By Katrina Laczoffy
Just take a moment to think back to one of your first visits to a gym on your own. Did you have training goals? Perhaps it was to increase lean muscle or to drop your body fat percentage. Either way a strength program should be part of the equation.
Once deciding on the exercises how did you determine the repetitions? Did you randomly pick a number or did you perform the exercise until you fatigued?
This is a confusing aspect of training for most people who try to work it out on their own, and chances are your efforts lead to minimal results.
Selecting the correct volume or rep range within strength training is crucial and heavily determines your performance outcomes and body composition results. Therefore, in order to achieve your ideal physique you need to assess what your goals are in order to pick the right rep range to focus on.
What is a rep?
Reps or repetitions are defined as the number of times you move the weight from point A to point B during a set of an exercise. A relationship between the weight, the reps and the intensity is also present. The lighter the weights, the more reps you can push out. Conversely, the heavier the weight, the harder it is to lift. Likewise, intensity is determined by how many reps you do per set, (or how heavy the weight is).
· Lower weight = Increased rep range = lower training intensity
· Heavier weight = Fewer reps lifted = higher training intensity
Although this may seem obvious, it is important to understand because manipulating the intensity (rep ranges) will heavily influence the training stimuli due to factors such as muscle fibre recruitment, muscles time under tension, energy systems used etc.
To achieve optimal physique or performance development each rep scheme should be implemented into a program. Rep schemes have been developed based on the strength continuum. It defines the relationship between weights, reps and training outcomes.
Specifically, it targets power, strength, hypertrophy (building muscle) and muscle endurance.
Your own strength can be determined by your 1 rep max (RM) which is the maximum weight you can lift for one rep. Endurance is at the opposite end of the continuum and is defined as the ability to move your body or an object repeatedly without fatigue.
The key purpose for various rep ranges is to influence the recruitment of muscle fibres specialized for endurance or power in order to achieve your training goals.
Figure 1: The strength continuum
So as we can see from the graph above
Lower reps (1-5 reps) is considered high intensity and is most ideal for increasing strength and is ideal for competitive weightlifters. Getting stronger in this rep range can also be beneficial for the general population who might NEED to get stronger in order to train harder and get better results. Increased maximal strength will also carry over to using heavier weight in the moderate and higher rep ranges, creating more of a training stimulus and better results.
Moderate reps (8-12 reps) is in the middle of the two (moderate intensity) is most ideal for building muscle whilst still increasing strength up to a certain point. This is the most common rep range for training related to improving athletic performance, rehab exercises and changing body composition.
Higher reps (15-20+ reps) is considered low intensity and is most ideal for improving muscle endurance and improving performance for an endurance athlete. Certain muscle groups will achieve good muscle growth in this rep range too.
NOTE: Most strength & conditioning professionals will define intensity as the
% of your 1 rep maximum (i.e. the most amount of weight you can lift for 1 rep) but you might hear people referring to intensity as a ‘perceived level of exertion’. This is NOT the generally accepted definition of ‘intensity’
Ladies, lifting low and moderate reps won’t make you bulky! Rather it will tone your physique!
Have you ever taken the time to look around a community gym during your rest break? It’s not every day you see women in the weights room let alone lifting a decent amount of weight. However, on the rare occasion that you do, you probably notice them lifting very light weights and doing a ridiculous amount of reps! I’ve never understood why women do this. It became even more evident recently when I programed heavier loads for some of my clients with fewer reps. They were hesitant so I asked why.
Astonishingly, each reply was along the lines of: “I don’t want to look bulky or big”.
So we are going to clear up this misconception of weights, lower rep ranges and being bulky.
1) Women lack the right balance of hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone to put on muscle size like men do
2) If you are in a calorie deficit you will find it nearly impossible to build a substantial amount of muscle.
3) Only a very small percentage of females are “genetically gifted”- hormonally, that need to worry about gaining too much muscle.
4) It takes a lot of commitment and motivation not only in training but also nutrition to build bulky muscle. Bodybuilders devote most of their spare time to it. It’s not going to happen training 2-3 hours per week.
More so, lifting light weights with high reps will not optimally tone muscles. Rather, you will be developing something else known as muscular endurance. If you manage to start throwing around some descent weight with varied rep ranges (less than 15) you will notice your physique change for the better.
Strength is not an indicator of being bulky like many women believe. You will be toned in all the right places because the simple fact is heavier weights will build strength and size of your muscle thereby boosting your metabolism and burning fat.
The equation to being toned is simply:
Increased Muscle + Reduced Fat = Tone.
But the question on your lips right now is how do you boost your metabolism and burn more fat by lifting weights? Sounds too good to be true. Well I’m happy to say that this is in fact the truth and is one of the key reasons I program most of my sessions around resistance training rather than cardiovascular training.
The theory surrounding weights + metabolism= weight loss is simple. There is a linear relationship between muscle mass and metabolism. By increasing muscle size you will in turn boost your resting metabolism allowing your body to burn more calories at rest AND while exercising thus, dropping body fat.
Figure 2: Before weight training vs 26 weeks after weights training (& clean eating)
The optimal rep range for optimal fat loss
Essentially, there is no such thing as an optimal rep range for fat loss/muscle tone/ ripped ect. Rather, you want to combine a mixture of rep ranges and loads throughout your program. By combining low, medium and high rep schemes within a long term program it will assist in toning up the body. This occurs as a result of increased lean muscle, improved overall strength (which allows you to progressively increase loads) whilst dropping body fat (resulting from a boosted metabolism).
More so, you will recruit various muscle fibres when implementing different rep ranges which will prevent a plateau in your performance and goals.
Other best practices to keep in mind:
1) Train every muscle group at least twice a week
2) Focus on compound exercises that use many muscle groups at once e.g., squats, deadlifts
3) Adjust the intensity of your workouts e.g., reduce rest breaks, increase weight, reps, sets etc
4) Make sure you are not sitting in a comfort zone. Push through boundaries and try to improve your personal best.
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