My high school track coach’s answer was always very simple – “MORE”! Everyone also wants to know how many reps to do to reach their goals. Resistance training helps every aspect of human physiology, so the key here is to do some type of resistance training every day. But how many reps? Everyone has their theory, but this is something science and common sense have proven decades ago.
I like science because it usually proves what we already know, even about reps:
• Low Reps (1-5) Lift something very heavy for only a few times and you get stronger and faster. You also stimulate more of the neurological component of exercise because of the high-intense nature and concentration needed to lift heavy stuff. This is also the range that most of us avoid.
• High reps (somewhere around 20 to infinity and beyond) Lift something very light many times and you develop muscle endurance, but little or no strength. There is very little neuro-recruitment in this endurance range, just lots of the same exciting thing over and over again.
• Moderate Reps (5-15) Somewhere in the middle is where most average fitness consumers and weekend warriors need to be. Training is this range gives you the most bang for the buck. Like always, the two extremes get all the media play and the moderate ground is where reality happens – you may have seen this pattern elsewhere in life.
Most people tend to stay in one repetition range for life because they have more exciting things to think about. Bust yourself out of this mold to stimulate results. If you are a yogi or a distance runner, add some low rep strength moves and I bet that you improve on your endurance.
Here are some tips on tweaking your rep-range for better results:
Master exercise technique before you start goofing around with anything else. I coach people to do high reps with high concentration when learning new skills until they nail it – because this is how we learn stuff. Then we tune reps and sets to their needs after they don’t have to think about technique.
Stick to a rep range for at least 8 weeks and measure results. We respond to training ‘periods’ of about 8-12 weeks on average – about as long as a season. I have my endurance athletes do this in their ‘off-season’.
Warm up and ‘pyramid down’. If you are looking to actually gain strength, you have to complete training periods in the low rep range. Heavy weights at high intensity is very effective for strength, but dangerous to the novice. Help avoid injury by properly warming up and slowly staging your rep range and weights to your heavy training weight. For example:
• Deadlift a weight that you can easily do for over 30 reps for a warm-up set.
• Add weight to ‘stage reps down’ to about 15 for the next set
• Stage it down even more to about 8-10 reps for a third and fourth set
• Now you are ready for your 5 sets of 5 reps
*Attention endurance types! You will not get ‘bulky’ from lifting some heavy weights. You will get stronger, avoid osteoporosis, increase bone density, increase neuromuscular facilitation, create actual muscle tone and power, but not ‘bulky’.
*Attention people who are afraid of becoming ‘muscle bound’: It takes an enormous amount of heavy, intense lifting and tons of nutritional and chemical enhancements to become ‘muscle bound’. This will not happen to you if you take my advice and do some heavier lifting, but thank you for making us aware of the dangers of getting stronger and healthier.