- Building Muscle Mass: More Weight or More Reps?
- Low Reps with Heavier Weight
- High Reps with Lighter Weight
- Or, Mix Things Up?
- A Final Thought…
- High Reps, Low Reps? Which Rep Scheme Is Best?
- Ask the Celebrity Trainer: High Reps and Light Weights vs. Low Reps and Heavy Weights?
- Slower Rep Speed for Greater Fat Loss?
- Slow lifting can create a big surge in GH (Growth Hormone) levels.
- A 1700% greater increase in Growth Hormone.
- A 1700% GH increase when compared to fast lifting?
- How much slow lifting should you do?
- Exercise Strategies for Rapid Fat Loss
- Why Do We Exercise?
- How Fat Loss Works
- How Not to Exercise to Lose Fat
- How to Exercise to Lose Fat
- Hypertrophy Focus Exercise
- Strength Focus Training for Fat Loss
- Cardio for Fat Loss
- Before We Begin
- Your Goal: Weight Loss
- Your Goal: Muscle Mass
- Your Goal: Muscle Endurance
- Everyone is an Individual, Results may vary
- Is there a Battle Winner?
- Lifting heavy or light weights will give you different results — here’s how to know which ones to use
- Lifting light may help you build a lean physique
- Light weights cause fewer injuries than heavy ones
- Lifting heavy will help you build strength
- What does the science say?
- There are pros and cons of both
- How to get results from your weight training
- High Reps and Low Weight: Not Just Your Mother’s Workout
- Debunking the Tiny Muscles Myth: Lifting to Failure
- Specific Low Weight-High Rep Benefits
- Are There Any Downsides to Going High Rep, Low Weight?
- Reps vs. Weight: Learn how to focus your workout
Building Muscle Mass: More Weight or More Reps?
What’s better for getting bigger muscles? Heavy weight and few reps, or light weight and more reps? Here’s how it all breaks down.
Low Reps with Heavier Weight
The traditional method for building muscle mass, for both men and women alike, is to lift heavier weights and increase the amount of weight over time. On the intense end of the spectrum, powerlifters and many competitive bodybuilders pair very low reps (1 to 5) with extremely heavy weights (90-95% of their one-rep max).
Why does this work? Lifting heavier weight (approximately 70-75% of your one-rep max) activates Type 2 or “fast twitch” muscle fibers, which are important in developing strength and promoting hypertrophy (muscle growth along with an increase in the size of muscle cells).
The potential pitfall? Type 2 muscle fibers have greater power, but they also fatigue quickly—and muscle fiber stimulation correlates with how long they are under resistance. If they aren’t under tension long enough, they won’t be able to promote hypertrophy (muscle growth) as effectively.
For this reason, many people have found success with a more moderate approach (8-12 reps at 70-75% of your one-rep max). This allows you to lift enough weight to build strength and power, while also being able to extend the length of your set.
High Reps with Lighter Weight
So what happens when you extend your reps into the high range (15+ per set?) The amount of weight you can handle at this range is about 50-60% of your one-rep max. This isn’t enough weight to promote a response from the Type 2 muscle fibers, where the potential for big growth resides.
A high-rep/lighter-weight workout activates a different type of muscle fiber: Type 1. Also called “slow twitch” muscle fibers, they have less power than Type 2 but are endurance-based and much slower to fatigue.
That means that when you lift lighter weights for more reps, you’re still gaining strength, just a different kind—muscular endurance. The longer, high-intensity workouts also burn more calories, help melt fat for a more toned appearance, and give you a greater afterburn effect.
Or, Mix Things Up?
So, in general, low reps with heavy weight tends to increase muscle mass, while high reps with light weight increases muscle endurance.
This doesn’t mean that you have to rely on one method exclusively. Alternating between the two may be the best approach for long-term success. Here’s why.
- Lifting heavy weights builds muscle, but constantly upping the weight exhausts the body. The nervous system must also adjust to the new fiber activation in the muscles. Lifting lighter weights with more reps gives the muscle tissue and nervous system a chance to recover while also building endurance.
If you follow the same fitness program over a period of time, you will eventually hit the dreaded “plateau.” When your mind and body have adapted to the routine, it is no longer challenging and you stop making progress. Changing things up gives your body and nervous system the kick in the pants they need to start progressing again.
Eventually, you’ll hit a point where you can’t lift any more weight, or can’t lift the weight long enough to be effective. This can cause your form to break down, putting you at greater risk for injury. Switching to high rep/low weight for a time will allow you to continue making progress, concentrate on your form, and build up endurance so you can hit those heavy weights again.
These workout change-ups should be planned and strategic, such as every other workout, every other week, or on a 6-8 week rotation. An unstructured, uneven approach will lead to uneven results.
A Final Thought…
It’s important to remember that there are many factors that go into building muscle mass, apart from the workouts you perform. Diet, genetics, metabolic rate, hormone levels, body type, and even your individual muscle fiber composition all contribute. No one workout plan is effective or appropriate for everyone.
A personal trainer can help you design a plan to build muscle safely and effectively. They are trained professionals and can tailor the workouts to fit your goals and lifestyle. Genesis Health Clubs offers all its members a series of four free sessions with a personal trainer upon joining. Contact the Fitness Manager in a club near you to take advantage of this membership benefit and get moving toward reaching your goals!
High Reps, Low Reps? Which Rep Scheme Is Best?
Bodybuilders and strength athletes stop making progress for one reason: They stop coercing their body to adapt. Note how I intentionally use the word coerce, not a connotatively weaker action verb like force. The reason is that once you’ve been in the training game long enough, your body grows wiser and you realize that you can’t simply force it to do anything anymore.
When you continue to push and grunt with no concrete strategy other than “hard work,” you get injured or beat-up. Few things devour reasonable progress faster than what we’ll call “middle ground” training. That is, always training with the same set or rep scheme and with the same intensity. If you default to training in the 8, 10, or 12 rep range, I hate to break it to you, but your growth is simply wallowing in no-gain’s land.
Fortunately, there are tools in the training toolbox that will sharpen up your training. Let’s start with a brief overview and then move on to how these can be applied to your own programming to maximize growth and development.
The Neural-Metabolic Continuum
The first order of business is to focus on a key element of training: The neural-metabolic continuum. It’s a fancy term that allows you to understand whether you actually work your muscles or central nervous system (CNS), based on key variables. For the sake of brevity, here’s a visual breakdown of what it looks like.
Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain. If you’re chasing more metabolic (i.e. hypertrophic) gains, your, say, squatting program might look something like this:
- 4 sets of 10 repetitions
- Tempo: 3 seconds down, no pause in the bottom, 1 second up
- 60-90 seconds rest between sets
On the other end of the spectrum, where you might be chasing more neural (i.e. strength) gains, your program might more resemble this:
- 5 sets of 3 repetitions
- Tempo: As fast as possible
- 3-5 minutes rest between sets
Are we clear on the layout of the neural-metabolic continuum? Good, now let’s look at why you need to spend time in both ends (and not the straight middle) to maximize your growth and development.
The Case For High Reps
By now, it’s probably ingrained in you that you need to perform high reps per set (I’m looking at you, bodybuilders). Let me clarify that I define high reps to dawdle in the 8-12 rep range but could be as low as 6 reps per set.
