Strength Training: How Many Reps Should I Do?

I’ve been immersing myself in learning all that I can about strength training and how, as a personal trainer, I can help you reach your fitness goals. I’ve been shadowing personal trainers, talking to companies about partnerships/opportunities, working on projects for next year and reading any time I have a few minutes to spare.

This is what it feels like to DREAM BIG!

After talking about how much time you need to exercise I received emails with questions about other aspects of strength training. One of those questions was, “how may reps should I do?” I would love to say XYZ is the magic formula for your fitness success, but for maximum impact that’s not the case.

Let’s back up.

A repetition is one complete movement of a particular exercise and most of which involve concentric, isometric and eccentric muscle actions. For example, with a bicep curl, a single rep includes raising the dumbbell up against the direction of resistance (concentric contraction), pausing for a specific period of time (isometric hold) and then lowering the dumbbell with the direction of the resistance back to the starting position (eccentric action).

How many reps should you do?

That depends. The number of reps you perform should be based on fitness level, goals (do you want to lose fat or build muscle?), and intensity of the exercise. Taking into account these variables will prevent overtraining and yield specific results.

Low Repetitions (1-5)

This rep range allows you to use the heaviest weights, which puts your muscles under the highest amount of tension. This is the ideal rep range for building strength.

High Repetitions (11 or more)

This range requires your muscles to contract for long periods of time. This affects the muscle fibers that are the energy producing structures that burn fat AND lead to greater muscle endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Performing sets in this range has been shown to stimulate the greatest increase in fat burning hormones when compared to greater or fewer reps.

Medium Repetitions (6 to 10)

This range is a mix of high and low reps but at a medium level. Muscles are at a medium tension for a medium amount of time. A combination of high and low reps improves muscle strength and endurance. But, keep in mind, if you use this rep range only, you’re missing out on the greater levels of tension you get with low reps and the longer tension time with high reps.

Use these guidelines to find the rep range you need.

I would love to chat.

How do you decide how many reps to do? Do you routinely increase reps?

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62 Comments

  1. You have brought up a very excellent details, regards for the post.

  2. This is a great article for anyone.

    The program I’m doing has me doing drop sets. And I love them.
    So I start with a high weight, but low reps. Next set, the weight goes down, and the reps go up. Next set, the weight goes down further, and the reps go up again.

    This system works for me, so I keep doing it cause I know I get stronger because of it.

  3. Great post with great info!
    Weight training is so important and I love incorporating it into my marathon training.
    The strength you gain in your arms to use during a race is invaluable.
    Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Awesome advice my friend! I agree with all of it! You are such a great trainer 🙂

  5. Some people really get confused about the number of reps and their function in strength training.
    Great information, Jill!

  6. This is perfect. I’m posting soon about a doing a specific training program and I’m going to this post so people get more background on weight training concepts 🙂

  7. When I first started lifting, my friend started me off with a 5×5 program, and then I moved on to 3×10. I kinda alternate between the two as I see fit, and group exercise classes tend to focus on higher reps with lighter weights, so I get a good balance! 😀

  8. Great stuff! There is always big debates over this topic, and you did an amazing job explaining the benefits of each! I definitely mix up my reps, but always focus on getting to a point where my muscles start to fatigue, so I see strength gains. Yahoo! I am up to 5 pull-ups now. Yeeeeah. #fitfamlove

  9. Great info! I usually do a mixture – when I’m at the gym, I’ll focus on low reps (I’m a fan of 5×5 strong lifts just because it’s so easy to follow) and when I’m teaching bootcamp I often focus on higher reps for muscular endurance.

  10. Great post Jill! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    XO Kara

  11. Such a helpful post, Jill! I do primarily low weights, high reps, although I really should add in at least one session of high weight and low reps to build some strength. Thanks for sharing!

    1. So happy it’s helpful Laura. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of a combination of low and high reps to get the benefits of both. The high rep works well for HIIT workouts.

      #fitfamlove xoxo

  12. I’m officially hooked on your blog! I just started working out again last month and have gotten really into it. My husband is deployed so I know he’s going to come back with a hott bod so I need to be right up there with him! haha this post is so helpful. I was actually just thinking about this at the gym last night. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Keating. Nice to meet you. I understand deployment life all too well. And yes, he will come back looking exceptionally hot! Is this your first deployment?

      1. Hi Jill! Aside from 5 months of long distance when we were first dating, this is our first time REALLY apart. The past couple months have been challenging and we still have about nine more to go.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Artney. You made my day 🙂

      Happy to hear the info is helpful. #fitfamlove xoxo

    1. Thank you Sarah Grace. I’d love to chat sometime about being a CPT. #fitfamlove xoxo

  13. This information is so helpful, Jill! I wish I could just download your brain. My reps are usually in the 10-15 range and I need to either up it for high reps or lower and increase the weight. Thanks for sharing what you have learned!

