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Fitness experts reveal truth about repetitions

Joe Wuebben explains how to reach personal weight lifting goals

Weightlifters know that reps and resistance go hand in hand when creating an effective training routine. The number of reps performed depend on training goals, while the amount of weight lifted depends on the number of reps desired. According to fitness experts Joe Wuebben and Jim Stoppani, authors of Stronger Arms and Upper Body, lifters should pick a weight that will cause them to reach failure on the last set or two of the exercise. But, the number of reps performed should depend on individual goals:

  • Muscular strength. When strength is the primary goal, the optimal rep range per set is three to six. The objective is to overload your muscles with as much weight as they can handle over a very short period, which won’t allow for a lot of reps. Strength is defined as the maximum amount of weight you can lift one time and is typically measured by low-rep maximum lifts, such as a one-rep, three-rep, or five-rep max. Conditioning your muscles to handle maximal loads is the key to developing all-out strength.
  • Muscular size. Your muscles will grow when you train for strength, but not as much as they will when you do slightly more reps per set. Hence, the optimal rep range for maximal size is 8 to 12. In this range, combine relatively heavy weight with a sufficient number of reps to increase the muscles’ time under tension, or the amount of time a muscle contracts in a single bout, which causes the muscle fibers to grow. For a combination of strength and size, reps should fall in the top end of the strength range and the low end of the hypertrophy range, somewhere around six to eight.
  • Muscular endurance. Increasing the endurance of your muscles is often confused with achieving more muscular definition. Often you’ll hear people say that doing higher reps (15, 20, or more) helps you get more defined than lower rep ranges. It’s not quite that simple. Increasing definition requires losing body fat, which is achieved through healthful eating habits as well as exercise. Working in the 8- to 12-rep range is as effective for developing muscular definition, if not more effective, than doing sets of 15, 20, or more. Doing sets of 15 or more reps is ideal for increasing muscular endurance, which is especially helpful if you compete in endurance sports such as cross-country running, cycling, and swimming.

Regardless of the goal, it’s essential to alter rep ranges from time to time. If the arms are trained with 10-rep sets week after week, they will get accustomed to that rep range and will stagnate. It is important to train them on occasion with lower reps (6 per set) and higher reps (15 per set). Even though these rep ranges are best suited for strength and endurance, respectively, combining them with a rep range that promotes hypertrophy is the best way to make continued goals.

This is adapted from Stronger Arms & Upper Body.