There shouldn’t be anything really earth-shattering here. If you train with high reps, your goal is to build a bigger muscle.
Some folks call this “structural hypertrophy” since the higher rep sets allow you to focus primarily on the muscles themselves. They also lend themselves to fewer total sets per exercise. By virtue of slowing down the movement, coupled with the sheer amount of reps you do per set, you’re going to increase time under tension, which is a necessary stimulus for hypertrophy. No doubt, gains in strength will come along for the ride, but increases in muscular growth will outpace the increases in strength.
But what happens if you spend all your time here? Quite simply, your body will adapt to your training in this rep range if you continue it for extended periods of time. Furthermore, training in that zone will ultimately limit the amount of intensity you can use as well.
Do high-rep sets (15, 20, or more reps per set) have a place in programming? Sure, but they’re probably the exception rather than the rule.
The solution here is clear: Focus on getting stronger! This brings me to my next point…
The solution here is clear: focus on getting stronger!
The Case For Low Reps
High reps deliver big gains, right? Well, low reps have a place, too!
The low-rep zone can be defined as anything between 1 rep with near-maximal effort and 5 reps in a set. They’re often viewed as being geared more for powerlifting or Olympic lifting, but if you really want to make high-threshold motor units work, you will need to push some serious weight!
This focuses on making your nervous system more efficient. If you switch from sets of 10 to sets of 3, you coerceyour body to unfamiliar, shocking stressors, especially since low rep ranges encourage the use of much heavier weights. Every movement requires more “tightness” and a more intense focus. Further, more motor units and muscle fibers are recruited, and your body gets better at turning off antagonists (or opposing muscle groups) as well.
The result is that you’ll get jacked, but in a slightly different way. Since the goal is more on strength, your body composition will greatly differ from someone who performs exclusively high-rep sets. Powerlifters are strong as hell and can move jaw-dropping weight, but probably lack a bit of the size and definition of a well-trained bodybuilder.
The Perfect Combination
So if high reps promote hypertrophy and low reps facilitate strength increases, then in theory, the marriage of both rep schemes will bring forth muscular and strength development worthy of the Greek gods.
You need to spend dedicated periods of time in both the high-rep and low-rep ranges to maximize your development. High reps build muscle and connective tissue strength, and give your body respite from the grind of low-rep sets, too. Similarly, low-rep sets build neuromuscular and CNS efficiency. When you become more efficient and then go back to your big lifts, you can use even more weight than before, because you’re just that much more efficient and effective.
As an example of what I often do with physique-focused clients, I break down their set-rep schemes into one of two categories:
- High rep: 8-12 repetitions per set
- Low rep: 4-8 repetitions per set
These aren’t hard-and-fast rules. There may be times when even higher reps (15-20) could be used. On the flipside, there are other times when you may want to push the weight and work in the 1-5 rep range.
The biggest benefit from switching between these two ranges is that you’ll constantly coerce (there’s that word again) your body to adapt, to grow, and to improve.
Can’t I Just Train Everything At Once?
I know some people really like undulating periodization, in which you hit different set-rep schemes on different days of the week.
If this is you, perhaps your training looks something like this:
- Monday: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Wednesday: 5 sets of 5 reps
- Friday: 10 sets of 3 reps
With this weekly program, you hit everything in one training week, thinking it’s smart, efficient training. This is true if you’re newer to lifting or have never tried a protocol like this before. However, as you get more and more advanced, this type of scenario won’t work nearly as well since you’re sending multiple mixed messages to your body.
Monday’s workout would tell your body it’s time to get big, but then Wednesday’s workout will kick your body into a bit of strength mode. Finally, Friday’s workout will run counter to Monday’s and place the emphasis on raw strength. What is a confused body to do?! As you become more proficient, you have to dial up the focus and be the orchestrator to your symphony of muscles (and thus, training).
It’s kind of why an elite level sprinter can’t simply wake up one day, decide to run a marathon, and hope to be awesome at both distances.
While I’m saying that you need to spend time on both ends of the neural-metabolic continuum, you need to have some patience and zero-in your efforts on one at a time. The general rule is to spend at least 4-6 weeks focusing on one end before you even think about heading to the other.
The Final Step: Autoregulation
Hopefully, you’re now alternating between periods of high-rep and low-rep training—awesome! The next step is to alternate the level of intensity over the course of the training cycle. Think of the following quote: “A peak is surrounded by two valleys.” You can’t expect to go at 110 percent intensity every time you train. You’ll only burn yourself out. Layer-in days of high intensity combined with days of low intensity.
The astute reader (you!) might inquire about whether simply wavering between high and low rep ranges might already serve this purpose. It does in a rather unrefined way. Here’s an example of how I’ll set my intensity within a training month:
- Week 1: 4 sets of 5 reps @70%
- Week 2: 5 sets of 5 reps @80%
- Week 3: 4 sets of 3 reps @75%
- Week 4: 3 sets of 5 reps @85%
As you can see, I’m not trying to move the same weights or loads on a week-to-week basis.
In week 1, I build a base and get a good weight to build my base from. In week 2, I push the limits of my volume. In week 3, I deload. Basically, that means I lower the intensity and volume to make it an “easier” work week, allowing my body to recover and supercompensate. Finally, in week 4, I go for broke with regard to my intensity. Try using this for your squat sometime—it works great!
You can’t expect to go at 110 percent intensity every time you train. You’ll only burn yourself out.
You could also do something far simpler, which yields amazing results when you just get started:
- Week 1: 3 sets of 10 reps @70%
- Week 2: 3 sets of 8-10 reps @75%
- Week 3: 3 sets of 8 reps @80%
- Week 4: 2 sets of 8 reps @70-75%
In this example, I use a stair-step approach to prepare you for week 3. After that, you deload and get ready to run the cycle again on week 5.
With these examples, the point I’m driving home is that you can’t go hard every single week. Instead, “wave” your intensity and build up to a series of big workouts, then back off to allow your body time to recover.
It’s All About Smarter Training
If you want to get the most out of your training, you not only need to work hard, but you need to work smart. By training on both ends of the neural-metabolic continuum and incorporating undulating waves of intensity into your training cycle, you’ll not only see better results but you’ll incur fewer bumps and bruises along the way.
Ask the Celebrity Trainer: High Reps and Light Weights vs. Low Reps and Heavy Weights?
Q: Should I be doing more reps with lighter weight or fewer reps with heavy weights? Please settle this debate once and for all!
A: The answer is both! Contrary to popular belief, incorporating some higher intensity training (lower reps, heavier weights) into your workout routine will not make you “bulky.” It might seem counterintuitive, but lifting heavy weights can actually help you get a lean body faster.
Of course there are exceptions, but most women tend to train with lighter weights (50-60 percent of their maximum capability) and higher repetitions (15-20+ reps per set) for each exercise. This approach isn’t necessarily wrong, and I do incorporate it into my female clients’ programs periodically, but the downside is that it only develops endurance capabilities of the muscle (type 1 or slow-twitch muscle fibers) and neglects type 2 or fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are important for building new muscle tissue and developing strength and power.
