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Strength Training: High Reps vs Low Reps

By Edited May 2, 2014 1 0

Strength training, in the past, was considered as a way to only increase performance or increase muscular size, so most of the people who did it were athletes and bodybuilders.  Strength training is now considered critical to our health and most health organizations recommend that we do strength training exercises for 2 to 3.5 hours throughout the week.


What is Strength Training?

To answer the question of what is the difference between high reps and low repetitions (reps). We must define what strength training is.  Strength training is simply the act of using muscles against resistance to cause an adaptation to occur. This adaptation can be:

  • Increase in muscular endurance
  • Increase in muscular power
  • Increase in muscular size (hypertrophy)
  • Increase in muscular strength


Do I increase all these at the same time?

When an untrained person (aka beginner or newbie) begins to strength train, there is a slight possibility that they can see adaptations in all the previous mentioned areas.  However, usually that comes due to a neural adaption (the nervous system becoming better at activating the muscle) than a muscle adaption.  After the nervous system adapts, then the muscle can adapt to the resistance training.  The type of resistance that you do will determine which adaption occurs.


What adaptation occurs when I do X sets and X reps?

The number of sets and the number of reps you complete during resistance training will determine if the muscles you are exercising will adapt by increasing endurance, power, size (hypertrophy), or strength.


Once you know which adaptation you want to occur, you can select how many sets and reps you want to train a muscle with.  Typically endurance focused exercises will have lower weight and higher reps (15+ reps with about 2-3 sets), hypertrophy focused will have mid range reps and moderate weight (6-12 reps and 3-5 sets), and strength focused will require lower reps with heavier weight (1-6 reps and 1-6 sets). You can Google and find tables that give you sets and reps for each goal.  The ones a posted are very general, be sure to use a reputable source when you search like NSCA, ACE, IDEA or another established fitness organization.


Okay, I got it!  I know how many sets and reps I need; I’m off to the gym!

Before you go out and grab any weight, you need to understand the two concepts that determine how may sets and reps you can actually complete and how much weight you need to use to accomplish your goals.


Volume is the amount of reps/work that is accomplished for an exercise.  To figure this out you multiply your sets by your reps.

Example:              3 sets of 5 reps = 15 (low volume)

10 sets of 10 reps = 100 (high volume)


Intensity is how heavy (relative to your maximum strength) you are lifting. Simply put, the heavier you lift the more intense the exercise.  The lighter you lift, the less intense the exercise.

Imagine that you can only lift 100 pounds for a maximum of 1 rep. That becomes your 1 rep max, or1 RM.  This means that:

  • 50 lbs is 50% of 1 RM, low intensity
  • 75 lbs is 75% of 1 RM, medium intensity
  • 98 lbs is 98% of 1 RM, high intensity


Now that you know how to figure out your intensity, you can use the table to determine what goals you want to work for and help set up your sets, reps, and in between rest for exercises. Table: http://www.vewdo.com/images/weight_strength_training_chart.jpg

Side note:  typically, the more intense the workout, the more benefits you will see as far as growth, strength, and power. This also means that the volume will be lower.



So, in order to determine if you’ll be doing high reps or low reps, you need to understand the benefits of strength training.  And that means that you are looking for a muscle to adapt to a resistance.  The type of adaption you want will be determined by the sets and reps that you put the muscle through, and in order to maximize the adaption; you must determine the proper volume and intensity levels for the exercise.


Side note:  it is best to work through all the different phases of adaption through a program, focusing on just one form can create an imbalance and can lead to injury in the muscle.


If you’re a beginner or newbie, (no shame here we all have been at some point or another) start by focusing on endurance and progress into the other phases.  Less intensity and higher volumes are typically used to help muscles adapt to resistance training when they have not been accustomed to it before.


I hope this helps folks.  Leave a comment below and let me know how you feel.  All I ask is that you share this with your friend and help spread the word!



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