    1. I love chatting fitness Amy! If you ever have any questions ask away 🙂 #fitfamlove

  14. This is great advice and I 100% agree. I just switched up my routine from doing low reps/heavy weight (building muscle) to high reps/less weight for burnout and fat loss!

    1. That is great Natalie. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing a combination of both to get the benefits of both. Let me know how your switched up routine goes. #fitfamlove xoxo

  15. Great tips! I am currently trying to add muscle mass and keep my rep range in the 8-10 area lifting heavy.

    1. Very cool Stephanie. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing a combination of both to get the benefits of both. #fitfamlove xoxo

  16. Great information Jill! I usually do my reps based on time (e.g. 60 sec ON, then rest).

    1. Thanks Amanda. I use a variety of reps and time depending on the workout. #fitfamlove xoxo

    1. Happy to help Janelle! By the way, congrats on the Tough Mudder. #bestmode on!

  17. Great post! I myself always aim for 10-15 so I guess I’m in the medium/high repetition range which sounds like a good thing! 😀

      1. I’m much more active now so I try for everyday of toning routines at least 20 minutes, but definitely aim for at least three times a week! When my boyfriend and I hit the gym we usually break the days into: Chest & Back, Biceps +Shoulders+ Triceps, Lower Body. I also try to do abs and cardio in my rotation, which I could work on more!

  18. The reps I do depends on my goals, like you said. When I was sticking to a strict strength training routine, I started with light weight and high reps. Then I started increasing weight and lowering reps. At CrossFit, we alternate between workouts that are high reps and mostly body weight, and low reps with heavy weights. I like the variety!

    1. My daughter says she does something similar at crossfit. Her arms and shoulders are ripped!

  19. wonderful advice, thank you! I have recently been thinking that I need to add this into my work outs but I don’t know if less is more or more is better.

    1. Hi Torry. Nice to meet you. I’m happy to chat fitness anytime. Reach out if you have questions. Now I have to check out your blog. With a name like A World Without Wheat I can’t resist.

      I also host a weekly link up, Fitness Friday. I would love to have you join and share your posts. You can check out last week’s linkup here http://jillconyers.com/2015/10/how-much-time-do-i-need-to-exercise/

      Have an awesome day!

  20. This is great. I usually do medium weight with medium reps. With at least twice a month to go super heavy with low reps and super light with high reps. Great way to burn calories

    1. Hi Jessica. Sounds like an awesome combination for max benefits! I’m working on getting in the habit of a combination too. Thanks and have an awesome rest of the day!

    1. Thanks Kathryn! I’m trying to get in the habit of doing a combination of both to get the benefits of both worlds. #fitfamlove xoxo

  21. I like lots of reps with lower weights to a cool song. I used to have a great class at my gym, but it’s gone gone now. Can you recommend a youtube channel I can work out along with?

    1. Hi Julie. Do you mean videos for music to workout with or an actual workout? Happy to help either way 🙂

  22. I tend to go for the low or medium amount of reps rather than high since I am typically using heavier weights! Some of those lighter weight/higher rep workouts though are KILLER!

    1. With the light weight high rep I start out thinking this is too easy. Bam. When you up the reps it’s not so easy. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing a combination of high and low reps with light and heavy weight to get the benefits of both. #fitfamlove xoxo

      I’d love to chat fitness and strength training some time 🙂

  23. Yay for strength training! I can’t wait to hear how all these meetings have been going! We need to catch up!! I’m a lover of 10 reps and one day o HIGH reps each week! Have you heard of the weight training method called lift weights faster? I am all about it as the way to get in cardio and burn fat! Strength training is the one exercise program that remains consistent for me over the years, it’s really my heart!

    1. Sam I would love to know more! Can you recommend a website? Strength training is where my fitness journey began. Best life decision ever! xoxo

  24. I like to do a combo of all three in any given week. I usually have two heavy days, 1 moderate day and lighter day during the week, then adjust accordingly depending on my goals and the time of year (heavy during “off” season, lighter during race season!)

    1. Bri that is awesome and my goal. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing a combination of both high and low rep with light and heavy weights to get the benefits of both. #fitfamlove xoxo

  25. I’m all about lifting heavy at a lower rep range. Lately I like to cycle my strength training so one week I lift heavy the next week I lift moderate. Great guidelines!

    1. Megan that is awesome and my goal. I’m trying to get in the habit of doing a combination of high and low reps with light and heavy weight to get the benefits of both. #fitfamlove xoxo

  26. You are a busy lady! I can’t wait to start my strength training session with OTF. I have done a little before with the hubby (did not like it so much) he would have me use lighter weights and more reps and then maybe a heavier weight with just a few reps, that has been quite a while ago! Keep dreaming BIG!

    1. OTF looks awesome! I wish they were opening here in Cincinnati. Dream big. Same to you friend. xoxox

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