muscular strength and endurance assessments require a large intensity and have high margins for muscle soreness and damage.

Although it is clear muscle damage to promote size and strength is not necessary, it still can provide regeneration of muscle tissue. However, excessive amounts of damage can lead to disruption and even destruction of sarcomeres (functional unit of muscles)(11). Execution of strength tests, when one is not acclimatized, can result in excessive damage leading to the declination of myofibrils and further damage of the muscle. Another flaw with introducing such a large stimulus upon initial stages can be seen with recovery. A study by Sayers et al. found that if an initial bout is extreme it could result in greater than 70% in strength loss and it could take 30 up to 89 days to recover due to loss of sarcomeres or chronic inflammation(12).

Other potentials flaws with the muscular strength and endurance testing include a large consumption time, limited application to exercise program design and limited application to sport performance. Performing muscular assessments are a burden regarding time efficiency. Testing requires pretesting a few days prior to actual testing to familiarize with procedure, providing a sufficient warm-up, and finally conducting the test at a different time and date. The purpose of conducting muscular assessments is a protocol in determining parameters for exercise program design. Also, it can be used as a measure of strength and determining efficacy of your program. However, no matter if a client is an athlete, elderly, or a child, the tests are rarely applicable in determining parameters. Correct periodization and sequencing of training begins with lighter intensities and furthering progression based on physiological and biomechanical adaptations.

Alternatives Assessments
Assessments including anthropometric measurements, body composition, and documentation of progression and sequencing of training are alternatives to avoid the risks imposed by muscular strength and endurance assessments. These assessments still allow someone to quantify strength and size gains in safer manner.

What About Athletes?
The use of strength and endurance testing may be regarded more appropriate for athletic populations. For example, the National Football League utilizes the 225 pound bench press until failure as part of its combine training camp. A study measuring the combine results and draft status found that the 225-Press was poor predictor of  determining an athlete’s ability to play at the next level(13). There were no differences between draft position with a larger number of lifts. The test provides a measure of strength but many other variables are involved in performance. Therefore, it can be taken that strength tests have their limited application with even athletes, as they are not true predictors of performance.

A goal of one within the health and fitness field is to ultimately positively assist the client or patient in pursuit of reaching their goals. Muscular strength and endurance tests have shown to produce a risk that may not be worth the reward in implementing a health or performance promoting exercise program. Conducting the assessments limit efficiency in time, provide unnecessary parameters for program design, may cause injury or soreness resulting in ultimately hindering client retention. Therefore, alternatives should be considered to document progress of muscular strength and endurance.


Article Summary



Determine Maximal Muscular Strength*

Determine Maximal Muscular Strength*
Determine Muscular Endurance*

*Alternate Testing can be Substituted






Muscle Damage


Hinder Client Retention


Destruction of Sarcomeres


Poor Application to Performance


Tear, Fray Tendons/Ligaments


Time Consumption


Edema (inflammation)


Delay Training







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