It’s the age old question that personal trainers hear all the time. Higher reps or lower reps? What should you be using if you want to reach your goals faster? Like most questions in the health and fitness realm the answer is always… it depends. There are no absolutes. This article takes a very general approach to rep ranges and answers a lot of common gym worries I such as:
’I don’t want to lift heavy it will make me bulky’
‘Shouldn’t I just be doing light weights for high reps if I want to be lean?’
‘I want to build muscle should I be doing heavier weights lower reps?’
Most people reading this should be focusing on lifting weights in a variety of rep ranges, at different speeds focusing on progressive overload (putting more weight on the bar over time).
Desired rep ranges can be based on a number of things including, but not limited to, training experience, training goal and time so let’s take a look at these three things.
1. TRAINING EXPERIENCE
The more experienced you are the more complexity and thought needs to go in your programming. Different phases can aim at targeting different pathways in the body and can be more ‘goal specific’. If you just want to be a little less fat like most people then just getting in the gym consistently and training at intensity is far more important than what rep range to train in.
Beginners will recover quicker than advanced trainees and generally will require less rest between sets due to their inability to train at high intensities. A beginners 5 rep max will be very different to a seasoned vets 5 rep max.
2. TRAINING GOAL
FOR FAT LOSS
Echoing the above advice if you are newish to strength training you should be far more worried about getting in to the gym consistently. In saying that the bulk of your training should be focused on the compound lifts (lifts that use multiple joints at one time). These ‘bang for your buck’ exercises are going to have you expending the largest amount of energy compared to isolation work. This doesn’t mean to throw out the isolation work completely! It’s still very important for injury resistance and training longevity.
I believe the majority of your average run of the mill gym goers training should fall in the 6-15 rep range. Going much lower could be just out the pure enjoyment of getting stronger but remember greater intensities can mean greater injury risk hence why we rarely will touch this rep range at Lord of The Rig.
FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
There is some common misconception I still see around the place of people thinking that higher reps at lighter weights is optimal for getting lean and lower reps at heavier weights is for building muscle. When growth is the goal we need to understand that training VOLUME appears to be the largest driver of increased muscle size. Total volume being weight x reps x sets.
Say you have a bench press 1 rep max of 100kg. What do you think will illicit more muscle growth?
6 sets of 1 rep @ 95kg (total volume: 665 tonnes)
3 sets of 10 @ 60kg (total volume: 1,800 tonnes)
You can see even if you lifted ‘heavy bra’ the total volume is still much lower than working at around 60% of your 1RM meaning the lighter weight in this scenarios will reap more growth. I personally haven’t lifted much weight under 6 reps the past year or two and am the most muscular I have ever been.
Doing a strength block of training can be beneficial for more advanced trainees in order to resensitize your bodies ability to grow muscle. It will also allow you to come back to higher rep/higher volume work stronger allowing you to lift heavier (thus increasing volume). Beginners can put on strength with all sorts of rep ranges.
Lower Reps (5 and under)
If you want to get stronger time starts to play a massive issue as the aim is to go in to every set quite fresh in order to shift heavier loads. This means that the time you have to spend resting is increased. If you already have a solid base of strength the time you spend warming up is also increased (imagine someone building up to hit sets of 200kg on the deadlift – this takes a long time to warm up for).
This type of training tends to burn only a small amount of calories so is generally sub optimal for fat loss (unless you love training heavy and it keeps you motivated – in that case it can be very useful for adherence to a program). Through personal experience i’ve been stung by doing lower rep training without decreasing the amount of food I was eating so ended up putting on quite a lot of body fat.
Where most people should train (6 to 15 reps)
This is a great place to aim for and tends to suit most people just fine. People can get in to the gym and train between 45 minutes to an hour and get a great training affect before they’re off on their merry way. Most everyday people don’t want to be standing around for 2-3 minutes between each working set.
High Reps (15-20+ reps)
Extremely high reps can also be time consuming and quite difficult as you have to get very deep in to a set for it to start taking affect. In my experience most people don’t like to push that hard for that long. The only time I would dip in to the toolbox for this one would be for stability work and occasionally metabolic (pump) work.
There you have it folks. I hope i’ve crushed your hopes and dreams that picking up a 1kg pink dumbbell and doing 100 reps is going to make you ‘toned’. There really is no substitute for good old fashioned strength training if you want to shape your body.
As always, keep the questions coming guys absolutely love chatting to you all about these articles.
Yours in health,