I know what you’re thinking: Why would you want to add muscle tissue when your goal is to lose weight and/or get a leaner body? The answer is simple: Building muscle (or at least maintaining your existing muscle) is important for your metabolism, which is essentially the term for all of the chemical reactions that occur in your cells to provide energy for your body. Muscle tissue is much more metabolically active than fat. In other words, muscle requires calories as fuel to sustain itself, even when you’re just sitting in front of your computer. Plus, a pound of lean muscle tissue takes up significantly less space inside the body than a pound of fat tissue. So dropping body fat and adding lean muscle mass is the ultimate combination to help you achieve a tighter, leaner version of yourself.
How should you train to get the best of both worlds? I’m glad you asked. After completing a dynamic warm up (), start your strength training session by performing one or two multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, or chinups. Perform 3 sets with a heavier resistance (80-85 percent of your maximum capability) for 6-8 reps per set. This strategy will allow you to target those important type 2 muscle fibers while minimizing the (already small) potential for too much muscle growth.
On the next page, you’ll find an example of what a total-body training session might look like using this approach.
Total-Body Workout for Maximum Results
You’ll need: Cable machine, dumbbells, Swiss ball
How it works: Perform this workout three times per week on nonconsecutive days for three weeks total. During week one, rest for 30 seconds between the first and second exercises in the B and C mini-circuits. Reduce that rest period to 20 seconds during week two and then to 10 seconds for week three. By adjusting the rest periods, you gradually force your body to perform the same amount of work in less time. This strategy will increase the metabolic demands (the caloric expenditure) of the workout. Have fun!
Rest period: 75 seconds
B1) Reverse Lunges
Rest period: 30 seconds
Reps: As many as possible with proper form
Rest period: 30 seconds
B3) Standing Cable Face Pulls
Rest period: 60 seconds
C1) Romanian Deadlifts with Dumbbells
Rest period: 30 seconds
C2) Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Rest period: 60 seconds
C3) Swiss Ball Rollout
Rest period: 60 seconds
Personal trainer and strength coach Joe Dowdell is one of the most highly sought‐after fitness experts in the world. His motivating teaching style and unique expertise have helped transform a clientele that includes stars of television and film, musicians, pro athletes, CEO’s, and top fashion models from around the world. To learn more, check out JoeDowdell.com.
To get expert fitness tips all the time, follow @joedowdellnyc on Twitter or becoming a fan of his Facebook page.
- By Joe Dowdell, CSCS
Slower Rep Speed for Greater Fat Loss?
I recommend lifting at a slow pace at least SOME of the time.
Slow lifting ensures your muscles are contracting over the full-range of a movement and it isn’t just momentum doing the work.
: How to get a slim & sophisticated physique that looks equally stunning in dress clothes or a swimsuit.
Fast lifting has its place too.
…but there is an additional benefit to lifting at a slower pace that I don’t believe I have covered on my blog.
Slow lifting can create a big surge in GH (Growth Hormone) levels.
A few benefits of GH?
- Stimulates collagen production (good for skin and joints)
- Preserves muscle
- Speeds up fat loss
Your body makes it naturally.
Exercise is a proven way to boost GH levels.
Some Hollywood actors inject GH to maintain muscle and look younger than their actual age.
I’m not a fan of needles.
I recommend training in a way that makes your body naturally produce this “youth hormone”.
A study came out a few years ago which found a specific slow lifting speed that greatly increased GH over a fast lifting speed.
(Credit to TC Luoma for tracking this study down.)
How big was this GH increase compared to fast lifting?
A 1700% greater increase in Growth Hormone.
What lifting tempo created these results?
I’ll get to that right after this short music break.
The music theme for this post is 70’s slow jams (slow tunes for some slow lifting).
The study was setup to compare the effects of doing the negative portion (lowering) of an exercise at a fast versus a slower pace.
The Fast Group: Performed 4 sets of bench press at 70% of their 1 rep max for 8 reps. They lowered the weight at their natural pace, which wound up being around 1 second.
The Slow Group: Performed 4 sets of bench press at 70% of their 1 rep max for 8 reps… except they purposely took 3 seconds to lower the weight during each rep.
The Slow Group (SEV) experienced a serious GH surge 15 minutes after the lifting session.
…much more than the Fast Group (FEV).
Image Credit: NCBI
This is a pretty impressive difference.
How beneficial is a large spike in GH?
If you were to ask me 10-12 years ago when I began my career as a fitness writer, I would have told you EXTREMELY beneficial.
It turns out that it does help, maybe just not as drastically as what many of us first believed.
A 1700% GH increase when compared to fast lifting?
This doesn’t mean that slow lifting is going to result in 17 times the fat burning…
…or 17 times better skin.
I wouldn’t even know how to measure perfect skin.
Maybe we should create a unit of measurement called JAI.
JAI is short for “Jessica Alba Index”.
A perfect JAI is 100.
Jessica is the only person who sometimes ventures above 100.
(I know that doesn’t make sense… just go with it.)
As a 49-year-old man with questionable skin genetics, I’m thinking my JAI is about 15.
Perhaps slow lifting to could get me to a 16-18?
The truth is, we don’t really know exactly what a 1700% surge in GH will do.
…but any increase helps.
How much slow lifting should you do?
All of my Visual Impact courses involve deliberate slow lifting for at least a portion of the workouts.
The study above shows a pretty darn impressive surge in GH by just doing a few sets of bench press.
They didn’t study the effects over a full workout.
My guess is that it there is a cap to how much GH rises from a workout.
I doubt twice the amount of sets would double the GH spike to 3400%.
Simply make sure you include at least a few slow-rep sets in your workout routine.
Even something as simple as 4 sets of a finishing exercise where you deliberately take 3-4 seconds to lower the weight.
Every little bit of GH surge helps.
…and if you have great genetics?
You may even reach 1/2 the JAI level of Jessica herself.
Which is still incredible.
: How to get a slim & sophisticated physique that looks equally stunning in dress clothes or a swimsuit.
As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.
to check out my premium courses.
Exercise Strategies for Rapid Fat Loss
Do you have to exercise for fat loss? Not necessarily, but it certainly helps. You have to be careful though. Approaching exercise for fat loss haphazardly might hinder your results in the long term.
How should you workout if you want to lose weight? What are the fat burning exercises? Is fasted cardio the answer? Maybe you should do HIIT. Forget about cardio, just lift weights. Don’t lift heavy though, do 30 reps. No, always lift heavy. 4-6 reps is the best rep range.
When it comes to fat loss, one of the most confusing parts is the exercise. You get conflicting recommendations and you don’t know which one to follow. In this post, I am going to try to clarify this and give you the exercise strategies for fat loss.
Why Do We Exercise?
What is the point of exercising in the first place? You need to design your exercise routine based on your goals. For example, if your goal is to increase your lung capacity and VO2 max, high-intensity interval training is your best option. On the other hand, if you are trying to increase your stamina, steady state long cardio will work better. If you want to get stronger, lifting heavy weights in the low rep range is the way to go.
As you can see, different exercise methods work better for different goals. In this post, my recommendations will focus on exercise for rapid fat loss. If you already have a training regimen or goals other than fat loss, feel free to skip this post.
How Fat Loss Works
Fat on your body is the reserve energy source. The only way to reduce your fat mass is to create a need for the reserve energy source. If you are already giving your body the energy it needs, there is no reason to tap into the fat for energy. So we need to burn more energy than we take in to burn fat.
