Snacks #021: Unlock your strength and boost your gains: utilise your rep ranges properly

Mar 03, 2024

Let's talk about the #1 mistake beginners (and intermediates!) make when it comes to the gym:

Not adjusting the weight they use when the reps are changed throughout their workouts.

For example; sticking with 50kg for squats, regardless of whether 5 reps, 10 reps or 15 reps have been programmed. This means hugely short-changing yourself with the weight (and thus the benefits) you potentially could have lifted at 5 reps.
If you do a set of 5 (or 6 or 7 or 8...) with the same weight that you would use for 10 reps, it's simply not heavy enough for the outcome that you're supposed to be training for.

AKA: You're not going to reap the benefits of the hard work and hours you're putting in.

To avoid this rookie mistake, read on and I'll outline the purpose of different rep ranges, how you benefit from training in each, and how to adjust the weight  for your reps easily.

The purpose of rep ranges:

1. Low Reps (1-5 reps per set):

  • Strength Building: Low reps with heavy weights primarily target the development of maximal strength. This rep range recruits the highest threshold motor units, leading to neural adaptations and increased muscle fiber recruitment.
  • Neuromuscular Adaptation: By focusing on lifting heavy weights for low reps, the nervous system becomes more efficient in coordinating muscle contractions, resulting in increased strength gains.

2. Moderate Reps (6-12 reps per set):

  • Muscle Hypertrophy: Moderate rep ranges are commonly associated with muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth. This range induces metabolic stress, which leads to cellular changes such as increased protein synthesis and muscle fiber growth.
  • Endurance: While not as effective as high rep ranges for endurance, moderate reps can still improve muscular endurance, particularly when the sets are performed with shorter rest intervals.

High Reps (12+ reps per set):

  • Muscular Endurance: High rep ranges primarily target muscular endurance. The sustained contractions over a higher number of repetitions help improve the muscles' ability to perform repetitive movements over an extended period.
  • Metabolic Stress: High rep sets induce metabolic stress, leading to increased blood flow, metabolite accumulation, and hormonal responses, which can contribute to muscle growth and endurance.
    Each rep range has its place in a well-rounded training program, but depending on your goals (strength, hypertrophy, endurance) you may want to focus more on a particular rep range.

Scaling your weights up and down:

Logically, if the reps are higher for a particular exercise, you should be lifting a relatively lighter weight to ensure you meet the increase in reps.

But how do you know if the weight is correct for you or not? A good rule of thumb is to pick a weight that allows you to stay within 10-20% PROPER REPS of the prescribed amount in your program.

- If you meet the prescribed reps, without your form breaking down (eg. swinging your weights or shifting your body position to compensate for fatigue), then you can try the next weight up and treat that set you just did like a warm-up set.

- If you can't meet the prescribed reps (you're doing less than 80% of the reps), then consider dropping the weight down.

There are more methods to fine-tune this like using Reps in Reserve, or Perceived Rate of Exertion, but for now try to nail your rep ranges before getting too bogged down in the details.

Maximising Progress and Gains:

With my clients, depending on their goals, training history and experience, I periodise their rep ranges over time (and sometimes within their training program split or within the session itself), and cycle between phases focused on strength, hypertrophy, and endurance, to prevent plateaus and optimise long-term progress.

For more:

  • Get personalised programming, form feedback and weekly check-ins with 1:1 exercise coaching (combine this with nutrition coaching for a complete transformation or do exercise as a standalone)
    For a 'done-for-you' training and nutrition program that's been designed for fat loss, look at my TRANSFORM program.
    For a 'done-for-you' training and nutrition program that's been designed for body recomposition, look at my THRIVE program.

To achieve your goals faster than trying to do it on your own, I can help you; it's literally my job & it's what I do best 

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