Hellooooooooo! While you’re reading, I’m in Butler, enjoying some time with my family! My folks live in the country, and are rather old school – which means dial-up internet! Which also means I won’t be posting, because I don’t have the patience to wait for it! Ha!
When I was new to strength training and lifting I was often confused by workouts in magazines. Some said do sets of 8 repetitions (“reps”), some said do sets of 12 reps, and so on and so forth.
So here’s a quick guide to how many reps you should be doing.
It should be noted this is my own knowledge gleaned from a variety of sources over time. If you’re looking for a print source, there was a good article in the February 2010 edition of Oxygen Magazine on reps and rest ranges(I actually give some tips below from the article, but it’s a great read). You can order back copies of the magazine from their website at: http://www.oxygenmag.com
I’m not saying this is the only way, or even the right way – if you feel differently I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment 🙂
How Many Reps?
Your reps should be focused on your training goals. That being said, I think that using different set/rep combinations, with different weight combinations, is the best solution for most people looking to gain strength and change the look of their muscles. This is my belief because a) it keeps your muscles guessing on weight and how many reps those muscles are expected to perform, and b) because it works for me. You may find different results. 🙂
What Are The Ranges and What Are They Best For?
To Build Strength In Your Muscles
4 – 6 repetitions per set
Muscles contain two types of muscle fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch. When you lift the maximum amount of weight possible for 4-6 repetitions, you employ the use of your fast-twitch fibers, which learn to respond more quickly to strain/lifting. This, in turn, makes your muscles stronger. Some women worry that lifting heavy weight for low reps means they’ll get manly – this is not the case! Your female body doesn’t produce enough testosterone to make you look like an Olympic Hulk!
Keep in mind, when lifting heavy weight for low reps, you’ll want to factor in a longer rest period between sets – anywhere from 2 – 5 minutes works for me, depending on the muscles worked, and how heavy I am lifting that day.
To Add Muscle or Improve Shape/Size
8 – 12 repetitions per set
This range is – by far – the most popular range in fitness plans in magazines, exercise books, DVDs, trainers, and everything else. LOL
This rep range uses both the slow-twitch and the fast-twitch fibers, which makes it sound kind of like “the whole package”. By using both types of fibers, the shape of the muscle can improve, and you get a better definition as well.
Resting during this range runs from 60-90 seconds, on average. You can shorten this rest range when trying to “surprise” your muscles, but at least 60 seconds will give you the ability to do multiple sets of 8-12 reps.
To Build Endurance In Your Muscles
15 – 20 repetitions
I use this range the least, but it serves a very important function. By lifting a lighter weight for more repetitions, you allow your muscles to build their endurance, and allow them to be engaged and lifting for a longer period of time. This can be important if you participate in sports, want to go longer in your running or biking, or want to improve your “functional fitness” (lifting a couch, carrying groceries, etc).
The biggest, most misleading thing about this range is that – women especially – think a lighter weight/higher rep structure will make their muscles long and lean and defined. This is not the case.
This range uses mostly slow-twitch fibers, which are the muscle fibers charged with building and maintaining the endurance of your strength. This is what makes it easier for you to carry all those groceries from the car to the house!
The other big benefit of a high number of reps is it produces more capillaries, which help deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles for more effective work (Source: Oxygen)
Rest for high rep/low weight sets is generally low – maximum of 30 seconds. Since you’re working on endurance here, you obviously don’t want to rest too long, or you won’t be improving your muscle stamina! But a brief rest is good – unless you’re doing circuits!
Ways To Employ All Rep Ranges
That being said, using only one rep range has it limits, and eventually you will stop seeing the shape/definition you are seeking, due to your muscles getting used to the range in which you always work them. My best results have come from alternating each reps range, to keep my muscles growing, getting stronger, and adding definition.
Ideas for using them all (Source: Oxygen):
- Stick with the rep range that best fits your goal – but put one or two of the other rep ranges into each week’s workout – for variety and flavor!
- Use each range for a few weeks (2-3 weeks) and then switch to a different rep range
- Go balls-to-the-wall: Use all three ranges (1 set of each) on each of your muscles during your workout!
Most of your muscles have a 50/50 split of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. Some – like your calves and your abs – have more slow-twitch fibers. Take that into account when choosing reps for those muscles! (Source: Oxygen Magazine)