How many reps?
Following my previous post titled “free weights vs resistance machines”, another frequently asked question in the gym is how many reps of an exercise should be done?
First of all, to cover the basics a “rep” (repetition) is the number of times you perform an exercise, for example if you were to do 10 push ups and stop that would be 10 reps. “Sets” are how many times you complete the amount of repetitions, so using the push up example if you performed 10 push ups, rest and then another 10 push ups this would be 2 sets of 10 reps of push ups.
The amount of reps that you should be performing essentially comes down to your goals.
Typically rep ranges would be broken down into:
1-3 reps – maximum strength
3-5 reps – strength
5-8 reps – strength endurance
8-12 reps – muscle hypertrophy (growth)
12 + reps – muscular endurance and hypertrophy (growth)
One thing that is important to remember is that as the amount of reps increases, the weight lifted will decrease. This doesn’t mean it should get any easier but naturally a weight that we can lift for a maximum of 3 reps, we can’t expect to be able to lift for 12 reps.
So what does this all mean and how can I reach my goals?
If you are looking to build strength, typically you would look to use heavy weights with a low rep range of between 1-5 reps for 3 to 5 sets. This type of training is great if you are looking to increase strength, but wouldn’t be as effective for building muscle size.
If you are looking to build muscle and gain in size then higher reps would be recommended, typically between 10 – 15 reps with a relatively lighter but still difficult weight for 3 to 5 sets. The added reps cause greater muscle activation and encourage the muscles to grow, naturally some strength improvements will be seen but not the same extend as lower reps. This type of training is normally adopted by bodybuilders and fitness models.
So what about losing weight and toning up? Well this is a slightly more controversial point. A lot of the time you will see people performing a very high amount of reps in the interest of toning and weight loss. While the logic is there, this may actually be counterproductive to what is wanting to be achieved. If you remember 8+ reps is actually focusing on muscle growth, which tends to bring around added size and weight. So perhaps when losing weight it would be better to focus on a programme with heavier weights and less reps combined with solid cardio training. Remember, strength doesn’t necessarily mean size!
One final point to remember, all this without out the correct nutrition will be difficult to achieve any goal, but we will discuss this at a later date!
Written by Tom Smith, fitness instructor and strength & conditioning coach