There are 4 ways we burn energy:
- Basal Metabolic Rate: This is the amount of energy we burn at rest. The basal metabolic rate is pretty much set for everyone, and there is very little we can do to change this. The basal metabolic rate is regulated by our age, sex, body weight, and fat-free mass. The best thing we can do to keep BMR high is to have as much fat free mass as possible.
- Thermic Effect of Food: When we digest food, it costs our bodies to digest the food. We burn extra calories through heat after we eat. Every macronutrient has a different thermic effect. The highest thermic effect is caused by protein. 20-30% of the calories you eat from protein is burned through heat. This number is around 5-10% for carbohydrates and 0-5% for fats. The best thing we can do to increase the thermic effect of food is to eat a high protein diet.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): From the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, you move. Get out of the bed, take a shower, walk to your car, climb the stairs, talk to your friends, fidget, dance, etc. We burn calories with all the activity even though it is not considered exercise. The amount of calories we burn through NEAT varies a lot from person to person. Genetics, hormones, and daily habits affect how many calories we burn throughout the day. The biggest difference between naturally overweight people and naturally lean people is the number of calories they burn through NEAT. The difference can be thousands of calories a day. The best thing we can do to increase the NEAT calories is to take every opportunity to move more during the day.
- Exercise: The last way we burn calories is exercise. Whether it is cardio, strength training, or circuit training, we burn calories during the exercise. However, the amount of calories we burn during exercise is usually overestimated by calorie readout of cardio machines or activity trackers we wear. One example is Julia Belluz. She spent a day in a metabolic chamber at NIH, and the number of calories she burned was measured accurately. During her 90 minute exercise on a bike, she only burned 405 Calories.
Since fat loss is about creating a calorie deficit, is exercise really necessary? Can’t we just eat less and have a sedentary life? Technically you can, but studies show that creating a calorie deficit with both diet and exercise help us avoid adaptive thermogenesis compared to the same amount of calorie deficit by diet only. By exercising, you maintain your metabolism and this way you can burn fat more easily.
The most effective Fat Burner (Affiliate link)
How Not to Exercise to Lose Fat
If your goal is to lose fat, all your instincts are going to tell you to exercise as much as humanly possible. Morning fasted cardio, spin class at lunch break, strength training in the afternoon, and maybe another evening run. You sure are going to burn a lot of calories like this, but unless you are used to this kind of training routine, you are going to crash real fast.
From an evolutionary perspective, losing weight is a horrible idea. It is the equivalent of throwing money out the window. Therefore, our bodies resist this stupidity as much as they can.
When you lower the calories you eat and exercise, your body is going to do all it can to compensate for the lost calories. After a long exercise, your body will try to get those calories back by increasing your appetite. If you don’t cave in and eat, this time it targets the NEAT calories.
Maybe you went on a long run early in the morning and burned a few hundred Calories. Unless you are accustomed to that type of training, you will feel tired for the rest of the day. Maybe you will take a nap instead of cleaning the house. Or maybe you will stay at home and watch TV instead of going shopping with your friends.
You have every right to feel good about the calories you burn during training, but it doesn’t help your fat loss goals if you compensate for those calories either by eating more or moving less for the rest of the day.
How to Exercise to Lose Fat
Remember the first and biggest way you burn calories? Your basal metabolic rate is your biggest weapon on your fat loss war. The only thing you can do to maintain or increase your basal metabolic rate is to either hold onto or build fat free mass, meaning muscle.
If your main goal is to lose fat, it may be hard or even impossible for you to build muscle. Whether you can build muscle while burning fat depends on where you are now. You can read more about it here, but the main point is, if you are new to muscle building or you are coming back from a long break, you may build some muscle while burning fat. However, if you already have considerable amount of muscle or very little amount of fat to lose, don’t expect any muscle gain.
If you are in a position to build muscle, you can focus on hypertrophy training to increase your muscle size. If you already have the muscle mass below the fat, focus on maintaining or increasing your strength, so after you lose the fat, you can pick up where you left off and build more muscle by increasing your calories.
Hypertrophy Focus Exercise
The main driver of muscle hypertrophy is training volume. The volume is defined by the number of hard sets. A hard set is the set where you almost reach the failure. The more hard sets you complete for each muscle group, the more your muscles will grow.
If you are new to weight training, the best place to start is to learn the big, compound lifts. These lifts give you the best bang for your buck, and should be the core of every weightlifting session.
These lifts are squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and barbell row. I call this the big 5, and they hit every major muscle group in your body. Focus on learning the correct form for these lifts, and get as strong as possible on these. You only need to train 3 days a week, and they should be full body trainings.
Once you start feeling comfortable with these lifts and get really heavy with them, you can start adding additional lifts and volume to your training. Once 3 days a week is not enough to accommodate the amount of volume, add more days. However you design your workout, try to hit each major muscle group at least twice a week.
In terms of hypertrophy, rep ranges are not as important as the volume. But for strength, lower rep ranges with heavier weights work the best. You don’t have to stick to one rep range the whole time. You can try different rep ranges at different days or you can even do different rep ranges with each set.
I personally stick to 4-6 rep range on the big 5 lifts, and do 8-12 reps on additional exercises I add for each muscle group. For example, you can do heavy squats at 4-6 rep range and do 8-12 reps on leg extension. Remember, your rest in between sets are inversely correlated with the number of reps. Rest 3 minutes for the heavy sets and 1-2 minutes on your lighter sets.
Strength Focus Training for Fat Loss
If you already have significant amount of muscle mass and/or very little amount of fat to lose, you shouldn’t expect muscle gain during your fat loss. In that case, focusing on hypertrophy training with a lot of volume won’t be beneficial to you beyond the number of calories you burn during your workouts. As I mentioned above, those calories will be most likely compensated anyway.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lift weight though. You still need to maintain your muscle mass and strength. In order to maintain your muscle mass and strength, you don’t need much volume. You can get away with only 2 workouts per week.
When you are in a serious calorie deficit, it is hard to recover from heavy lifting sessions. That’s why you need to give your body plenty of time to recover, so you can keep your strength up for your next training.
While focusing on the big 5 lifts, you should workout in the low rep range with heavy lifts. To keep your training short, 2-3 sets per workout will suffice. For someone who is used to lifting weights and building muscle, you will feel like you are not working out enough. But remember, your focus is to lose fat. As long as you can maintain your strength, you will be fine. The fat will melt off of you and reveal your muscular physique.
Cardio for Fat Loss
On the days you are not lifting weights, you still need to burn calories to lose fat. Cardio will serve this purpose. Cardio training is not necessary to lose fat. If you are very active during the day and take around 10,000 steps a day, you don’t need any cardio. However, if you are sedentary during the day, drive your car to work, have an office job, and don’t have the opportunity to be active, adding cardio to your day will help you burn more calories.
If you have plenty of time, low intensity cardio is the best option for you. What low intensity means depends on your fitness level. For some people, it means walking whereas for other people it means jogging.
If you have the time, brisk walking for an hour everyday is an excellent option. If you are in a good shape, you can pick up the pace and jog instead. Just make sure, you keep your heart rate at a comfortable spot. Higher intensity cardio for long time will negatively affect your muscle mass and leave you tired and hungry for the rest of the day.
