A question I’m often asked is “how many reps and sets should I be doing?”. That’s a great question and programming this correctly will have a massive impact on the outcome of your training. It really comes down to your goals and the stage you’re at with your training and experience. Below is a description of the types of rep ranges and which one you might benefit from. I’ve also added a table which outlines the reps, sets and the rest periods you should be taking between each.
High Rep Range (15+) – Beginners, Endurance and Weight Loss
If you’re a beginner, you should start with a higher rep range of 15-20 reps. You’ll see a huge benefit from the extra reps as your body becomes used to the typical movement patterns and techniques. Higher rep ranges are useful for endurance athletes training for their specific sport, as well as in circuit-style training for those interested in weight loss. Due to the lighter weights, not much rest is needed, which is great for increasing your heart rate during a session. An ideal rest period for this type of training could be anything from 0-90 seconds. You may be sore after your first couple of sessions, however, your body adapts quickly and you’ll soon be able to progress to heavier weights.
Mid Rep Range (6-12) – Intermediates and Muscle Gain (Hypertrophy)
I program this rep range for most of my clients as this is where you will get the most “bang for your buck” in terms of strength and aesthetics. Working in the 6-12 rep range will increase muscle mass, create a more “toned” look and have significant benefits on metabolism and fat loss. “But I don’t want to get bulky,” you say? Don’t worry about that, this is a common misconception. Building excessive amounts of muscle takes hours of training and lots of supplementation. However, increased lean muscle mass has a significant benefit on your metabolism. So if you’re looking to lose fat and get leaner; training this way will get you the results you’re looking for. This is because more muscle means increased metabolism which means increased daily energy expenditure. The more muscle you have the more it takes in terms of calories to maintain itself.
Two minutes of rest is perfect for this type of training as this gives your muscles enough recovery to hit the following sets with a similar intensity. With this rep range the pump is real, enjoy it!
Low Rep Range (1-5) – Advanced, Athletes and Maximal Strength
Training at a low rep range will not necessarily give you a lot of aesthetic benefits. They may to a certain extent, however you’ll get much faster results working at a 6-12 rep range. Athletes who need to lift as much weight as possible, for example, powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, will spend much of their time in this low rep range as they need to increase their strength and power. Athletes for other sports may spend some time training in this rep range to increase their power for their specific sport. If you’re working at this lower rep range, you should still have spent a lot of time working in the hypertrophy/mid rep range to increase muscle mass. This means that when you start to work within the low rep range, you have bigger muscles that can recruit more muscle fibres to aid in lifting more weight. Sometimes I will program this for my advanced clients as it can help in overcoming plateaus and can also be a fun change to the program. Long rests are needed for this type of training, 3-5 minutes will give the muscles enough recovery to be able to lift heavy weights again with the same intensity. If you’re new to this type of training, it might feel strange and counterintuitive to take so much rest, however, believe me when I tell you that your muscles need recovery.
Please see below a table that outlines the sets, reps and rest you need for your desired style or training to help you meet your goals. It’s important to note that when training within any of these rep ranges, especially for hypertrophy and strength, you should be pushing close to failure within that rep range. For example, if you’re doing 5 sets of 10 reps, you would ideally pick a weight in which you would fail before you reach 12.
Here is an example of a leg day session in the hypertrophy phase of training (6-12 reps).
To conclude, you should progress through each stage, training with lightweight and high reps to prepare the muscles for the correct technique and increase strength in the stability of your joints before moving onto the hypertrophy mid-rep phase. Training 6-12 reps will give you the most benefit for your training if you want to look muscular. This is because it will build muscle, have a great benefit on your metabolism, and help you reduce your body fat percentage. If you want to gain max strength output, work through a plateau, or just want to mix things up for enjoyment, then working the lower rep ranges at a higher weight can be beneficial and fun too. Be consistent, do mostly the things that you enjoy and don’t forget to add a little of what you know is good for you. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.