Heavier weights vs. more reps is as hot a debate as sweet vs. salty. If you’ve ever pondered which method is superior for gaining strength, know that you’re not the only one.
Let’s try to work things out such that you come out on top in the end.
The number of repetitions you should be lifting depends entirely on your goals.
Exercise scientist Sharon Gam, CSCS, claims that strength training has a lengthy list of wonderful advantages. “Strength training has a long list of incredible benefits,”
According to her, it can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, enhance mental and physical health, raise mood, vitality, and self-esteem, improve brain function, and lower chronic pain, among many other benefits.
“Any time your muscles are working against some kind of resistance—whether for a lot of reps or a high weight—you’re reaping some of those benefits,” she adds. “Whether you’re doing a lot of reps or a lot of weight.”
In the end, the only thing that will determine how many repetitions you should be performing at once is the strength target that you have set for yourself. If you are attempting to put on muscle mass, for instance, the suggested number of repetitions and sets will be different than what they would be if you were aiming to enhance your physical endurance.
The following is Gam’s official policy on general rep and set rules.
- In order to raise the total power output and the high end strength numbers: 5 sets of 3–5 repetitions, with at least 2 minutes of rest in between each set
- To either increase muscle growth or decrease body fat, perform four sets of six to twelve repetitions, with a rest period of one and a half to two minutes in between each set.
- To increase muscular endurance, perform three sets of 12–20 repetitions with a 90-second rest period in between each set.
- Gam recommends beginning your weightlifting routine with two or three sets of twelve to fifteen repetitions for each exercise if you are a beginner. “This is a good starting point because it gives you plenty of opportunities to practice form,” she adds. “This is a good starting point because it gives you plenty of opportunities to practice form.”
Okay, but how much of that weight should I be lifting if I want to reach those reps?
To put it more simply, an amount of weight that will push you.
“If you lift weights that don’t challenge you, your body doesn’t get the message to get stronger, fitter, and healthier,” adds Gam. “If you want to get stronger, fitter, and healthier, you have to lift weights that challenge you.” “You want to pick a weight that makes the last two to three reps of every set difficult,” she explains. “You do not want to pick a weight that is too light.”
However, you don’t want to go so heavy that you can’t complete the reps, especially if this is your first time lifting weights. (The one exception to this rule is that expert weightlifters may purposefully train to the point of failure, but most people don’t have to worry about this).
According to Gam, you will know it is time to increase the weight you are lifting when the last two repetitions of each set no longer pose a challenge to you. If the weight was difficult for you to lift, you should feel the urge to take a break before beginning the following set. If the weight is too low, you’ll have the impression that you can easily complete another set right away.
Make careful to increase the amount in just very slight steps though. Your objective is to achieve significant progress with very few adjustments. (FYI: It also helps to include a proper warmup and cooldown).