If time is an issue, you can do high intensity interval training instead. This type of training will take less than half an hour and still allow you to burn plenty of calories. For high intensity interval training, after a few minutes of warm up alternate 30 seconds of all-out effort with a 1 minute and 30 seconds of recovery. Repeat this for 8 to 12 times, and you are done.
You can get creative with the high intensity interval training. This can be alternating between all-out sprints and walking or some type of bodyweight circuit training.
If you are like me, you will find cardio boring. You can play instead. You can play pick up soccer or basketball or you can play with your kids or dogs. By keeping activity interesting, you can have fun while burning calories. Just remember, the whole point is to burn calories, so get creative and find your favorite way to burn calories.
If you don’t feel so hungry when you wake up, you can try fasted cardio. It’s not a magical method, but it can help you burn stubborn fat.
Here you have the principles of exercise for burning fat. The most important thing is to stay consistent with both your nutrition and your exercise. Even the best workout program won’t work for you if it doesn’t fit your goals and lifestyle. Using the above principles, find whatever is going to work best for you and stick to it.
About Post Author
Serdar Tuncali is a science-based fitness enthusiast. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Pharmacy and a Master’s of Science in Clinical Research Management. He works at Mayo Clinic as a Sr. Research Technologist and authored several publications in top scientific journals.
Table of Contents
Are you frustrated by a lack of muscle mass even though you work out frequently?
Or have you been holding on to the last few pounds that just won’t budge?
Confused about whether low reps vs high reps are better to help you meet your goal?
Today, we’re going to take some of the most common goals, and break them down. We’ll try to determine which works best, low reps or high reps, for:
- Weight loss
- Muscle mass
- Muscle strength
- Muscle endurance
But first, we need to go over a few things before we get into the battle of low reps vs high reps.
Before We Begin
Throughout this article, we’re going to talk about different muscle fibers and the percentage of reps per minute. Let’s go into a little more detail on each of these and then we’ll dive into what’s best for your goals.
There are two main types of muscle fibers that make up your muscle tissue. They each have different roles and activate at different times.
- Type I muscle fibers: These are also called slow-twitch muscle fibers. They are the first activated when a muscle is engaged, so they have a low activation threshold. These muscle fibers are slower to fatigue and endurance-based.
- Type II muscle fibers: These are the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Activated once the force is too great on the slow-twitch fibers. They are quicker to fatigue but have greater power and strength to pick up heavier loads. More type II fibers are used during explosive movements and require longer rest periods.
The Strength-Endurance Continuum is a visual representation of the relationship between strength and endurance.
It demonstrates that strength is increased by high weight at low reps and endurance by low weight and high reps.
Reps Per Set
- Strength: 1-5
- Hypertrophy: 6-12
- Endurance: 15+
% of 1RPM
- Strength: 80-90%
- Hypertrophy: 60-80%
- Endurance: >40%
Your 1RPM is the maximum amount of weight you can lift in one rep for each type of exercise.
Whatever that number is, you’ll do a percentage of that for a designated number of reps and sets. The weight used will be different for everyone based on the 1RPM.
If you need help figuring out the percentage of each rep, enter your 1RPM here and it will be calculated.
Your Goal: Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, most people have a certain number as a goal. For many, this is not realistic or attainable.
Depending on what you’re doing to actually lose weight, you might never see that number on the scale.
- Are you just changing your diet?
- Are you exercising too?
- What type of exercise are you doing?
If you are trying to lose weight through diet alone, then you might be able to see that number. But if you are also exercising, especially lifting weights, it’s much harder.
Remember, muscle weighs more than fat.
If you are simultaneously losing fat while gaining muscle, the scale isn’t going to move much. To really determine if you are losing weight by losing fat, you have to do body measurements.
Start where you are now, measure each of your body parts, and track them weekly or every two weeks. You should start noticing changes within the first few weeks.
Take body measurements of each body part:
Don’t rely on the scale, rely on the changes your body is making to achieve your weight loss goal. Some parts (like your arms and legs) may increase in size as you build muscle, while others (your stomach) will decrease.
Now, when it comes to weight loss, should you do more reps or more weight?
What Does the Research Say?
While losing weight, you want to maintain any muscle that you do have while gaining strength. This is why you can’t rely on the scale for a true picture of your weight loss success.
For long-term weight loss, it’s advisable to maintain your fat-free mass (muscle mass) and resting metabolic rate. Exercising will increase your energy while helping to burn the fat off faster.
Consider this study following 65 obese people, ranging in age from 19 – 48. They were divided into three different groups:
- Diet only
- Cardio plus Diet
- Strength training plus diet
Their resting metabolic rate was measured, and they were put on a diet of 70% of their RMR. The study lasted for eight weeks, where the exercise groups trained three times a week.
At the end of the study, each group had lost about the same amount of weight. But, in the strength training group, gains were seen:
- Significant increase in grip strength
- Significant increase in flexed arm muscle mass
- The least amount of fat-free mass lost of all groups
This means that all the weight and inches lost in the strength group are mostly fat rather than muscle. A great thing for someone looking to increase their overall body composition and lose weight.
Low Reps vs High Reps for Weight Loss
So, when it comes to low reps vs high reps for weight loss, which is better? You’ll want to shoot for high reps with low weights, at least 12 – 15+ per set to optimize weight loss.
Ideally, you’ll want to lift weights that are about half of your 1RPM (reps per minute). This will engage your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which will increase overall muscle endurance.
Light weights with slow movements will increase aerobic metabolism to fuel your fat burn.
After a few weeks, increase your weight to 60 – 80% of your 1RPM. You should be in the 6 -8 rep range at this weight, completing two to three sets total per exercise.
Refer back to the Strength-Endurance Continuum chart as needed when making rep changes.
If you really want to accelerate your fat-burning, consider high-intensity workouts, as a supplement to reps. These are quick, short bursts of intense exercise followed by short bursts of rest.
This will engage your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
HIIT workouts will really get your RMR going and zero in on burning fat while also engaging your muscles. Not sure where to start when it comes to eating better? Here’s our guide on how to start eating healthy.
If you’ve got stubborn stomach fat to lose, make sure you check this out as well.
Your Goal: Muscle Mass
When it comes to high reps vs low reps, which do you think is better for increasing your muscle size?
If you ask bodybuilders and powerlifters, the consensus is to lift heavy weights with lower reps. While there are some who think that super high rep training with light weights is best for bodybuilding.
And you also have to consider muscle strength along with muscle hypertrophy (size). Do the number of reps and weight load differ when considering strength vs hypertrophy?
Consider what the research says. This meta-analysis of 21 studies set out to determine the maximal benefits of each loading range.
All of the studies lasted at least six weeks and sets were performed until momentary muscle failure. Here are the results:
- Gains were highest in the high-load training groups
- Hypertrophy was improved similarly under both conditions
If you want the most benefit from weight lifting to increase muscle strength, go with heavy weights and mid-range reps. If you are looking to build muscle mass, you can do either, but a combination would be even better.
Considerations to Changing up Your Routine
Changing up the weight load and rep range is beneficial for a few reasons:
- Low reps with heavier weights increase the number of sets needed. This also increases the time spent in the gym and it puts more pressure on the joints and overall fatigue requiring more recovery time.
