T Nation

Building Muscle Endurance Without Building Strength

So I have an interesting problem for you guys. In the past year, I have started competing in trapshooting. On a regular competition day, this sport involves lifting a 10.5 pound shotgun approximately 300 times in a day, holding it still for a few seconds and then pointing at a target. When I am fresh, this is no problem and I crush the targets. By day 3 or 4 of a week-long shoot, I really feel the fatigue in my arms and upper back. This makes being smooth and accurate more difficult.

Now I understand that I could be lifting heavy weights, increasing my strength as well as my muscle endurance along with it. The thing with this sport though, is that my shotgun NEEDS to feel heavy to me. Shooters regularly add weight to their gun so it doesn’t feel as ‘whippy’ and uncontrollable. To be successful, you need a steady, slow, controlled move to the target. The gun needs to feel heavy when mounted.

For the most part, my conditioning for this sport has involved simply lifting my gun to the regular shooting position, bringing it down, and lifting it back up. I typically do 20 ‘reps’ of this with 3-4 sets, 30 sec-1 minute rest between each(60-80 total reps). Normally, I finish with 3 static holds to failure where I get the gun in shooting position and simply hold it there until my muscles just can’t keep it up any longer. Surprisingly even after shooting at over 8000 targets in the past year, and doing this routine 3 times per week, this daily routine still makes my forearms, upper arms and shoulder burn.

I’m not sure if I simply need to increase my volume(like doing 5+ sets of 20 reps for 100 or more total reps), do more static holds to failure, or if I need to come up with an endurance-focused workout with free weights.

Any thoughts on what I can do to get to the point where my muscles aren’t fatigued after 3-4 days of shooting? It seems like so many articles are focused on the solution being more strength, which makes sense. I just want to know what I can do to ensure that the gun still ‘feels’ heavy, while getting my muscle endurance to the point where I still feel fresh on day 7 of a shoot.


Honestly, I don’t think your concern is warranted. Up to a certain point, increasing strength makes various objects feel lighter, but while a 50 lb. gain on some major exercises may make you feel less fatigue, an awkward object like a long arm is always going to have some heft to it. It is possible to increase your endurance without significantly increasing your strength, though.

Isometric holds come to mind. I did shooting stance dumbbell holds when I shot with a pistol. A shotgun however is trickier to train for so I probably wouldn’t do extra work for that. Like KingKai25 said, getting stronger generally makes the shotgun feel lighter but in the end, you’ll get used to it sooner or later.

While I’m not qualified to answer your question training wise…I’ve been a builder/experimenter forever. If repetition makes the gun feel heavier then let’s imagine something like drop sets.

Build your weighting system for your gun with “drop set” weights. However you make it with lead shot, sand, steel washers or whatever make it so you can drop weight as time progresses so that the perception of weight remains the same.

So even as you get stronger and increase endurance the perceived feel remains constant. And if balance is an issue…that can be factored in as well.

I’m a shooter as well, OldFool.

Hey Skip if I were you I would change my training to more reflect my performance goals. Start training sports specific and you will get to where you want to be.

For example, moving a 10.5 pound shotgun up and down 300 or so times during the course of the competition needs deltoid endurance. Delts are the one muscle group that raises and lowers your arms. There are other muscle groups involved in a shooting competition but none more important than the deltoids. And in particular the Anterior deltoid, also known as the “front delt”. This muscle connects the collarbone to the humerus (the long bone of the upper arm).

With that knowledge I feel that it’s exceptionally important to perform exercises like the front dumbbell raise for high reps. I don’t know your strength level but use a dumbbell that you can perform 20 reps with. Perform a high number of sets as well. Again I don’t know your strength endurance level but if you are able begin performing 10 sets of 20 reps with light dumbbells. Rest only :30 between sets. Build up to 20 sets if you are able. I know this sounds drastic but I have actually done this exact exercise before for sets higher than 20. My reason was to increase my ability to keep my arms up for martial arts. If you notice when a fighter is tired the first thing that he/she does is drop their arms. But that is another topic.

You will find if you are able to perform 20+ sets, and do 20 reps per set you will no longer have any fatigue raising that shotgun up and down 300 or so times. Try this movement for 6 weeks or so and then at the end grab a pair of even lighter dumbbells and see how many you can do in a row without stopping. You will be surprised how resilient your shoulders have become just from this one exercise.

Not only will you be working the endurance fibers of your delts to the core, you will also feel it in the trapezius muscles and even a bit in the biceps. It really is, in my opinion, the single best movement for your performance goals.

Let me know if you try this program for 6 weeks. And keep in mind do not begin by doing 20 sets of 20 reps. Start with maybe 5 sets or so. Work your way up gradually to avoid injury and burn out.

Good Luck Skip,


Thanks so much for the response. I’m going to start the program tomorrow. Really appreciate the advice!!

Did this work for you?

Yes, It worked incredibly well for my own purposes.