How many reps?

Many times when someone finds out I help people with their exercise programs, I get the inevitable question, “how may reps should I be doing?” At that point, I grab an envelope and place it on my forehead (as in Johnny Carson’s the Great Karnak skit) and say the answer is, “I haven’t a clue! … since I don’t know your goals, needs, and training experience.”

What they typically want to know is how many reps they should be doing if they’re trying to make esthetic changes to their bodies. While this answer can get complicated, here’s the “Reps 101″ version. First, the number of reps completed in a training session is probably the most important short term exercise variable. The total number of reps you perform during a session equals your total volume for that training session. There is an inverse relationship between exercise volume and intensity. The higher the volume, the lower your intensity.

If you’re looking for “bodyshaping” changes, your reps should be in the hypertrophy (muscle building) training range. This means you should be doing from 8 to 12 reps per set. When I say this could be more complicated, it’s because you also have to consider a person’s genetic potential with muscle fiber type, their nervous system training response, their training age and experience, and the speed of exercise movement, just to name a few.

For those looking to maximize strength gains, the ideal rep range is from 1 to 8. Muscular endurance takes place within a rep range of about 12 to 25. Our personal training services are offered at La Plata Fitness, which has a women’s only and a coed component. I find myself having two frequent conversations there. With men, they’re looking for the hypertrophy changes, but performing reps in the max strength range and not enough “time under tension” to stimulate the muscle to the results they want. The conversation with women is just the opposite, they are performing loads of reps, with no intensity, mainly because they don’t want to “get big” … which is a whole other conversation! This is pushing them into muscular endurance and again, away from their desired results.

Hopefully, this clears up the general question about where you should be with your reps during your workouts. For more specific answers to exercise needs, you can set up a consultation with one of our Human Performance Consultants to get clarity on all the exercise program variables and ultimately “moving” to the body you want!

Cliff Long