Reps, sets, exercises. The three things needed to be taken into account when planning any training session. But how many reps should you be doing? To answer this question you first need to ask yourself another: what is my goal?
In order to work out the amount of reps and sets you want to be doing you need to work out what your goal is. The normal options are:
- Fat Loss
- Muscle Gain
- Strength Gain
This choice may also affect the type of exercise that you do. Different exercises and different goals means different rep ranges.
Fat loss tends to mean a higher amount of rep ranges with lower rest periods. This is because you’ll be expending more calories and ramping up your metabolism. More calories burned means more fat lost.
Muscle gain tends to refer to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is the process of increasing the amount of fluid in your muscles for growth. More fluid means you can handle a higher work load and also have larger muscles.
There are two types of hypertrophy: sarcoplasmic and myofibular. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to an increase in the volume of sarcoplasmic fluid within the muscle cell. It means you can complete more reps but you won’t necessarily be able to lift more weight. For example, by improving your sarcoplasmic volume you might be able to curl a 15kg dumbbell for one or two more reps, but not be able to lift 20kg. Myofibular hypertrophy directly correlates to an increase in strength. There will be an increase in actin and myosin contractile proteins which allows for you to lift more weight. However, the size difference to the muscle will be miniscule.
Choosing whether you want strength or size will determine the amount of reps you need per set. Sarcoplasmic will need a rep range of about 6-12 whereas myofibular will be 1-5. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy will also need more exercise targeted at specific areas whereas myofibular will use big compound movements. Examples of this will be the difference between bodybuilders and powerlifters. Bodybuilders will use 8, 9 or even 10 exercises in one session using minimal compound lifts and many accessory movements. Yet, powerlifters focus on deadlifts, squats, military presses, bench pressing and other big lifts. Bodybuilders will also complete their lifts for more reps and sometimes aim for a ‘pump’ (an increase in the amount of blood in the muscle) whereas powerlifters stick to lower rep ranges. The difference is that while bodybuilders are leaner and more aesthetic, powerlifters can lift much more weight.
Now, most people tend to use a combination of training styles and rep ranges to achieve their goal. The best approach is to stick to lower reps for your compound lifts (deadlifts, squats, military press, bench press, bent over row, etc.) and the movements you want to progress in but then increase the reps for accessory lifts (lateral raises, barbell curls, tricep extensions, leg extensions, etc.). This means you’ll get the best of both worlds.
Does this make a difference if you’re trying to lose fat? Not really. This is because an increase in your total muscle mass will mean an increase in the speed of your metabolism. Thus, you can eat more calories whilst still losing fat.
Also, fat loss mainly occurs in the kitchen. This basically means that your diet will have more of an effect on your body than what you do in the gym. Cutting out 200 calories from your meals is far easier than trying to burn it off in the gym. So, instead you should focus on getting stronger and more capable than trying to burn as many calories as possible. Though, if you wanted to specifically focus on fat loss in the gym then more reps can be beneficial.
At the end of the day, the amount of reps you need to do can only be determined by you. Your goal, body and chosen form of exercise will have a significant effect on what you should choose. Hopefully, however, you now have a better idea of designing your gym-time now than you did before.
Let us know how you train for your goal in the comments below.