- Working the same reps and loads over time will cause you to plateau. This is also usually where people stop making progress, as the body and mind have gotten used to the routine.
- Heavier weights with lower reps can cause problems because you eventually max out and can’t handle any more weight. If you push too much, your form could suffer and you’re at higher risk for injury.
For best results, and to reduce the risk of fatigue, plateau, and injury, change up your routine. Consider a weekly change where you rotate your workout reps:
- Week 1: high reps, low weights 3 – 4 times per week
- Week 2: low reps, high weights 2 – 3 times per week
Or you can even work out heavy one day, take two days off for recovery, and then go light the next gym day. Figure out what works best for you and your muscle fibers.
How Many Times per Week for Best Results?
When looking to increase your muscle size, is it best to go to the gym as much as possible? Not really.
As we’ve already discussed, your muscles need time to rest and recover from your workout. You need to have at least one day of rest in between strength training, sometimes more if you’re lifting heavy.
Supplements such as Vintage Bliss™ can help the body reach the non-REM deep sleep to provide the adequate rest your body needs post-workout.
We’ve looked at a few meta-analyses, and the information found seems to be pretty consistent. One session per week is better than nothing but twice or three times is even better to gain muscle.
This meta-analysis wasn’t able to find significant data that going from two to three times weekly increased muscle growth.
For optimal results in muscle strength and mass, aim to work out two to three times a week as a beginner. If you’ve been working out for a while, you might find three to four days is the sweet spot.
Those training for competitions may find that they need to work out more than four times per week.
High reps vs Low reps for Cutting
We just discussed the effects of reps and weekly volume on muscle gains, but what about cutting? Would you benefit more from low reps vs high reps when trying to cut down?
If you are trying to maintain or get lean, you’ll want to reduce the weight but go with higher reps. This will ensure that you maintain the muscle you have but not increase your muscle size.
You’ll also want to consider reducing the amount of time you spend on strength training. Reducing from two or three times a week down to once or twice would help you get lean and maintain.
Make sure your diet stays in check as well. You don’t want to end up gaining unwanted fat while reducing your strength training.
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If you haven’t already, consider a different approach to nutrition, like intermittent fasting. It can help keep your weight in check, maintain muscle mass, and might get you healthier.
The cutting phase usually doesn’t last long, as most bodybuilders use it to get ready for competitions. Once the cutting phase is done, increase your time in the gym along with weight load to bulk back up.
Your Goal: Muscle Endurance
If you want to be able to increase your rep count, you have to have muscles that don’t fatigue as easily. One way to ensure you don’t tap out too soon is to build up your muscle endurance.
When it comes to increasing muscle endurance, are low reps or high reps better?
To build up your endurance, aim for high reps with light to moderate weights and short rest periods. You’ll also only want to do one to two sets since you are doing higher rep counts of 15 or more.
This will build up your slow-twitch muscle fibers to prepare you for strength and hypertrophy training.
Unsure if you need to improve your muscular endurance? Do you struggle to reach the number of reps you set out to do before rest is needed? Chances are you can stand to improve your endurance.
There are also several tests you can do to see what your current muscular endurance is.
Ideally, you can work on both your muscle endurance and strength at the same time. Focus on the high reps with light weights for a few weeks if you feel you need to build up your endurance.
Afterwards you can switch to heavier weights with lower reps and longer rest periods to increase strength gains.
Everyone is an Individual, Results may vary
No matter what, not everyone will have the same results. Some may find more benefit in doing low reps for more sets. Others might get better results using high reps with fewer sets.
There are a lot of factors that go into this, mainly:
- Current muscle size
- The amount and type of fat you have to lose
- Body type
- Hormone levels
- Metabolic rate
- Muscle fiber composition
- Diet (this is a big one)
The information we provide today is not universal, so your results may vary.
If you find that you are doing the “right” thing but not seeing results, it might be time to talk with your doctor. They may be able to shed some light on your personal factors listed above.
The more you know about your own health, the more likely you can get results to meet your goals. Things like hormone imbalances, body type, and types of fat in your body can be the reason you’re not seeing results.
You also can’t expect to see results immediately. Building muscle mass and strength as well as losing unwanted fat takes time. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results within the first few weeks of making a change.
The best thing you can do for success is:
- Set realistic goals
- Track your progress (or lack thereof)
- Eat a healthy diet
Tracking will probably give you the best insight into your health and what would work best for you.
To track your progress, take notes of what you did for each work out:
- Number of reps and corresponding weight loads
- Types of exercises
- Days you worked out
- Body composition changes and inches lost or gained
Is there a Battle Winner?
When it comes to the battle of low reps vs high reps, does one beat the other? It does, depending on your goals.
Let’s recap what we learned today about reps to help you meet your goals:
- Best reps for weight loss: low weight with high reps for weight loss, and then increase weight load after a few weeks.
- Best reps for muscle strength: low reps with heavy weights, best to stick within the 3 – 8 rep range. If you are just starting out, max out at 6 reps and then build-up to the mid-range.
- Best reps for muscle mass: a combination of low reps and high reps. Stick with heavier weights during low reps and then switch to lighter weights when doing high reps. Change up your reps weekly for the best results.
- Best reps for cutting: high reps with low weights, keeping your diet in check so as not to gain weight or reduce wanted muscle mass.
- Best reps for muscle endurance: high reps with low weights and short rest periods. If you feel you need to increase your endurance, focus on this for a few weeks and then work on your strength and mass.
Remember, you don’t want to do weight training more than three times per week. Two to three times is going to be the magic number, and always include a rest day in between.
Your schedule will ultimately be up to you. If you need help with your weight loads, then refer back to the Strength-Endurance Continuum and use your 1RPM scale.
What do you think about the battle between low reps vs high reps? Do you agree with our battle winners for each goal? Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below!
Lifting heavy or light weights will give you different results — here’s how to know which ones to use
We spoke to various experts to find out more about the two types of weight-training, how the results differ, and hwo to know which method is best for you.
Lifting light may help you build a lean physique
Two popular workout classes of the moment are spinning and barre, both of which often incorporate work with light weights.
“Low weight and high repetition training is fantastic for those looking for defined and lean muscles without bulk,” Barrecore founder and celebrity trainer Niki Rein, whose previous clients include Claudia Schiffer and Pippa Middleton, told INSIDER.
“Generally speaking, heavy weight training is geared toward adding muscle mass, whereas high repetition training creates longer-looking muscle as less power is needed and the entire length of the muscle is used to create each contraction,” said Rein, who is a REPS Level 3 Advanced Fitness Instructor, REPS Level 3 Personal Trainer, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer.
“With high repetition training such as Barrecore, it creates a lactic acid burn on the muscle groups of focus creating a hormone reaction that occurs over the few days post-workout,” explained Rein.
Ultimately, Rein says that by working out to the point that your muscles are beginning to burn and shake, which is commonly what happens with high repetition and low weight training, “you will effectively be melting fat for a few days post your workout and have an increase of energy.”
Sticking to low weights but working at a high rep rate so your muscles end up shaking could lead to burning more calories afterwards, but that’s not the only positive.
