All day, I ask gym-goers about their fitness goals and what they are currently doing to achieve them. I like to know how many sets and repetitions they perform. It’s a fancy way of asking, “How many times do you pick that up and put it down?”
People typically do 3 sets of 10. Some form of, “I don’t know” or “until I can’t anymore,” is a close second. While these are appropriate repetition ranges for certain fitness goals, they rarely coincide with the goal presented by the athlete or participant.
The rep range performed is directly related to the outcome. So, how do you match rep ranges with fitness goals?
15-20: High level muscular endurance. High repetitions give muscles the ability to resist fatigue. People who tire from simple daily tasks will greatly benefit from high rep workouts. It skyrockets performance for endurance athletes training for a marathon, ironman, or rowing team. Athletes should develop a strength base first and then proceed to train endurance.
9-15: Hypertrophy/Size. This rep range produces big muscles. It literally swells them. Performing 10-15 reps trains the body to supply muscular blood flow all the time. Bodybuilders utilize this phenomenon to train for competition. You can grow huge muscles like weeds with correct programming and diet.
1-8: Strength. When you can’t lift another rep after 7 or 8, you are getting stronger. This rep range is not for size, but purely for being able to lift more. Muscle built in this range is dense and takes lots of calories to build and maintain. The strength of a trainee working in this rep range often surprises onlookers because the athlete does not look as strong as they actually are.
Training to failure: Exercises done to fatigue require long periods to recover. If you interrupt that recovery with other exercises, you nix the full benefit of the first exercise. For resistance training, it is preferable to train in the sub maximum range. When you train to failure your brain remembers moving slowly and failing through the last repetition, so that’s what it will repeat. Over time, the effect is a reduction in overall speed on a given exercise. Know your limits, and leave 1-2 reps in the tank when you set your ranges.
Toning: Muscle tone can be achieved through any rep range. It is simply the product of low body fat and an activated muscle. If you’re seeking quick definition, chose a hypertrophy program and restrict your caloric intake.
Next time you find yourself at the third set of 10 and you aren’t fully exhausted, add reps or increase the weight and get on the road to fast and specific results.