Weight training – How many repetitions should I do?

One of the most common questions we get asked from new or existing gym members is “How many repetitions should I do?”. The answer, like most questions about the human body is, “it depends.” The level of resistance used, and the number of reps performed have an inverse relationship with each other and choosing different combinations of these two will lead to different results. The optimal rep range and weight load for you will depend directly on your specific, unique training goals and which are most important to you.

Training for muscular size:

If you’re training for muscle size (hypertrophy), choose a weight at which you reach muscular failure between the 8-12 rep range. In other words, after your warmup sets, you should select a load that you can complete at least 8 reps but not more than 12. That means, if you can only do 6-8 reps, the weight is too heavy, so reduce for the subsequent sets. It also means that the weight is a little too light if you are able to do more than 12 without failure. The rest period is between 1-2 minutes between sets to avoid full rest for the working muscle.

Training for strength:

When focusing on maximising your strength, you want to train with even heavier loads but less reps, ranging from 1-6. This is how the strongest men and women train. Obviously, with this type of training you will need to program it so you can progress on decreasing your reps eg: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 in a 3 – 4 month program – especially if you’re new to heavier loads. The rest time between sets is 3-5 minutes. This will allow the muscles to rest a little bit longer ready for the next coming sets to be performed.

Training for muscle endurance:

Focusing on muscle endurance means that you’re working on light weights that can be done for 15-20 reps or more. The light weight allows you to maintain the activity for a longer period. This type of training would be great for distance runners or swimmers whose goal is to be able to endure as many strides or strokes as possible to support their desired results. Regular endurance training makes your body more efficient at clearing lactic acid from the muscles hence why the rest period is shorter; 45 seconds – 1 minute, to keep the muscles active.

So why do reps and resistance levels matter? Different repetition ranges trigger different kinds of adaptations in the muscle tissue being trained. These different rep ranges can and must be used to attain different goals. Anyone with a general goal becoming more fit would be best served by incorporating all three rep ranges into their workouts to make sure they are getting all the benefits of resistance training.

Norlina Yakin

Exercise Physiologist