One of the most asked questions in any gym is: “Hey, I want to tone up my body, and get stronger, so what should I do – more repetitions with less weight or fewer repetitions with more weight?
The most men at the gym opt for working out with much heavier weight, and completing only a few reps (1-5 reps), and usually go for 3 sets of each exercise. However, you will see the women at the gym choose lighter weights, and doing more reps (6-20), for 1 to 3 sets.
For example, the guys usually bench a ton of weight for fewer reps in an effort to build up muscle & gain strength, while the women usually curl 6-8 lb. dumbbells for 20-25 reps aiming to tone up their arms.
Why the men & women behave so differently at gym?
The women are always told that large number of reps with low weight is the key to get the “toned” physique, whereas the men have been told that the lesser reps range with much heavy weight is best for gaining muscle mass.
What Should You Do More Reps or More Weight?
It actually depends on what you are looking for: Strength or Size?
The real problem is most men and women get used to a rep range that they are comfortable in, and spend YEARS making little to no progress.
I will share here with you the best strategy to achieve CONSISTENT improvement.
If you want to have good toned physique & feel strong, the right way is the two pronged approach – train with both higher reps, light weight & heavy weight, fewer reps. Each approach has its own inherent benefits. Read on how:
For Strength: High weight, low reps (1-5 reps)
This type of strength training is used when the aim is to simply get stronger. Athletes usually follow this approach as their focus is on lifting a heavy weight, like Power-lifters & Olympic Weightlifters.
Lifting hefty weight for low reps will increase the weight that you can lift 1 time (i.e. your 1 rep max or 1RM). As body size bestows advantage for moving heavy weights, you will be more likely to get bigger (particularly if you support lifting heavy weight with extra calories).
You will not only get stronger, but gain lean muscles too. If your aim is just to move or lift heavier things, you don’t have to do any other type of training.
For Muscles Size: High reps, low weight (6-12 reps)
This type of training is good for increasing the size of muscles (a.k.a. hypertrophy). Not suitable, if your goal is to build raw strength. When you workout in this manner, it becomes much easier to achieve more VOLUME: the key factor to build bigger size. Adequate volume is the main driver of hypertrophy. Volume = weight x sets x repetitions (the aggregate amount of weight you move in a training session).
Best Reps Range For You
The problem is that we get used to one of the above stated rep ranges, and stay with it for long period. The secret is: To acquire bigger muscles, getting stronger is important. The stronger we are, the more weight we can move. The more weight we move, the easier it becomes to accrue more volume.
Let’s go a little deeper in to this hot topic:
To get stronger, it helps a lot if we have more muscle mass. Eric Helm’s wrote in his book The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid: “A larger cross-sectional area and more mass means we have more muscle fibers to contract and we can move heavier loads. More muscle mass typically means more strength relative to when you had less muscle mass.”
As both the training styles are important, which one should you do today?
Do the type, which has been the furthest from what you’ve been doing the last 2-3 weeks. If you’ve been doing low weight, more repetitions during the last 2-3 weeks, now it’s time to shift your focus to high weight, fewer repetitions, and vice versa.
The body has a built-in auto-adaptation mechanism. It automatically changes when it encounters a different stimulus. The further the stimulus is from what your body is used to doing, the greater the amount of change your body will be compelled to make.
If you’ve been doing high weight, fewer reps type training for the last few weeks, by this time your body is completely adapted to the high weight, fewer reps kind of stimulus. Once your body is completely adapted, you begin to plateau, meaning little to no change in strength or muscle size. Thus, because the mode of training that will provoke the maximum change in your body is the one that is different enough from what you’ve been doing, concentrate absolutely on higher reps and lower weight for the next few weeks.
Useful Related Post: Faster Reps vs. Slower Reps
Even if you are aiming for bodybuilding than strength, the most appropriate thing for you is to intermittently do a strength-focused style of training. This will be the furthest from your normal training to provoke major change, and thus enable you to move heavier weight when you revert to a traditional hypertrophy/bodybuilding mode, resulting in to more muscle.
Useful Related Post: High Intensity Interval Type Training
Never limit yourself to a particular rep range. The key for making progress continuously is that you need to present a new stimulus to your body every few weeks. Constantly cycle through different phases – focusing on high-weight, low reps phase and then lightweight, high reps phase so that your body is continuously kept in adapting and growing mode .