People often ask how many reps they should be doing during a workout. I actually had two people ask me this question this past week… two very different people. One, a 20-year old athlete/runner who is currently lifting 12-16 reps per set and wants to get stronger, and the other, a 70-year old gentleman who is lifting 8 reps per exercise and wants to change up his workout.
There are three basic ways to strength train:
Training for Muscle Endurance
It is recommended that a person training for muscle endurance perform 12 to 16 reps of each exercise, and, depending on the intensity, rest for 30-90 seconds between exercises. Generally, 12 reps can be completed with about 70% of maximum resistance (1RM = 1 rep max) and 16 reps can be completed with about 60% of max resistance. Once a person is able to perform 16 controlled reps at a given weight, the weight should be increased by 5%. This training technique works the targeted muscle to fatigue and while it does produce gains in muscle strength, they are typically less than the gains that occur in muscle endurance.
You could, of course, perform more than 16 reps, but it is said that performing the same exercise with light weights for over 2 minutes is inefficient as it has limited benefit for muscle development.
Training for muscle endurance is ideal for individuals who want to improve their fitness level, older adults who want to maintain their muscular strength and improve quality of life, and athletes who perform endurance events (marathon, hiking excursion, cross country skiing, etc.). Muscle endurance training can be done in a circuit strength training format where different muscle groups are targeted, thereby allowing for minimal rest between exercises.
Muscle strength is measured by maximal force a muscle can produce (1 rep max). Training for muscle strength focuses on higher intensities and less reps.Typically, a program for improved muscle strength will consist of 4 to 8 reps (at 80%-90% of 1RM) of each muscle with a 3-4 minute recovery between sets and 72 hours between workouts that target the same muscle group.
For example, a person may train the back and chest muscles on Monday and Thursday; shoulders and legs on Tuesday and Friday, and biceps, triceps, and abs on Wednesday and Saturday. Once 9 reps can be performed at a given weight, the load should be increased by 5%.
Muscle hypertrophy is the physiological process of muscle-fiber enlargement. This kind of training falls between the two training techniques mentioned above and is usually performed by bodybuilders. Due to the overlapping intensities, this kind of training will produce significant gains in both muscle strength and endurance.
It is recommended that exercisers training for muscle hypertrophy perform 8-12 reps at 70%-80% of 1RM with little rest (30-60 seconds) between sets.Bodybuilders will perform four or more different exercises per muscle group and may complete 3-4 sets of each exercise.
For example, a set that targets the chest may consist of 10 chest presses on a flat bench, 10 flyes, 10 chest presses on an incline bench, and 10 push ups.
A set that targets the triceps may consist of 12 reps each of triceps pushdowns, skull crushers, close-hand push ups, and dips.
To sum up, my advice to the young man who asked how he could get stronger was to increase his weight load to a resistance that he could not do more than 8 reps with. Once he can perform 9 controlled reps with that weight, increase the load another 5%.
My advice to the 70-year old golfer who is completing 8 reps at a weight that he said he probably could not do much more than 8 reps with was to either decrease the weight and try to do 12-16 reps OR do his 8 reps at the weight he is currently using and then drop the weight by 20% and do a few more reps (known as drop sets).
Note: I am neither one of these men’s trainer. I know their basic health history because we are friends and they asked for my professional advice in conversation.
Source: ACE Personal Training Manual, images from workoutroutinewarehouse.com
How many reps do you typically perform in your sets?
Have you ever done drop sets? They are killer!
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