Light weights cause fewer injuries than heavy ones
“Working with light weights allows you to perform movements through your full range of motion properly and precisely,” Ashley Verma, founder of boutique barre studio Define.London, told INSIDER. “Plus, the risk of injury is much lower.”
It’s also deceptively difficult — even those who consider themselves to be masters of the weight room in a gym find themselves struggling when they’ve been pulsing with a 1.5kg dumbbell for 45 seconds.
The weights may be light, but the burn is real. Define.London
“I love seeing clients blown away by the massive burn that happens when doing huge reps with such light weights,” added Verma, who trains all her clients — including Victoria’s Secret model Lorena Rae and TV presenter Lisa Snowdon — with 1kg or 2.5kg weights.
“It’s beyond challenging and my clients see defined, sculpted results quickly. You can still get stronger by using lighter weights, just in a more all-over body way.”
Read more: Getting too hungry could be stopping you from losing weight, according to a personal trainer
Verma is an advocate of the low-weight, high-rep approach because she believes it’s beneficial for ensuring our longevity, too.
“As we age, we can develop joint problems and this can also be exasperated by the wrong kind of training,” Verma explained. “Using lighter weights and incorporating longer reps will only empower the body, not hit it abruptly.”
Lifting heavy will help you build strength
If you want to build bulging muscles, however, lifting heavy is the way to go, which means choosing weights so heavy you can’t do very many reps at a time.
“Higher loads and lower reps produce strength gains,” explained Worthington, a former international athlete whose celebrity client list includes world champions across a number of disciplines, models such as Winnie Harlow, and performers and dancers from leading shows in London’s West End, New York’s Broadway, and the Las Vegas strip.
“So think multiple sets of low reps – 5-6 sets of 3-4 reps might be common for someone looking to run faster or jump higher,” he told INSIDER.
Resistance training needn’t mean picking up weights, as Luke Worthington shows with TRX. Luke Worthington
However, this doesn’t mean that by lifting heavy you’ll immediately start resembling a body-builder, and, as Worthington points out, you’ll only build muscle if you’re in a calorie surplus — ie. consuming more energy than you’re burning.
If your goal is simply to improve your body composition, Worthington recommends performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise — you need to choose a weight that allows you to do that, but also feel pushed.
Read more: Scarlett Johansson’s personal trainers say burpees are a waste of time — here’s what you should be doing instead
Unlike Rein and Verma, Worthington does not advocate training with very light weights for excessively high reps.
“There isn’t really any benefit to this outside of technique practice or in the early stages of post-injury rehab,” he said.
“Building endurance isn’t really something that’s done in the gym — runners get better at running by running. That’s where they get their muscular endurance. In the gym they train for strength to make them robust enough to do the running, and to reduce injury.
“Aesthetic changes are, broadly speaking, about reducing body fat in relation to lean tissue, so aim to produce a hypertrophy response whilst manipulating calories (surplus to gain muscle, deficit to lose fat).”
For this hypertrophy response, you need to be lifting heavy enough weights.
What does the science say?
In 2012, a study by McMaster University was undertaken to compare the training effects of light weights to heavy weights in young men.
The researchers tested the effects of performing leg extensions with either light (30% of 1 rep max) or heavy (80% of 1 rep max) weights over a 10 week period.
Interestingly, the researchers found that both heavy and light loads increased muscle size equally.
Read more: Cold brew has an unexpected health benefit over regular coffee, according to a personal trainer
According to Alexander J. Koch, PhD, CSCS, USAW, who is a professor and program coordinator for exercise science at Lenoir-Rhyne University, the key is that both loads were lifted to exhaustion.
“That means the 80% group was lifting a weight that made them fatigue after about 10 repetitions, while the 30% group was lifting weights that tired them out after about 35 repetitions,” he explained to INSIDER.
“What this tells us is that, as long as each set is taken to muscular fatigue, the load lifted isn’t as important as the maximal effort applied for building muscle. This is because all muscle fibers will be recruited as a load is repeatedly lifted to failure.”
Working to fatigue is key. Define.London
While the researchers found both techniques were equally efficient at building muscle, they also discovered that for building strength, the 80% load produced superior results.
“For building strength, it is better to lift heavier weights because the heavier loads train your nervous system to be able to recruit more of your muscle cells to produce more force more quickly, something that a light load will not duplicate,” Dr Koch explained.
“A really important point is that the similarity between different loads was seen in this study was only because every set in both conditions was lifted to muscular failure. This is really brutal training beyond what most people would be willing to endure long term.
“So in general, one would be most likely to realize the best benefits of muscle and strength-building by repeatedly lifting heavier loads (80%+) to the point of near-fatigue (6-10 reps, but leave a little something in the tank) over time, as this could be done with a much lesser likelihood of inducing burnout.”
There are pros and cons of both
There are undeniably pros and cons to both ways of resistance training.
“Training with low weight and a high number of reps generally means a shorter recovery period between workouts, along with shorter rest periods between sets,” Hannah Bright, a British nutritional adviser and certified personal trainer at DW Fitness First, explained to INSIDER.
“The number of calories burned is likely to be higher and there’s less pressure on joints.”
Bright went on: “On the flip side, training this way is likely to take longer to build bigger muscle and you’re not likely to improve your strength massively. Whereas when lifting a higher weight with lower reps, you’ll definitely see your strength improve, along with bone density and a greater fat loss.
“The cons of this type of training are that you’ll need a longer recovery period for the muscle group in training, your workout is likely to be longer, and you’re placing joints under a lot of stress.”
How to get results from your weight training
Which training method you choose really depends on what you’re hoping to achieve, what works for you, and just what you enjoy.
What’s key, however, is that you create what’s known as progressive overload — this means either increasing weight volume or number of reps over time.
“I set a general rule with my clients of an increase of no more than 10% per week in load or volume (never both),” Worthington said. “This tends to mean we still have something to aim for in the next session whilst minimising injury risk.
“However, progression will not always be linear — there is a point at which you will not be able to perform more reps or add more weight.”
Both heavy and light weights will help you build muscle. Luke Worthington
Ultimately, training with either light or heavy weights is going to be beneficial, or you can mix it up by incorporating both into your regime. Just make sure you work hard enough that your muscles start to fatigue.
“The most important thing is the understanding that resistance training is the key to pretty much every training goal,” said Worthington.
High Reps and Low Weight: Not Just Your Mother’s Workout
A pretty old but still widely-held belief is that lifting lower weight at higher reps will keep your muscles small, while lifting high weight at fewer reps will give you that King Kong body you dream of. But is this really the case? Or is there some science out there that turns this conventional wisdom on its head?
Debunking the Tiny Muscles Myth: Lifting to Failure
There are some recent studies which suggest that there isn’t much difference between lifting low weights at high reps and going high weight/low reps as long as the phrase “lifting to failure” is a part of your workout routine. While high weights with fewer reps is often associated with bulk and lower weight with more reps is thought to help tone, if you are lifting to failure, you’ll burn about the same amount of fat and stimulate muscle tissue equally if you keep your workouts intense.
Specific Low Weight-High Rep Benefits
That being said, there are some unique benefits to training with lower weight and higher reps. For anyone who is starting a training program for the first time, or who is getting back into the gym after a long absence, the benefits from starting with a lower weight can help prevent injury by strengthening joints. Low weight with high reps also stimulates slow-twitch muscle fibers which fatigue less quickly, increasing your overall workout endurance.
