Testing Muscle Endurance

An effective program of testing and monitoring can help fighters and coaches in mixed martial arts (MMA) accomplish a lot. It can help them judge the effectiveness of a training plan and evaluate the potential for overtraining or undertraining. Various physical and psychological tests can be used to assess any number of performance factors, or to identify a fighter’s strengths and weaknesses, or to classify their skill status and ability level.

The purpose of this article series is to show you how to design and carry out an effective performance monitoring program in MMA. The first article in the series outlined the fundamentals of performance testing, so start reading there if you’ve not already. The second article introduced a few sports psychology tests. The third article showed you how to measure body size and composition. The fourth article covered tests of muscular power and the fifth article showed you how to test muscular strength. The present article will show you how to assess muscular endurance.

MMA involves a lot of sustained movements, like prolonged combination or submission attempts and defences that are largely influenced by the endurance capacity of your muscles. Muscular endurance is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle group to repeatedly exert sub- maximal force against a resistance for a certain period of time (Plowman & Smith, 2011). It is primarily influenced by the capacity of the anaerobic glycolytic system, which supports maximal activity in the 30 s to 90 s range. For this reason, muscular endurance is primarily limited by the build-up of hydrogen ions and inorganic phosphate, which interfere with enzymatic reactions and impair muscle contraction (Plowman & Smith, 2011; Westerbalad et al., 2002).

Tests of muscular endurance can be static or dynamic, use an absolute load or a percentage of a maximum  voluntary contraction or 1 repetition maximum (1RM), and typically last 30 s to 90 s. Muscle  endurance  is  specific  to  the  muscle  group  tested,  speed  of  the  contraction,  type  of contraction (i.e. static or dynamic) and the joint angle assessed.

Muscle endurance can be assessed directly using electromyography (EMG), which measures the fall in muscle action potentials over prolonged or repeated contractions. Force transducers and strain gauges; when built into force plates or dynamometers, can indirectly assess muscle endurance by measuring the fall in force production over prolonged or repeated contractions. Many valid and reliable protocols exist for assessing muscular endurance using either of the above methods, but they require expensive equipment and are inaccessible to most athletes and coaches. For these reasons, it is desirable to have a range of inexpensive tests that can be administered with minimal equipment and technical training.

Calisthenic exercises are simple movements that require little equipment and technical expertise. These movements have long been utilized by athletes and coaches to assess muscular endurance in a field-based setting. Because calisthenic exercises are body-weight dependent, muscular endurance is assessed by the number of repetitions performed in a given time or until failure, or the according to the duration of time that a static contraction is held. This article will teach you how to assess muscular endurance using the partial curl-up test and the push-up test

Partial curl-up

Equipment: Stop-watch, metronome to keep time (not necessary), measuring tape, mat, marking tape

Description: Performing a partial curl-up with the feet un-sported and the knees flexed appears to maximize abdominal activity and lessen low back strain compared to performing full sit-ups with foot bracing (Nieman, 2011). For this reason, we will use the partial curl-up test. The purpose of this test is to assess endurance of the abdominal musculature; here’s how you perform the test:

  1. Apply masking tape across a gym mat in two parallel lines, 10 cm apart.
  2. Lay on your back, with the head resting on the mat, arms straight and fully extended at the sides and parallel to the trunk, palms of the hands in contact with the mat, and the middle fingertip of both hands at the 0 mark line. The knees should be bent at 90° angle. The heels must stay in contact with the mat. The test is performed with the shoes on.
  3. Set a metronome to a cadence of 50 to 60 beats per minute (equivalent to about 1 every 2 seconds). The participant performs as many consecutive curl-ups as possible, without pausing, at a rate of 25 or 30 per minute. During each curl-up, the upper spine should be curled up so that the middle fingertips of both hands reach the 10 cm mark. During the curl-up the palms and heels must remain in contact with the mat. Anchoring of the feet is not permitted. On the return, the shoulder blades and head must contact the mat, and the fingertips of both hands must touch the 0 mark.
  4. The test is terminated anytime at the participants discretion, or if they are unable to   maintain the proper curl-up technique over two consecutive repetitions.

Push-up test

Equipment: Stop-watch

Description: The purpose of the push-up test is to assess muscle endurance of the triceps, anterior deltoids and pectoralis major. There are separate testing protocols for males and females.

Male protocol

  1. Assume a push-up position with the body rigid and straight, balanced on toes, head up, and hands under the shoulders.
  2. A tester places a fist on the floor beneath the participant’s chest, who lowers   himself  until  his  chest  touches  the  fist,  keeping  his  back perfectly straight; he then raises himself to the starting position.
  3. The most common performance error is not keeping the back rigid and straight throughout the entire push-up.  Rest is allowed in the up position only. The score is the total number of push-ups to exhaustion.

Female protocol

  1. Everything is the same as for the males, except the test is performed from the bent-knee position with feet crossed, knees at 90°, and head up (notice the error in the picture, above). In addition, females should make sure their hands are slightly ahead of her shoulders in the up position, so that her hands are directly under her shoulders on the down position.
  2. There are no established criteria for determining how much the torso must be lowered to count as a proper push-up (can you think of any?).
  3. Keep the back rigid. The score is the total number of push-ups to exhaustion.

Take-home message

Download the MMA Training Bible’s data collection book here. This will allow you to record your data and chart your progress on this test and all of the other tests described in this article series. This article provided you with a simple overview of measures muscular endurance. One test assesses the endurance of your core muscles using a curl-up test. The second assesses upper body muscular endurance using a push-up test. You can download the data collection sheets and instructions for both tests here.


  1. Nieman, D. (2011). Exercise Testing and Prescription: A Health-Related Approach (7th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
  2. Plowman SA, Smith DL. (2011). Exercise Physiology: For Health, Fitness, and Performance (3rd ed.). China: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  3. Westerblad H, Allen DG, Lannergren J. (2002) Muscle fatigue: lactic acid or inorganic phosphate the major cause? News Physiol Sci 17:17-21.





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