Reps and sets explained
There are many different theories about how many sets and repetitions should be performed when strength training.
By definition, a set refers to the number of times you repeat an exercise. Reps - or repetitions - refer to how many times you lift the weights during the course of that exercise. For example: 3 sets and 15 reps of squats (written as 3 x 15) would refer to completing three cycles of squats, doing 15 squats in each cycle.
Recent research has proven that multiple sets are more effective at building muscle than single sets. If you analyze the training programs of top fitness models, you’ll discover that none of them train using single sets for each exercise but rather a cycle of multiple sets. This usually falls within a range of two to four sets per exercise, three being the average. In order to achieve results, you’ll need to exhaust and stimulate muscle fibers, which you won’t be able to achieve with a single set of each exercise. Beginners usually do best starting off with a smaller number of sets - two or three - whereas advanced athletes can do up to four or five sets per exercise, using heavy weights.
Beginners, or those who are training for fitness and health, will benefit from performing an average of 15-20 reps per exercise. Anyone looking to gain muscle size or more muscle definition should incorporate a range of four to 12 reps of heavier weights.
The number of reps can also be dictated by the amount of weight lifted for each exercise. If you’re lifting light or moderate weights, you would benefit most from a higher number of reps (15-20), whereas if you’re lifting heavier weights, you would do fewer reps (4-12), the number decreasing as the weight increases.
Another popular method of progressive training, which I’ve practiced myself, involves increasing the weights and reducing the number of reps for each exercise over the course of three sets. This is ideal for anyone who wants to sculpt muscle definition or encourage hypertrophy (muscle growth).
The program is as follows (and should be carried out for the same exercise, for example leg press):
10 - 12 X 1 set of heavy weights (10 to 12 reps for one set)
6 - 8 x 1 set of heavier weights (six to eight reps for one set)
4 - 6 x 1 set of the heaviest weights you can lift (four to six reps for one set)
There is no rule as to how many reps should be completed for each exercise. Pay attention to your goals, fitness levels and how you’re progressing. As you get fitter and your muscles get stronger, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights and will start reducing your number of repetitions. Ladies, don’t be scared to lift heavy weights, as this is a natural way to transform your body.
How many reps for fat loss?
It is commonly argued that a high number of reps burns more fat and that you should always increase the number of reps if your main goal is fat loss. However, training with high reps will automatically mean that you lift lighter weights. Doing fewer repetitions will enable you to lift heavier weights and build more muscle. Muscle is metabolically active, which means that it increases your body’s basal metabolic rate - its ability to burn fat while at rest. Similarly, an intense weight training session will continue to burn calories after your workout is over. In other words, the more muscle you have, the more fat your body will burn (and the more you can eat too). If your primary goal is fat loss, don’t be afraid to lift heavier weights and reduce the number of reps in each set as you progress.
Doing an exercise with a total of 30 reps will be no different than an endurance workout, defeating the purpose of training with weights. Accelerate your fat loss with cardio and focus on serious weight training to build and protect your lean muscle mass when on a caloric deficit.
Learn more about the benefits of weight training here.