Are There Any Downsides to Going High Rep, Low Weight?
Well, one potential downside is that you may not get super-bulky at the speed of light. Building good, strong muscles and the foundation for them (including stronger joints and tendons) takes time. But investing that time by including high rep, low weight workouts into your weekly routine will reduce your risk of injury. As long as you keep your workouts focused on lifting to failure and incorporate a good bodybuilding stack (more on that in a minute), you’ll still be able to make some decent gains while shredding away body fat for enhanced definition with some lower-weight workouts.
Naturally, a workout designed around low weight and high reps will probably take a bigger chunk out of your day than a high weight, low rep workout would. So if you’re crunched for time during the week, it’s better not to schedule these workouts on your busier days. But at the end of the day, you really need both types of workouts to look your absolute best.
The Importance of Good Nutrition
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can skimp on your nutritional profile. Whether your fitness goals are more high-weight or high-rep oriented, you aren’t going to make the gains you’re looking for if you don’t give your body what it needs to power through your workouts and build up muscle during recovery. Bodybuilding stacks like Ultra Edge XL have the ingredients you need, like amino acids, to increase the Nitric Oxide in your blood and power your muscles through explosive exercise. It also contains absorption-enhancers, like AstraGin, to deliver more of its key ingredients to your hungry muscle tissues. So if you want to make those gains, you need to invest in a stack that works!
Reps vs. Weight: Learn how to focus your workout
Should you increase reps or weight? It depends on what you want to achieve.
Two of the most important workout variables are the number of repetitions, or “reps,” per set and the amount of weight or tension used. Depending on your goals, you may want to do more reps with less weight, or the opposite. Precor equipment is designed to help you take either path or a combination of both.
Generally, exercises with higher reps are used to improve muscular endurance, while higher weights with fewer reps are used to increase muscle size and strength. We’ve included a few guidelines here as a place to start. You may want to work with a personal trainer or other professional to create a program that will help you meet your goals.
To lose weight: 1 to 3 sets of a weight that has you fatigued at 10 to 12 reps.
To gain muscle: 3 or more sets of a weight that you can do 6 to 8 reps before you are fatigued. Beginners should work up to this level.
To build endurance and health: 1 to 3 sets at a weight that has you fatigued at 12 to 16 reps.
Another frequent question is how long you should rest between sets. The more intense the workout, the longer you should rest. When using heavy weights you should rest 2 to 5 minutes between sets. If you’re using lighter weights, rest from 30 seconds to a minute. Your muscles need time to repair and grow so give them a break of at least 48 hours between sessions.
Special note to women:
Many of you miss out on the bone-building benefits of strength workouts due to the fear that you will “bulk up.” Relax. Most women’s hormone composition will keep them from dramatically increasing muscle size.
Anyone who hits the weight room regularly will inevitably face the question: Should you add more weight and do less repetitions or use a lighter weight and do more reps?
The debate has raged on for as long as people have argued over cake versus pie (the answer is pie, obviously), but it’s not quite that simple.
The truth behind weight versus reps lies somewhere in between, but to paint a clearer picture, you have to understand why we ask this question in the first place.
A Worthy Villain: The Fitness Plateau
Once you’ve been following a fitness program for a while, you’ll eventually hit a fitness plateau—that dreaded no-man’s land where your body adapts to your routine, and you no longer make progress. It sucks, but it’s normal, and it happens to everyone.
One way to bust through the plateau is simply to change things up. This is where lifting heavier weights, adding more reps, or doing both (called a double progression) can shake up sleepy progress.
The Case for Heavier Weights
When you pile on the pounds, you typically lift on the lower end of reps (as few as 1-5 for some people). That doesn’t sound like much, but by doing so, you’re increasing your overall maximum strength and greatly improving your ability to lift heavier weights.
Most of that newfound superhero strength is because you’re improving your efficiency at a given exercise. Think of how your bank account grows when you minimize unnecessary spending. It’s like that, and the more you practice restraint with a budget, the easier it is to save.
Lifting heavy weights feels awesome, but it’s easy to get sucked into chasing the numbers and running into a wall. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you simply can’t add any more weight, and if you push it, you could compromise your form and put yourself at risk for injury.
“If you’ve increased your weight and now your form is breaking down, it’s best to drop the weight and then increase the number of reps you’re performing,” says Tanner Baze, a certified personal trainer.
Which brings us to…
The Case for More Reps
When you lift lighter weights for more reps, you are still getting stronger, just in a different way. You’re developing “muscular endurance,” or your ability to exert a certain amount of effort before you fatigue. Sure enough, doing more work (more sets and reps, more workouts, more overall bad-assery), will help you get stronger in the long run. Busting out more reps is also a challenging workout at a high-intensity level, which burns major calories and has a greater afterburn effect.
Plus, when you hit a plateau, adding reps instead of heaving more weight allows you to focus on proper technique and form and still leaves room for additional changes to your program, if necessary.
The upside of maintaining tip-top form is you end up really working the muscle as intended, not relying on a bunch of compensatory patterns (for example, letting your quads do all the work when your glutes are too weak) or potentially hurting yourself. One downside to this technique is that it may make your workouts slightly longer, as you’ll spend more time doing more reps.
Why Not Just Do Both?
Confusion about lifting heavier weights or doing more reps still lingers in the weight room because weightlifting and its effects on our bodies are often misunderstood, Baze says. Hint: It involves a lot more than lifting super-heavy weight or banging out more reps in isolation.
You need a combination of muscle damage (that hurts-so-good soreness after a great workout), mechanical tension (the sheer strain of lifting something heavy), and metabolic stress (that “burn” you feel from your muscle really working). Both heavy-weight and high-rep training check those three boxes and will ultimately build strength. Plus, both methods require proper form, because without good technique, it doesn’t matter how much weight or how many reps you do, you could be risking injury.
“If your goal is just to generally get stronger and more fit, choose one or the other,” says Nathan Jones, a doctor of physical therapy student and strongman competitor.
For long-term progress and to keep things interesting, you can incorporate both heavy-weight, low-rep training and light-weight, high-rep training by switching up the sets and reps on different days or weeks (a technique known as periodization). “If you’ve been doing 5 sets of 5 squats and can’t add weight or get an extra rep, drop the weight and go to 5 sets of 8, or add weight and go to 3 sets of 5,” Jones says. Basically, imagine your sets and reps as a wavelength continuously going up and down.
There’s nothing inherently magical about changing things up this way. “Personally, I think it’s more psychological than anything,” Jones says. “Doing the same rep range every single time you lift gets boring. So doing something different helps you maintain motivation, and subsequently, keeps your effort high.”
“There is no wrong decision here,” Jones says. When you lift more weight, add more reps, or do both appropriately with good form while keeping effort high, you’re nudging your body toward continually improved fitness and strength.
That said, when you add weight or make changes, do so in small increments. Your goal is to squeeze big results from little changes. It also helps to include a proper warm-up and cool-down.
“The single most important factor in your progress is your willingness to work hard and exert high effort,” Jones says. “So long as you’re doing more of something over time, you will get stronger.”
Mixing it up just a teeny bit to keep yourself motivated and to see progress—whatever your goal—will go a long way.