Results take time
We have become an ‘on demand’ society that wants what we want when we want it, which is usually NOW. This is especially true when it comes to exercise. No one likes wasting time, yet when it comes to their fitness programs, I see a LOT of people doing just that because they are using the wrong number of reps for their specific fitness goals. Here are 6 things to know about reps so you can get results from your workout programs!
The number of reps assigned for an exercise indicate the number of times to perform that particular movement. You’ve no doubt heard the standard gym myth that training for size or strength requires heavy weight for few reps while training to improve muscle definition or ‘toning up’ requires using lighter weights for a number of repetitions. While there is some degree of truthiness to these claims it is important to understand that the number of reps you do for each exercise has a significant influence on getting the results you want from your workout program. When it comes to doing high intensity strength or power exercises some popular programs encourage participants to do high numbers of reps for ballistic exercises like barbell cleans or jumps and in cases like this doing too many reps could actually cause injury and limit your ability to train. To make sure that you’re maximizing the efficiency of your time toiling in the gym here are 7 things you should know about the number of repetitions that you should be doing for your fitness goals.
On this episode of All About Fitness, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, the author Hypertrophy (that’s the geeky term for muscle growth) explains how muscles get swoll
The optimal number of reps you should be doing in YOUR workouts:
A rep is…
1. A repetition is a single, individual action of the muscles responsible for creating movement at a joint or series of joints. Each repetition involves three specific phases of muscle action: lengthening, a momentary pause and shortening.
Want gains? Rep to fatigue
2. Regardless of your specific goal, the number of reps is not nearly as important as working to a point of muscular fatigue. Fatigue means not capable of performing one more rep and ensures that all of the muscle fibers in the muscle have been engaged. If your goal is to improve definition or add size, then you want to rep to fatigue.
The relationship between reps and intensity
3. In general, the number of reps you do for an exercise has an inverse relationship with the amount of weight used. As the amount of weight goes up, the number of repetitions able to be performed decreases. Higher-intensity loads can only be performed for a few repetitions while lower intensity loads are can be moved for a relatively high number of repetitions before fatigue sets in.
Reps for strength
4. Training for strength, the ability to produce force, requires using heavier loads which subsequently restricts the number of reps that can be performed. A heavier weight will automatically recruit more type II fibers in the involved muscles; type II fibers rely on anaerobic metabolism which provides only a limited amount of energy and is another reason why heavy weights can only be moved for a few reps at a time, the muscle simply runs out of available energy. If your goal is to improve strength then you should be using weights that cause fatigue by no more than six repetitions.
Reps for definition
5. Training for definition can be achieved by a couple of different rep ranges, important thing is the Time Under Tension (TUT), how long a muscle remains in a state of contraction. The type II fibers responsible for strength are also responsible for creating the appearance of muscle definition. Definition comes from a muscle maintaining a state of semi-contraction which is achieved by a longer TUT. Higher numbers of reps performed at a slower movement speed can apply the tension necessary to increase definition. That is why you will generally see eight-to-twelve or twelve-to-fifteen reps as the target ranges in many bodybuilding magazines. To achieve definition no matter how many reps you decide to use, it is important to reach a state of momentary fatigue meaning that you are not capable of performing another rep.
Reps for endurance
6. If you are a runner, cyclist, swimmer or other type of endurance athlete then you are probably more interested in using strength training to support your sport. In this case focus on using the type I muscle fibers that rely on aerobic metabolism meaning that you should be doing upwards of 20 or 30 reps (really). Endurance athletes need to be as aerobically efficient as possible, doing high reps will help your muscles develop the mitochondrial density and aerobic efficiency necessary to support your training efforts. In this case working until fatigue is not necessary because you’re not trying to add muscle mass; in fact you want to avoid working to fatigue. However, your rest intervals should be kept relatively short to ensure that your workout creates the necessary stimulus to engage your aerobic metabolism.
Reps for power
Power is the ability to generate a significant amount of muscle force in the shortest amount of time possible. Power training can provide a number of important benefits and it is completely safe IF the appropriate number of reps are used. For best results, and to produce the highest levels of muscle force, when doing power training, keep it to 6-8 reps or less
When doing technical power-based lifts like the barbell snatch, the clean-and-jerk, the push press or the hang clean the focus should be on the quality of movement and not the quantity of reps performed. For safe, effective power training the rep range should focus on the maximum force output for one or two reps and, at the most, be limited to no more than four or five.
The same is true for medicine ball throws or jumps; the emphasis should be on the quality of movement and not the number of movements performed. Jumps and throws should focus on technique and be performed for no more than six or eight reps at a time; doing more could cause fatigue which significantly increases the risk of injury. Like endurance training when power training the goal is NOT to go to fatigue but to do the assigned number of reps with the best form possible.
The amount of reps YOU should be doing:
Increase Strength: 2-6 reps
Increase Size/definition: 8-15 reps
Improve Endurance: 12-30+ reps
Increase Power: 1-8 reps with EXCELLENT form!
For best results – the last rep should be incredibly difficult!
Heavy loads apply a mechanical stress to muscle while performing a high number of repetitions creates a significant metabolic stress both of which can stimulate desired physiological reactions like muscle growth or definition. Whether it is by the amount of weight used or performing reps to fatigue the demand on the involved muscles should be sufficient to initiate the neurological or structural adaptations to achieve your desired goals.
Working out can slow down the effects of the aging process and allow you to keep your youthful energy and appearance well into your later years. Learn how to design workout programs that can help you or your clients find the fountain of youth. Fitness professionals, personal trainers and group fitness instructors, this is a continuing education course that provides CECs for ACE, AFAA and NASM.
To learn more!
Pick up a copy of my Functional Core Training e-book ($7) or a copy of: Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple