high rep vs low rep

High reps vs low reps: What’s best for strength & growth

Last updated on October 6th, 2020 at 12:02 pm

Introduction

I am fed up of hearing  “you gotta lift big to get big”, this mentality has made so many people get injured because of consistently lifting heavy weights, this mentality has made young lifters compromise with the form and techniques. 

Today we are going to tackle a decade long question that has bothered every lifter and fitness enthusiast. We will be discussing the “Best rep range for strength and hypertrophy” and “whats difference between High reps vs low reps”.

Heavy is a relative term, benching at 300 pounds might be heavy for you but that could be a lightweight for a powerlifter. 

Your muscles don’t know that it’s 300 pounds on the bar, it just responds to the resistance and time under tension. Your ability to continuously increase the progressive overload allows your body to adapt to grow and get strong. 

Whether you should choose high reps or low reps should depend on the fitness levels. 


Rep Ranges for Different fitness levels

Beginner to fitness:

Instead of getting into discussion of high reps vs low reps, you should be more focused on the basics of bodybuilding. 

If you are a beginner then you can do pretty much anything and your body will grow, skeletal muscle tissues respond really well in the first few weeks of starting training. But what you should not do is get your ego undermining correct techniques and body mechanics. 

Choosing a weight that you can control for the entire range of motion and opting for 8-12 rep ranges should be the best solution. 

Intermediate lifter

Now let’s talk about the experienced lifter who has serious strength and muscle hypertrophy goals. Here are the top three factors to look after: 

  • Progressive overload
  • Focusing more on the eccentric part
  • Time under tension

Are you already paying serious emphasis on all the three factors? Most lifters are found to take progressive overload too seriously but usually neglect the time under tension and eccentricity. 

For example: while doing the bicep curl, most of the lifters pay full emphasis on concentric contraction but forgets to pay attention to slow and controlled eccentric portions.  

Your rep range should lie between 8-10 for best muscle gain benefits. 

Serious lifter with 2+ years lifting experience

You are familiar with different styles of training, now you should be more concerned about breaking plateau and making continuous progress.  

What is the best way to break plateaus? Being persistent with the muscle confusion. How to confuse muscle? There are lot of training patterns that can help you break plateau with muscle confusion, some of the most common ways are: 

  • Changing workout routine
  • Deloading
  • Introducing a new volume
  • Supersets, drop sets, giant sets, etc

What are your training goals?

High reps for the fat loss and low reps for the muscle gain, Is it really that simple? Not actually. 

Walk into a gym and you will notice a contrast in the lifting approach of men and women, while most of the male lifters opt for low reps with heavy weights, female lifters can be seen performing 20 reps with 5-pound dumbells. 

Below is one of the most generalized graphs of rep ranges that should be followed to achieve different goals. 

EffectsRep range% of 1 Rep Max
Strength1-580%-90%
Hypertrophy6-1260%-80%
Endurance15+Below 40%

One thing also needs to be noted here, high rep ranges and low rep ranges are also known to stimulate different muscle fibers type. 

Low rep with heavyweight stimulates Fast Twitch muscle fibers that are responsible for the generation of powerful bursts of force, these muscle fibers are not entitled to do the endurance work and reach fatigue quickly. 

High reps stimulate slow-twitch muscle fibers that are responsible for greater endurance but do not offer superior strength. 

Let’s find out the best rep range to achieve desired goals. 


High Rep vs Low Rep For Strength Gains

Undoubtedly, moving heavy weights with low reps does the work. Powerlifters practice low reps to develop monstrous strength. Their training is focused on moving the weight from one point to another for one rep max. 

To understand this here is another example, Olympic lifters are way more powerful than a bodybuilder while staying in their weight category.  

But one thing that needs to be noticed, powerlifters do not train for hypertrophy, they train for maximum strength. Their training also includes mastering certain movements to reduce the TOT (Time Under Tension). On the other hand, bodybuilders train for muscle growth and hypertrophy, although strength also comes with the muscle gain but not as much as a pro lifter. 


High Rep vs Low Rep For Muscle Hypertrophy

Gaining strength is not equal to Muscle hypertrophy. 

Muscle hypertrophy can be achieved by low reps and high reps, both. 

A recent study found that light weight with high reps, performed until failure, was equally effective in stimulating muscle proteins as a heavy weight with low reps. 

Actually, gaining muscle mass depends more on the progressive overload and tempo. 

A secret hypertrophy tip that pro bodybuilders follow, they go medium weight until failure. Confused? Pro bodybuilders stay mindful about control and tempo instead of chasing a number of reps. Try it yourself, get a pair of light dumbells, choose an exercise, and pay more emphasis on the tempo (5 seconds up, 5 seconds down), this method will change your outlook forever. 


High rep vs low rep for fat loss

Those who are doing 20-30 reps for the fat loss should read this very carefully. 

Going high reps while training may help in improving muscle endurance but not the best way to cut down fat.

One study conducted to find “Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects”. Researchers found, group who lifted heavy lost the same amount of weight as the group who did endurance work.

But there is a twist, although both groups lost same amount of weight, group that was made to do the endurance work also lost muscle mass at the same time.

It’s a common belief that performing super high reps will magically help you trim down stubborn fat, this is not true. Moderate reps with a controlled tempo can help you lose stubborn fat more effectively without compromising with muscle mass. 


Benefits of lifting heavy ass weights: 

Lifting heavy weights have its own set of benefits. With low rep, we mean 1-5 reps per set.

1# Boost Testosterone levels

If you are looking for a one-stop solution to boost your libido and testosterone levels then training heavy compound movements should be on your top preference. 

Study has shown that the body secretes more testosterone while performing heavy movements like squats, bench press, and deadlifts. 


