Muscular strength and endurance form the foundation of a fit and healthy body. Strength allows you to lift heavy objects, while endurance enables you to perform activities for extended periods of time without pooping out. In the gym or home gym, there are several main equipment options from free weights and medicine balls to machines that you can use to build strength and improve endurance.
Barbells and Dumbbells
Barbells and dumbbells are free weights, meaning they are not attached to an apparatus like a weight machine. This poses more of a challenge to your muscles, as your small stabilizer muscles, in addition to the prime mover muscles, must activate in order for you to lift and balance the weight.
For example, during a chest press with dumbbells, your focus is on your chest muscles, but the muscles of the shoulder also have to activate to stabilize the joint and provide a uniform controlled movement. Free weights also allow for a greater range of motion and natural movement during most exercises.
You can train strength and endurance with a set of dumbbells or a barbell and weight plates. While your goal in each modality is to fatigue the muscles, the way you achieve that varies. For strength, lift a heavier weight for one to 10 repetitions. For endurance, lift a lighter weight for 12 to 20 reps.
Kettlebells are another type of free weight and are excellent and versatile tools for working muscular strength and endurance in a dynamic fashion. The kettlebell swing, a basic foundational kettlebell exercise, involves recruitment of muscles in the entire body to perform the movement correctly. This exercise requires the legs and hips to propel the kettlebell upward, controlling it with the arms and abdominal muscles. It teaches the entire body to work in unison while building strength and endurance in various muscle groups.
While kettlebells are often used to build endurance with high-rep sets, such as 15 to 20 kettlebell swings, they can also be used to build strength. The heaviest kettlebell commonly available is about 100 pounds. This is heavy enough by itself for many people to build strength. If you need more, you can use two kettlebells to perform moves like squats, deadlifts and rows.
Machines are a good choice for the novice exerciser. They require little if any added stability while isolating a specific muscle group. For example, preacher curls isolate the biceps and do not require any added stability from joints such as the shoulder. Common machines for the lower body include the leg press, leg curl and leg extension. Upper body machines include rows, lat pulldowns, chest press, shoulder press, biceps curl and triceps extension exercises.
Cable machines provide a little less stability than seated machines and feature in novice and more advanced workouts alike. Cable exercises require more stabilization from the stabilizer muscles and joints. Examples of cable exercises include chest and back flyes, shoulder raises and glute kickbacks.
As with free weights, you can adjust the weights to achieve your desired goal -- higher weight, lower reps for strength and lower weight, higher reps for endurance.
Medicine balls are yet another type of free weight. You hold a single medicine ball with both hands as you execute a range of exercises. You can do traditional exercises like squats and lunges, or more specific medicine ball exercises such as overhead throws. The medicine ball chest throw, with a partner or against a wall, is a compound exercise that will strengthen the articulation of your upper body joints as well build strength and power. Upper body exercises such as push-ups with one hand on the medicine ball and one hand on the floor are challenging exercises that build strength, endurance and stability.
Resistance Bands and Tubes
Great for a home workout, resistance bands and tubes provide portability and versatility. By anchoring a band to a stable object or under your feet, you can perform a variety of exercises for all your major muscle groups. Resistance bands are particularly effective for building endurance and strengthening stabilizer muscles. They are also useful when you are rehabilitating an injury.
With free weights, the resistance comes from gravity; with resistance bands, the resistance comes from tension in the band. The benefit is that you are not limited to up and down movements. You can work against resistance in all directions, which is effective for training functional strength and movement.