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The Difference Between Strength, Power, and Muscular Endurance

Strength, power, muscular endurance, and conditioning are all expressions of muscular ability, as well as overall physical ability, in one way or another. While overlap occurs from one to the next, there are clear differences between each form of muscular output. However, understanding the differences does not come naturally and is something a person must learn through education and experience.

Let us jump into what each is.

What is the difference between strength and power?

When it comes to strength and power, the two are often confused. With many terms such as starting strength, speed-strength, strength-speed, static strength, and power, it is easy to understand why confusion can occur. At Nathan DeMetz Personal Training we simplify things by offering singular definitions for strength and power.

  • Strength-moving weight or some other form of resistance at a slow pace or holding said resistance in a static position.

  • Power-moving an object with speed.

The definitions alone may not provide enough clarity. To help you understand more about power versus strength, here are examples of each.

Examples of strength

  • Powerlifting events such as the bench, squat, and deadlift

  • Sandbag carry

  • Pushing a car

Examples of power

  • Weightlifting events such as the snatch or clean and jerk

  • Throwing a ball

  • Sprinting

One example that may be confusing is powerlifting, since it is listed under the strength examples. Should that be under power? No. In general, the bench, squat, and deadlift are performed in a controlled manner. In contrast, the snatch is performed in an explosive manner, making it a power move.

Another way to view it is through a definition provided by Christian Bosse on his website.

What is Strength?

The definition of strength is:

Strength is the ability to exert force (measured in Newtons) in order to overcome the resistance.

The physical formula of force is Force = mass * acceleration (F = m * a).

What is Power?

The definition of power is:

Power (measured in Watts) is the ability to exert force in the shortest period of time.

Or in other words, power is moving weight as explosive (fast) as possible, which differentiates it from strength.

What is the difference between muscular endurance and conditioning?

These two terms are as easily confused as strength versus power. When speaking of muscular endurance and conditioning, a person may think they are one in the same. However, this is not the case. Muscular endurance is an expression of a muscle's ability to perform repeatedly. This may not leave a person breathing hard, therefore exhibiting little effect on cardiovascular ability. The bicep curl is a good example of this. If you perform a bicep curl to failure, your muscle will give out, but you likely will not be gasping for air.

By that same logic, performing a single max effort thruster may not stress the cardiovascular system, but if you completed CrossFit workout Fran—which is three rounds, 21-15- and 9 reps, for time of 95-pound thrusters and pull-ups—your cardio might be taxed.

Now conditioning is not all about cardio. If that were the case, then all the best runners in the world, especially the long-distance runners, would be the best conditioned. However, running long distance is not the only expression of physical ability and therefore not the only aspect of conditioning.

We define fitness as the ability to do work. Conditioning should be viewed in the same way. The more work a person can do, the fitter he or she is. The more work a person can do in a constrained time without rest, the more conditioned he or she is. Now, those are loose definitions subject to interpretation and meant to reflect our views on the topics, not necessarily world views. Some people will mirror our views while some will not, but our views are the product of the education and experience we received. They are good views and will serve you well if you use them.

Conditioning work is varied. Fran is one example of conditioning work, as is running long distances, but the following would also be.

Complete as circuit:

  • 10 handstand push ups⁠

  • 20 burpees⁠

  • 30 pull ups⁠

  • 40 ring dips⁠

  • 50 dumbbell thrusters⁠

  • 60 dumbbell renegade rows⁠

  • 70 dumbbell walking lunges⁠

  • 80 kettlebell swings⁠

  • 90 kettlebell deadlifts⁠

  • 100 squat jumps⁠

  • 200 push ups⁠

  • 300 single unders⁠

If it is not clear at this point, muscular endurance is required for all of these movements, but the level goes beyond that of a biceps curl or similar exercises. Conditioning is about full body work and can be defined as the ability to do work in a constrained time without rest.

Which should you focus on?

Strength, power, muscular endurance, and conditioning all have a place in a training program. For the average person and most athletes, all these elements should be included. As applied to the average person, focusing on the different areas will provide him or her with the greatest fitness. For athletes, these areas will provide general physical preparedness that can then be transferred into sport specific training.

Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA. 

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