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Versus Series: High V Low Reps

**This is applicable for both men and women. Stop believing that there are different workouts or supplements geared towards gender- that's all marketing to get you sucked in. Power lifting, bodybuilding, Crossfit, HIIT, spin classes, aerobics, these are all great options for either gender!!

There is no magic to this high v low rep debate- it just takes a second to to understand it and know how to apply it for what you're trying to achieve. Most people are of the idea as follows:

High reps = Help burn fat, make muscle toned

Low reps = Help build muscle, increase strength

Is it this simple? That's what we'll cover in this first post of the Versus Series. I'm going to go over how both techniques can be optimized and incorporated into your routines to build muscle or lose fat. Both styles of rep ranges work but certain ranges are more efficient for specific goals. I'll cover the rep ranges in regard to strength, fat loss, and building muscle. Lets go!


When it comes to strength there are two components to keep in mind: everything is based off a percentage of your 1 Rep Max (1RM) and that there's a fine line between rep ranges where you can easily go from strength workouts to endurance. As reps increase a transition happens:

Strength -> Hypertrophy -> Endurance

1-5 Reps -> 6-12 Reps -> 15+ Reps

90-80% 1RM -> 80-60% 1RM -> >40% 1RM

Depending on what YOUR goal is determines which approach you'd optimize. They all develop strength, it simply matters what type you're after.

Trying to gain strength alone? 1-5 reps @90-80% of 1RM.

Trying to go the hypertrophy route (muscle building)? 6-12 reps @80-60% of 1RM.

Trying to gain endurance strength? Anything 15+ reps @under 40% of the 1RM.

Research has consistently shown that in order to optimize strength increases heavy weight with low rep ranges is the method to follow. However, don't forget that higher reps CAN elicit strength increases, simply depending on what effect you're looking for.

Fat Loss:

Are heavy weights only good for building muscle, gaining mass, developing strength? What are the chances that lifting heavier can help you burn more fat or does it make you "bulky" or "manly"? I know many trainers who absolutely lose their minds over clients who refuse to work with heavy weights for those reasons. Well, lets take a look.

A study from University of Alabama tested two groups of dieters. One group that lifted heavy and one that only did cardio. The dieters who were lifting heavy lost the exact same amount of weight as the cardio group. However, all the weight lost by the lifters was fat loss. The cardio group lost muscle along with some fat.

High reps with low weights can cause muscular responses but nowhere...ever...has it been proven to burn fat better/more efficiently than lifting heavier with a moderate rep range. This has been a hot topic for a couple years now, of how to burn fat effectively during your workouts (hence the CrossFit, HIIT movements).

More cases are starting to show that the amount of weight used or the rep ranges aren’t the most important aspects to fat loss during workouts- the intensity is what plays a significant role. Muscle burns more calories efficiently than simple cardio- most importantly when you're not working out. So, muscle fatigue with less rest between sets/exercises allows for that explosive metabolic and calorie burn in the aftermath of workouts. Choose challenging weights for yourself and cut rest times down. Maintain intensity throughout the routine for amplified fat loss.

As a trainer, in regard to fat loss, I have to add this at the end of this section. You cannot, I repeat, cannot out train a poor diet.

Building Muscle:

Similar to fat loss the rep ranges for building muscle are debatable. As stated in the strength section, hypertrophy will typically sit in a rep range between 6-12 with a moderate weight to help break up the muscle fibers. On the contrary, there have been studies done showing that light weight/high reps CAN equally build muscle but the rep range is until failure- so you're exhausting the muscle completely with that moderate weight opposed to working the moderate weight for a range of 6-12. **Working to failure at a max weight isn't the smartest way to train.

Different approach, potentially same result.

There's a misunderstanding that lifting heavy automatically contributes to building muscle and that's simply not true. The only thing that lifting heavy for every workout contributes to is one thing, future injury.

Building muscle can be programmed by a specific rep count but that doesn't seem to be the main issue when looking to build muscle. A lot of it has to do with how much or little you're eating along with the intensity and volume of your workouts. Rep ranges and all, if you have a low calorie intake and lift pretty heavy it's likely you wont gain any muscle. This is especially true for women who naturally have less testosterone than men. Building muscle needs two main components that work together:

1. Eat enough calories to have the proper nutrients to replenish and grow muscle

2. Rep ranges vary and are used effectively. Hypertrophy through 60-80% of 1RM for 6-12 reps or working a more moderate weight and blast that until failure.

Figuring out which style is best for you takes time. Set a goal, plan your workouts accordingly, track your progress and go from there. Don't head into the a workout completely blank, especially as a novice- always better to have a structured plan.

If you have trouble structuring a proper workout, contact me and I'll help you get set up on a routine.

Let's keep making progress on ourselves.

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