Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness By the Fire: Low Rep training vs. High Rep training

by Ron Kennedy • January 02, 2017
With the new year, finally here, the season for super focus on fitness goals kicks into full effect! From coast to coast diets are being researched and prepared, personal trainers are being consulted, and gyms will have more visitors in the next three months than the following nine combined. Truly one of my favorite times of year! Choosing the direction you wish to take your fitness lifestyle is important, but having the knowledge of how to execute your plan to reach the desired goals is crucial to success. Too many fitness enthusiasts approach their programs with a misconception of the protocols needed to achieve effective results, one of the most common being the difference between high reps with lower weight/resistance vs. lower reps with significantly higher weight/resistance. Both techniques have their place and effectiveness, but identifying the benefits and why you should consider one over the other for the many phases of a scientific training program is vital information.

There is really no such thing as a muscle being “toned” or “untoned”. Muscle is simply muscle. Sure, there are some people with bigger muscles than others, but if you are not toned, all that means is you have a layer of fat covering up your muscles. When your goal is to build muscle, what you are doing is replacing your unwanted fat with “toned” muscle. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, building muscle is very difficult so you should not worry about getting bulky. When you work on building lean muscle, you will start burning fat more efficiently causing you to be more toned and cut.

When the goal is to “appear” as fit as possible, one of the main things you must focus on is boosting your metabolism both inside and outside of the gym. Although doing long slow cardio and light weight lifting will burn calories during your workout, the caloric and fat burning ceases once your workout stops. This means that the workout efficiency is very low when looking at working towards the ultimate goal. If you want to start getting serious results, you need to start looking at your workouts differently. Your goal should not be to just burn as many calories as you can during your workout. Your goal should be to have a continued fat and caloric burning even after your workout is over.

Let’s address some of the basics of rep training in regards to a scientific fitness training regimen. High rep training works the slow twitch fibers in our muscles which are built for endurance and fatigue less quickly. Low rep training on the other hand, works fast twitch fibers which are more explosive and fatigue more quickly. Low rep (strength or muscle mass training) typically refers to doing anywhere from 1-5 repetitions while high rep work (endurance or lean muscle mass training) typically ranges from 12-15+ repetitions. The middle ground, 6-12 reps, is referred to as hypertrophy or muscle building.

When you lift heavy weights, you force your body to adapt, grow, and get stronger. And remember, when you start building muscle you will also start eliminating unwanted fat. Heavy lifting really puts a ton of stress on your body forcing it to recover for hours after your workout is over. That means you will continue to burn fat after you finish your workouts and even as you sit on the couch later that night. It is possible to build strength and power while doing lighter weights, but it is a little more complicated and it still involves doing some heavy lifting. In my experience, the best way to incorporate lighter weights in terms of strength and power is to combine them with heavier weights.

In theory, low reps are more effective for fat loss. In a recent study, participants were put into two groups: one group did heavy lifting while the other group did cardio. At the end of the study, both groups had lost the same amount of weight. However, all the weight that the heavy lifting group lost was fat while the cardio group lost a combination of fat and muscle. This leads researchers to believe that in regards to fat loss, it real boils down to the intensity of the workout. Whether you are lifting heavy weights, lighter weights, or a combination of the two, the best fat loss results will come from workouts that are very high in intensity. Another great way to boost your fat burning in your workouts is to keep your rest periods shorter. Even if you choose to lift heavy, you can still shorten your rest periods. If you are scared about getting “bulky”, shortening your rest time will fully eliminate any chance of you getting you bulky.
So, which way is the best to exercise for focused fitness goals? Just as we thoroughly discuss expectations and goals with all our potential clients, having a solid plan, time-line, and knowing your limitations and challenges is the most effective way to make that decision. There are benefits to both techniques, and used in combination with proper planning can yield incredible results.

Personally, I favor heavier weight lifting. Not only will you be able to build lean muscle while lifting heavy, but you will also be able to burn tons of fat. Although higher reps with lower weight has a place in your workouts, they should never be the focus in my opinion. They should simply be an additional part of your workout at the designed time. As for repetition range, comfortably target the 4-8 rep range to see great results. You can then add in a few exercises with more reps and lighter weight if you feel the need. The focus of all your workouts should be the intensity, one of the reasons we emphasize such a focus on endurance. If you keep fitness workouts intense, you will see results.