2# Burn fat faster

Unlike light-weighted isolation movements, lifting heavy weights require greater recruitment of muscle fibers which not only results in superior strength but also boosts up the metabolic rate. Keep your rep range between 4-6 while lifting 85% of your PR, keeping the rep range between 1-2 reps will not provide enough time under tension to muscle fibers.

We already discussed the study from the University of Alabama which stated lifting heavy weights leads to more effective fat burning. 


3# Superior hypertrophy

Lifting heavy weights will result in superior muscle damage which further helps in superior hypertrophy. 

Although, in order to achieve muscle gain benefits, lifters should consider other factors like training tempo and proper form.

In terms of muscle hypertrophy, lifters who prefer high reps will never be able to beat a lifter who train for low rep with optimum form and technique. 


4# Stronger joints

Yes, lifting heavy weights will not only help you grow muscle fibers but also the supporting ligaments and tendons. 

When you lift seriously heavyweights, every connective tissue experiences maximum adaptation to withstand the stress.  


5# Gain serious strength

Yeah, that’s the primary reason people have been so obsessed about lifting heavy. 


6# Stress buster and reduces cortisol level

Endurance work is more referred to as increasing to cortisol level which is a stress hormone. On the other hand, lifting heavy weights not only helps you reduce stress but also supports restful sleep. 


Benefits of lifting lightweight with high reps:

With low rep, we mean controlled 8-12 repetition per set.

1# Control & Time Under Tension: 

The most remarkable benefit that we get from going for high reps is the control over your workout and increased time under tension. 

Time under tension dramatically affects the muscle hypertrophy, it is one of the major factors that determine maximum muscle stimulus and growth.

How does Time under Tension helps in hypertrophy?

Greater time under tension stressed the muscle tissues for longer period of time which helps in recruitment of more muscle fibers and greater muscle activation.

The motor units in the muscle fibers drastically improve the activation of fast-twitch muscle tissues when they are put under stress for a longer period of time.

Powerlifters train for strength, not size, that’s the reason their training routine involves a shorter time under tension.  


2# Muscle memory

There is no way that muscles have their own memory, right? Wrong. 

Be it riding a bike or squats —it becomes easier and easier as you practice the movement multiple times. 

Do you remember the first time you stepped into the gym and first time lifted that barbell? It must have felt really heavy and awkward. Or when you try to do a totally new workout, it gets really hard to get into the perfect range of motion and focus on the target muscle. 

How does muscle memory help in strength and muscle gains? Muscle memory allows your body to adapt to certain movements and added resistance, it prepares your muscles, ligaments, tendons to bear the impact and get stronger over the period of time. 

One of the common mistakes that many lifters do is they try to progress too soon. This quick progression toward heavier weight doesn’t provide sufficient time to adapt which leads to a higher risk of getting injured. 

High rep training will safeguard you from progressing too quickly.


3# More efforts

The level of effort you are willing to put into your workout determines the results. Bodybuilding is all about pushing your body a little harder than yesterday. 

One thing that I love about the high rep ranges is it allows the lifter to push a little harder. 

Example: if you can bench press 220 lbs with 10 reps, it’s quite easy to push yourself for additional 2-4 reps for better hypertrophy gains, but if you are benching at 400 lbs then it’s hard to push for even one more rep. 

High rep training allows you to push your body a little harder than last time for maximum stimulation and strength gains. 

Additionally, you will not be required to compromise with the form and technique to push yourself a little harder than yesterday. 


4# Prevents CNS fatigue

Heavy compound lifts (deadlifts and squats) lead to CNS fatigue. Those who aren’t aware of the term CNS fatigue, central nervous system fatigue occurs from exercise with large neural demands, namely high-intensity exercise.  

CNF fatigue can also be understood by a reduction in the body’s ability to voluntarily activate muscle tissue to deliver maximum efforts. 

Going light weight can help in  preventing CNS fatigue that allows you to push your body fit for the limit also reduces post workout  mental fatigue.

Getting CNS fatigue can be quite frustrating when you have a day job to look after, preventing it can help you perform better for rest of your day.


5# Stay toned

Not everyone is training to get buffed and big, many of the people just want to stay fit and look good naked. 

doing 10-12 reps with controlled tempo is going to help you stay strong while improving muscle tone.

Why do you need to experience the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) when you can just achieve the muscle definition without putting your muscles and extreme stress that you actually put while the heavy lifting fashion


6# No supporter required

Those who like to train without a training partner can understand this really well. It’s not easy to push for the maximum efforts when you don’t have a supporter. 

Opting for controlled high rep and low weight workout can really help with the training sessions training at a garage gym. 


7# Pump

Heavy lifting and muscle pumping are two different parts of bodybuilding, One approach concentrates on strength gains and another focus on better contraction. 

Improved muscle pump leads to improved supply of nutritious blood, muscle activation, and secretion of growth hormone. 


8# Injury Prevention

If competing in a lifting competition is your goal then you have to concentrate on greater strength development.

If your goal of experience improved quality of life and enhanced longevity then you should be paying more emphasis on injury prevention. 

Following high reps will surely prevent injuries. 


9# Full Range Of Motion

Half range of motion is something that annoys me allot. In order to lift heavy weights, many lifters compromise with the range of motion.

Training with lighter weight will not only help in pushing your body for further reps but will also help you practice the full range of motion.  

Following a correct range of motions allows better muscle activation and has been scientifically proven to provide better strength gains without putting the body under risk of injury. 


Best training approach for strength and hypertrophy? 

So we have talked about the benefits of lifting heavyweight and the benefits of light weights, what is the best way to achieve maximum strength+ hypertrophy?

Mixing things up is the best way to experience Strength + Hypertrophy.


Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always. 

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