When I started Tony Horton’s P90X, one of the first decisions to make was whether to go for larger muscles or simply toned muscles. Tony would repeat over and over: 8-10 reps for mass or 12-15 reps for lean.
I have no desire to look like Tony Horton. He’s very muscular, has a bodybuilder’s body, and that’s just not me. But, hell, I could stand for my muscles to be a bit larger, so I decided to go the route most men take through P90X and shoot for 8 to 10 reps of each move.
To explain a bit more, the idea is to adjust the weight you use to work properly for the number of reps. That is, regardless of how many reps you do, the last two or three should be difficult. So if you’re shooting for 8-10 reps, you should be struggling on reps 7, 8, and 9. If you are not, you need to increase the weight.
Tony never gets into the lower rep side of things, probably because he is a bodybuilder, not a powerlifter, but you should know that HEAVY WEIGHT + LOW REPS = STRENGTH! You won’t necessarily get the muscle size, but your strength will increase dramatically with this approach.
Here, then, is a quick rundown on the whole number of reps concept. Tom Venuto includes this information in his article on his website.
- If you are trying to improve strength, then most of your weight training will be in the 3 to 5 rep range. You may even do some 1 and 2 rep moves. This will make you stronger and faster without bulking you up.
- Bodybuilders work on muscle mass, so most of your training will be in the 8 to 10 rep range. Doing some heavier weight training at lower reps makes sense, too, because you may not want to simply look strong.
- To tone up, you should work in the 12-15 rep range. This is also useful for bodybuilders, to smooth things out.
I spend most of my time doing 8-10 reps. When doing body weight exercises, like pushups, I do as many as possible, so I have the high-rep end covered.
I have not, however, done anything in the lower rep range, and it seems to me I need to do that, so I’m going to try to work that into my workouts starting after this current recovery week.
Remember that fitness is not just finding one thing and doing that. That’s a good start, but fitness is really a lifelong commitment that involves reading and learning and implementing new techniques to stay as fit as possible.
So be sure to determine your fitness goals and then make an informed decision about how many reps to do based on those goals.