How Many Reps Should You Do?

Posted November 23, 2009 in Conditioning, Weight Training 7 Comments »

When lifting weights, there are many questions asked by both noobies and experienced lifters alike.

How Many Reps?
How Many Reps?

Some great weightlifting questions include:

  • what are the best exercises?
    Answer: view my series of best exercises posts.
  • how long should I workout?
    Answer: HIIT: 20 mins, Weightlifting & Endurance Cardio: 45 mins
  • how many sets should I do?
    Answer: That answer is going to require a dedicated post, so I’ll get to that shortly.
  • how many reps should I do?
    Answer: read on and find out…

There are 3 main kinds of repetitions (reps) when it comes to weightlifting; certain rep and set schemes are used depending on your goals. Let’s examine scheme #1:

  1. How many times you can lift a weight before failure.

    Lifting weights until failure is a typical weightlifting rep scheme.

    Typical weight lifters usually have one or two of four goals in mind:

    • get stronger
    • get bigger
    • get faster/more powerful
    • increase endurance

    To get stronger, lift heavier and for fewer reps. Using 3-5 rep sets is a sure way to get strong fast, while using 1 rep sets is a great way to gauge your maximal strength and to train for powerlifting competitions.

    To get bigger, lift heavy and long enough to stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth). This can usually be done with 8-12 rep sets. Bodybuilders usually use this type of rep scheme, and often employ finishers and cheat methods to get an extra couple reps.

    To get faster, lift at 50-65% of your 1 rep max for sets of 3-5 reps, but you must move the weight as fast as possible. This rep scheme is often used by powerlifters in conjunction with heavy strength training, and by Olympic lifters to increase speed and power. This type of training is NOT done to failure and is not useful for strength or mass training by itself.

    To increase endurance you should be lifting at least 20 reps per set. It is not unheard of for advanced athletes to use 100 rep sets, either to increase endurance or to shock the muscles into new growth.

  2. How many times you can lift a weight in a specific time frame

    This type of training is useful for four reasons, none of which include bodybuilding or powerlifting:

    • preparing for a competition such as strongman or triathlon
    • conditioning
    • sport specific training
    • busting through a plateau in a standard training routine

    Strongman competitions often feature events that require the competitors to complete as many reps as possible with a ridiculously heavy weight (like push pressing a car or a bus or something) in a set amount of time. If you want to be a strongman, you have to train for this type of event.

    Consider a boxer or MMA fighter who has to throw fast, deadly punches in 4 minute rounds. Someone like this would condition themselves with sport specific exercises like alternating punches with bands, one-arm explosive pushing or punching movements, standard/explosive push ups, bench presses (with and without bands), or anything else you think will help condition your body to 4 minutes of straight punching. Setting a goal to break the number of reps you can complete in each 4 minute round, would be one adequate guage of progress.

    A regular weightlifter who has stalled on any given exercise might consider training in a super high rep range for a week or two. Perhaps a bench press plateau can be broken by increasing the number of reps you can perform in one minute with 135 lbs, or perhaps a squatting plateau can be overcome by jump squatting for 5 minutes straight.

    Do this type of training 3 times a week for 2 weeks and tell me if you can’t complete way more reps on the 6th training session than you could on the first. Now go back to the original plateau exercise knowing full well that the problem muscle group can now handle more work in a given period of time, than it could 2 weeks ago.

  3. Complete a circuit of set weights and set reps in minimal time

    This has very much to do with that High Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT) article that I was supposed to write to complement my What is HIIT? article that I posted a month or two ago. Damn, I have to get around to writing that thing. I digress…

    Who might want to use HIRT?

    Anyone who wants to lose body fat while keeping all of their hard earned muscle mass.

    Alongside HIIT, HIRT is a vital component to any serious fat loss exercise plan. When I finish my HIRT article you can read about it here: What is HIRT?

    Any number of exercise can go into a HIRT routine as long as they will allow you maximize your intensity for the full HIRT training session.

    Say you wanted to use a 10 minute HIRT routine.

    A 10 minute HIRT routine might look something like this:

    1. 10 reps of deadlifts with 20% of your 1 rm
    2. 5 clapping pushups
    3. 5 chin ups
    4. 10 ab wheel roll outs
    5. repeat for 10 minutes, no rest ever

    This type of training will melt the fat off your body and help you maintain the muscle mass you have worked hard for. We all know that more muscle mass = a higher metabolism, so why in the world would we want to lose muscle mass just for the sake of losing body fat? It’s like taking one step forward and one step back.

Now that you know how many reps you should do, you have another resource in your arsenal for building your own workout routine. Let me know if you have any questions.

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7 Responses to “How Many Reps Should You Do?”

  1. Hey Steve, let’s have a few articles about target-specific training if you haven’t already done some. I’d like to increase shoulders, biceps and triceps in size, whilst still maintaining chest, back and leg strength & size. I naturally put on size easily in chest, back & legs but need some new strategies to maximise my gains in arms & shoulders.

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