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Reps vs Weight

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Bodybuilding and Fitness Newsletter 7/5/2023

Reps vs Weight for Building Muscle

If you're looking to build muscle, you might be wondering which is more important: reps or weight. In this article, we'll discuss the pros and cons of reps and weight, and provide insight into which approach is best for building muscle mass.

Should you do more reps or use more weight to build muscle mass? This question has been asked by bodybuilders for over a hundred years and even with the advent of sports science we still do not have a definitive answer. The problem is that most weight trainers/bodybuilders end up slipping into a rut, not gaining muscle and not losing muscle. Knowing how to manipulate reps and weight will solve this problem.

When you're training to build muscle and you just go into the gym and you "push hard" without using any specific strategy, you'll just get injured and beat up, you won't gain muscle. Nothing will stop reasonable progress any faster than training in that "middle ground".

Middle ground is doing the same rep scheme with the same weight with the same intensity day after day. When your default training is 8, 10, or 12 rep range, you're simply sitting in the middle of no-gain's land. This problem can be solved by understanding the neural-metabolic continuum.

It's a very important, albeit fancy term to help us understand if we are working our muscles or our central nervous system (CNS). Obviously it depends what your specific objective is but without getting too scientific, when your objective is hypertrophy (muscle growth) it means you're chasing metabolic gains and you should be doing compound movement in the 3 X 10 reps range using a slow 3 second eccentric and 1 second concentric with no pause when at the bottom.

If your specific objective is strength gain then you'll be chasing neural gains, your training needs to be done with a heavier weight and less reps doing 5 X 3 reps moving the weight as fast as you can, with a 3 to 5-minute break between sets. Now that we understand the neural-metabolic continuum we need to understand that we must spend time at both ends (not straight middle) to maximize growth and development.

To gain size you need to train 8-12 reps and even down to 6 reps in a set. It should be noted that there is an important place for doing sets of 15 to 25 reps in a set but this should always be the exception and not the rule, when your objective is specifically muscle gain.

The low-rep training is defined as training between 1 and 5 reps with near-maximal effort in a set. You might think this is only Olympic lifting or powerlifting, but to make any of your high-threshold motor units begin to work, you'll need to push serious weight!

This type of low rep training will make your nervous system a lot more efficient. When you switch to 10 X 3 reps, you'll coerce your muscles into unfamiliar territory, shocking your stressors. This kind of heavy training will recruit more muscle fibers and more motor units, encouraging your body to turn off your antagonists (opposing muscle group) muscle activation as well.

Below is a brief summary of how your reps and the weight you should be lifting will be separated. It can either be done for 4-6 weeks or it can be done every second workout, so that you do one workout using 8-12 reps and the next workout 10 X 3 reps.

It needs to be noted that there are not any hard-and-fast rules. This means your muscles may need even higher reps like 15-20 for one or two workouts. On the flipside, at other times you may need to push more weight and work the 1-5 rep range.

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