Hi. I’m Brandon, and I’d like to share with you today a little about high-rep training. Anything I mention in this post could have its own post entirely. I’m not trying to be exhaustive today, but am taking my shot at dispeling a few things that a lot of people have in their heads. First, let me define a few things.
“Reps” for those unfamiliar, are simply the amount of times that you “repeat” an exercise in one go. So, if you pick up a barbell, lift it above your head 5 times, then put it down, you’ve done 5 “reps” of that movement.
How many reps are “high-rep” depends on who you are talking to. If you are talking to me, then high-rep is anything above about 6-7 reps.
As a general rule, here is how the respective ranges are thought of, but keep in mind that there are all sorts of variables that affect this: 2-3 rep range is pure strength, 4-6 is more of a strength with muscle growth, 8-10 is “hypertrophy” or muscle growth, and anything above that is, regardless of what people say, mostly endurance work.
I’ve heard many thoughts on higher-rep training, which, for our purposes, is about the 8-10 rep range and up. Things like:
“Women should focus on higher reps so they don’t get bulky”
“Older people should use higher reps so they don’t shatter all their bones to dust” (exaggeration mine, ridiculousness not)
“People who want to build muscle should focus on higher-rep training, because lower-rep training is just for strength.”
“People just getting into strength training should start with high-rep sets”
Let me address a few of the statements above quickly.
It is NOT true that women need to lift lighter weights. As a matter of fact, it can be beneficial for women to lift HIGHER percentages of their max weight than men after a while.
It is not true that older people can only lift in the 100,000 rep range.
People who want to build muscle should care a lot about getting stronger because that muscle mass is a byproduct of strength. The two are not independent.
People just getting into lifting are the BEST people to lift heavy (I recommend the 5 rep range) because it’s where they will see the best results the most quickly, and it is how they get stronger.
Training with high reps should mostly be reserved for four types of people:
-Those who are very new to strength training and don’t want to use weights yet
-Those who are at an advanced level and can handle enough weight at that range that it can really make a difference
-Those with certain types of injuries that need to heal
-Those who are in the military and have to pass a test
If you’re reading this, you’re probably not the elite person who’s just trying to add a half inch to their triceps. If you’re in the military, then you have to do this regardless, and we can talk offline about how to structure proper strength training around it, and I don’t want to dive into injuries in this post, so I’ll focus briefly on the people who are new to this and don’t yet feel comfortable with weights. I say “yet” because my goal is always to get you the point where you are comfortable with them, not just because that’s what I like, but because it works and is efficient.
Now, if you are someone who has been doing zero strength training, and you don’t want to start with weights, then this higher-rep stuff could be a good fit for you. You can do a bodyweight routine where you add reps and/or make the variation of the exercise more difficult. You can use dumbbells, bands, or other equipment easy to store at home. But understand, you will get to a point where your progress is limited with this type of training, and the more consistent you are with it, the sooner that point will come.
Since this is a post that anyone can read and I have no idea who you, reader, are, I’ll keep this broad. If you can’t do a push-up yet, for instance, then this will work for you for a while. You can stay home and do push-ups until you work up to a certain number. But, once you can do 15 push-ups or so, you’re ready to take this to the next level, and I’d suggest that level be you moving to a bench press if you have or can get access to the equipment. If not, then it’s time to add weight to the movement somehow (vests, weights, kids, grandparents…) or go to a more difficult variation. Don’t waste your time getting to 100 push-ups. Why do that? In what life situation will you need to push your body up with your arms 100 times in a row? And if it’s just to “build your chest,” then trust me, using weights will make that happen in a much quicker and more efficient way.
One final note is that, believe it or not, you are actually more likely to become injured when you consistently lift in the high-rep range. That’s because, the more reps you do, the more fatigued you get, and the more fatigued you get, the more likely you are to let your form slip.
High-rep training does have its uses, but most of the advice about why you should do it is incorrect at best and manipulative at worst.