Is there an ideal amount of repetitions during exercise that work best?
Repetitions (reps) are a component/variable that is a part of most, if not all, workouts. The amount of times you perform a movement is something that matters. But how do we know when that amount is right? And is it the most important thing to concern ourselves with? Here are some common questions that will shed some light on how reps fit into our workouts.
- Will repetitions improve my form?
Repetition does not equal perfection. Repetition equals permanence. By doing something over and over again, you train your body to memorize patterns. Even if the movement isn’t the most efficient or performed with bad form, your body will learn that wrong motion. Often people rely on how their body is feeling. The problem with this is that our bodies will naturally compensate to make up for the improper form. You can feel like the movement is right even if it’s off. There is also the risk of doing too much of a good thing. To truly know if you are using proper form, you need an extra pair of knowledgeable eyes to watch your form and make the needed corrections so that you can learn the correct movement.
Our body works through utilizing balance. The movements that are performed during activity are done by activating prime moving muscles that do the majority of the work, synergist muscles that assist the motion, stabilizing muscles that keep the body steady, and antagonist muscles that control the opposing force brought on through the motion. Because of all the muscles involved during a movement, it is important that your workouts consist of exercises performed in all three planes of motion. Otherwise, your repetitions, even if performed with excellent form, may still lead to compensations due to the body only learning the movement pattern performed, and not other motions from other planes of motion.
- Are repetitions the best variable to manipulate for success?
We manipulate repetitions to challenge the body in different ways. Reps may not be the most important variable to emphasize. We manipulate the reps to change the feel of the exercise, but if the other variables are not taken into account, you could be wasting your time or training incorrectly for your goals. Your choice in tempo (how much time is spent in each single rep), your load (amount of resistance applied during the exercise), your sets (how many times you perform the exercise per workout), your rest period between sets, and your frequency (how often are you performing the exercise) play a major role in how effective the exercise will be. Reps alone will not elicit the desired response. The key focus is how much time the muscle is under tension. In other words, focus on how much time the muscles involved in the exercise are under tension. If you are doing a high amount of reps, but your muscles are not being challenged you may have wasted your time. Also, if the load is too heavy and made you unable to get very many reps accomplished, you may have also missed the ability to achieve your desired results.
Your goals matter. Your variables, including reps, need to reflect your goals and current training phase. If you are training to build your endurance, gain strength, lose body fat, improve performance, or improve your overall health, your variables need to reflect your goal and current fitness level and/or phase of training.
- Is there an ideal amount of reps to do?
Your choice in repetitions as previously stated needs to be chosen in accordance with your current goal. If you are training to gain strength but your reps are high, you would more than likely see no strength benefits. There is no official number for each goal, but there are ranges that fit well for your goals. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), to gain stabilization and muscle endurance you would train in the range of 12 to 20 repetitions. For Hypertrophy, also known as muscle growth, you would train for 6 to 12 reps. For maximal strength, you would stay in the range of 1 to 5 reps and power training you would stay in the range of 1 to 10 reps. As for the goal of losing body fat, all phases may contribute, but most often I see the biggest changes in the stabilization and muscle endurance phase. Again, these are ranges that are there to elicit the proper muscle recruitment for what is needed in the specific phase. The other variables also have ranges for each phase. You will be able to stay in the proper phase and control the variable properly by having help from a qualified fitness professional.
- What about workouts with timed sets? How can these workouts fit our current phase of training?
The format of keeping your exercises performed in a certain amount of time is a great way to train. It gives you the opportunity to get your mind off of counting reps and more opportunity to concentrate on form and performance. The best way to adjust the timing of the sets for the workout to match your current phase of training would be to adjust the timing to give you the approximate rep range that would occur in that selected time. If your goal is power, you may chose the timing to be 10 to 20 seconds for the set. This way you may only get a minimal amount of reps in. If your goal was muscle endurance, your timing per set could be 45-seconds to a minute or more. The intensity of the exercise should be chosen in a way that lets you just have enough energy to barely finish while still maintaining proper form throughout the set. Often as personal trainers, we teach groups that work out in stations. This format works very well with timed sets.
Having the awareness and wisdom to maximize the use of repetitions in your workout program will give you a great benefit to keep your body progressing. It is vital that you maintain proper form throughout the program, along with having progression and exercises that challenge your body to work to your full potential. When your program is aligned with the right acute variables, including reps, you stand to see the greatest return on your investment of better health.