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Remedial Exercise Programmes: Strength and Muscle Endurance

Hi all! Its been a while since the last blog, but we’re back with a post following on in our Remedial Exercise Programme series. Discussing what YOU can do to help improve your animal's performance, conditioning and overall quality of life. (See blog post on Flexibility and Range of motion to be up to date)

This week we are discussing strength and muscle endurance. An area which I am very passionate about and will explain why below!

Superstar Sally (definitely not bias...) demonstrating an isometric hindlimb strengthening exercise- 'standing on a step' stretch.

What is Muscular Strength and Endurance?

Muscular Strength is the ability to generate the maximal amount of muscle force while performing a particular exercise. Strength will affect your horse or dog’s ability to complete daily exercises and routines. Contrastingly, Muscular Endurance is the ability to produce and sustain muscle force over a certain period of time. For example, core stability involves the abdominal wall, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and lower back. Strong core muscles make it easier to perform many physical activities, such as a horse engaging their core to work ‘long and low’ for a sustained amount of time rather than having a ‘hollow’ topline. Both muscular strength and endurance are uniquely interlinked and you cannot have one without the other,

Strength exercises are performed with maximal or near-maximal muscle contraction, with relatively few repetitions, which results in muscle hypertrophy over time. Endurance exercises are performed with repetitive contractions over an extended period, with relatively little load applied to the muscle. In contrast to strength training, aerobic capacity, but not muscle size, increases with endurance activities.

I am exceptionally passionate about muscular strength and endurance because I believe it aids the musculoskeletal system to work as efficiently and co-operatively as possible, with no imbalances or compensations. For example, strength means that the muscles give good support to the movement of the joint- therefore aiding the health of joints, bones, ligaments and tendons.

This is why I am always encouraging my clients (where possible) to incorporate even just gentle movement into their animals’ routines. Because if you don’t use it, you will lose it!

Asking your dog to hold the 'play bow' position works their hindlimb, core and forearm musculature, as well as stretching the forelimb muscles. A fantastic all rounder!

Why do animals need muscular strength?

Physical therapy is amongst the fastest growing branches of veterinary medicine, and within post-operative rehabilitation, attention has been drawn to its importance because of the increased concern of immobilisation (Marsolais et al., 2002; Hussain et al., 2019).

Research has reported that musculoskeletal tissues do not respond well to disuse. If bones, muscles, cartilage, ligaments and tendons are not loaded, atrophy (wastage) occurs. Moreover, muscle strength also decreases rapidly during the first week of immobilisation (Hussain et al., 2019). However, as long as careful rehabilitation proceeds and excessive load is not applied, remobilisation should be encouraged as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration of these musculoskeletal tissues (Millis and Ciuperca, 2015).


Improving muscular strength can provide benefits to your animal on many levels, for example:

· Building more lean muscle mass, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight for your animal (something that is not as easy as it sounds!)

· Better performance

· Improved thinking processes

· Reducing pain

· More independence and better mobility for your pet with age, such as by improving balance and stability

· Preventing both acute and overuse injuries

Exercises to improve strength

Unsurprisingly, your animal doesn’t have to life weights to improve their muscular strength and endurance. They can do simple bodyweight exercises at home (or at the yard) to build muscle and strength. This can also be a fun and enjoyable time to spend together.

Strength training improves both the size of your animal’s muscle fibres and the ability for their nerves to communicate with the muscles. So as the muscles become larger they also become more co-ordinated and better able to perform movements that require strength.

Exercises to improve strength:

There are so many exercises we can use to improve your animal’s strength and endurance, such as pole work, hill work, figure-of-eights and sit to stand (dog only!). Seeking a veterinary physiotherapist for help to create a tailored exercise programme for your specific animal is always a great place to start, as mentioned in the previous blog!

If you would like to know more information about how to increase your animal’s muscular strength and endurance to improve their overall quality of life and prevent musculoskeletal diseases, please get in touch!

Veterinary physiotherapy treatment in conjunction with a carefully selected exercise programme can be very beneficial to a patient in rehabilitation or looking to increase their performance. If you feel your animal may need some veterinary physiotherapy attention, please feel free to contact me via phone, email or social media. All of my contact details can be found on my website.


Hussain, D., Jayaprakash, R., Shafiuzama, M., Nissar, S., Sridhar, R. and George, R. 2019. Effects of early postoperative rehabilitation with physiotherapy in the cranial cruciate ligament ruptured dogs stabilized with extra capsular technique. Indian Journal of Animal Research, 53 (8), pp. 1104- 1109.

Marsolais, G., Dvorak, G. and Conzemius, M. 2002. Effects of postoperative rehabilitation on limb function after cranial cruciate ligament repair in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220 (9), pp. 1325.

Millis, D. and Ciuperca, I. 2015. Evidence for canine rehabilitation and physical therapy. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 45 (1), pp. 1-27.

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