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More Reps or Heavier Weights: Which Gets Better Results?

A trainer helps you uncover which path aligns best with your goals.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

The debate over whether to prioritize more reps or heavier weights in workouts is longstanding in the fitness community. On the one hand, higher repetition workouts lead to increased muscular endurance, metabolic conditioning, and a greater overall volume of work, ultimately yielding significant improvements in one's overall fitness. Conversely, heavier weights emphasize the importance of strength development and muscle hypertrophy, asserting that lifting heavier loads stimulates greater muscle growth and strength gains.

Both methods of training offer valid points, but determining which approach yields better results ultimately depends on various factors, including individual goals, training experience, and personal preferences. Join me as I present the case for incorporating more reps or lifting heavier weights, exploring the unique benefits of each training method.

Whether you opt for higher reps to enhance endurance and metabolic conditioning or prioritize heavier weights for strength and muscle growth, each strategy has its place in helping you achieve your fitness goals. The choice is yours—let's uncover which path aligns best with your goals!

The benefits of more reps:

middle-age woman doing bicep curls, concept of exercises for women to stay fit after 40

Higher repetition workouts typically induce three physiological adaptations in the body: muscle hypertrophy (size), muscular endurance, and metabolic conditioning. Maintaining rep ranges between eight to 12 repetitions per set is considered optimal for those aiming to increase muscle size.

However, while heavier weights are conventionally associated with muscle growth, higher rep ranges can also stimulate hypertrophy, especially when nearing muscle failure. This is attributed to their ability to generate metabolic stress and prolong time under tension, both critical factors for muscle development.

As rep counts exceed 20 per set, the emphasis shifts toward enhancing muscular endurance. Engaging in more repetitions with lighter weights enhances the muscle's capacity to sustain activity over extended periods, which is particularly beneficial for activities like running, cycling, or endurance sports.

Furthermore, metabolic conditioning capitalizes on higher rep ranges, particularly when coupled with shorter rest intervals. This approach elevates the heart rate and metabolic demand, fostering improvements in cardiovascular health and facilitating calorie expenditure, thereby supporting weight loss or weight management goals.

The versatility of higher rep sets in workouts allows for creativity and variety. Instead of sticking to traditional straight sets and reps, explore alternative approaches such as interval workouts, AMRAPS (as many rounds as possible), or EMOM (every minute on the minute) sessions. These methods inject excitement into your routine and keep your workouts dynamic.

While rep ranges offer a framework for achieving your fitness goals, the total training volume (sets x reps) and strategic manipulation of rest periods often impact results more. By experimenting with different formats and techniques, you can more effectively maximize your workout efficiency and progress toward your fitness objectives.

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The benefits of lifting heavier weights:

woman doing dumbbell squat to press, concept of exercises to melt lower belly fat

Utilizing heavier weights in your workouts enhances overall strength and promotes muscle hypertrophy, bone health, and hormonal responses crucial for muscle growth and repair. By incorporating rep ranges from three to six reps, you can stimulate muscle growth while focusing on strength development.

Interestingly, even with lower rep ranges, employing more sets can yield similar improvements in muscle size as higher rep sets. Strength improvements are driven by the challenge of lifting heavier weights, which encourages muscle adaptation, leading to enhanced daily functioning (functional strength) and athletic performance.

Resistance training benefits bone density and strength, which are essential for preventing osteoporosis and reducing fracture risks, especially with advancing age. Heavy lifting also triggers a robust hormonal response, including increased testosterone and growth hormone levels, further facilitating muscle development and overall fitness.

Incorporating heavier weights into your workout routine while maintaining proper form and gradually progressing can yield many physical and physiological benefits, contributing to a well-rounded and effective training regimen.

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Which gets better results?

man doing dumbbell rows, exercises for men to gain strength before 40

Customizing your workouts to align with your specific goals is the most effective approach to achieving optimal results. I consistently advise clients to ensure their workouts "make sense." This means tailoring the exercises to suit your objectives. For instance, if your goal is to increase muscle size or endurance, you should utilize appropriate rep ranges and rest periods. Aim for eight to 12 reps for hypertrophy and 20+ reps for endurance while keeping rest periods below 90 seconds.

On the other hand, if your goal is to enhance strength, incorporating lower rep ranges with longer rest periods is key. Craft sets that focus on three to six reps, allowing for 90 seconds or more of rest between sets to maximize strength gains. By aligning your workouts with your specific goals and adjusting variables such as rep ranges and rest periods accordingly, you can optimize your training regimen for the best possible outcomes.

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Ultimately, achieving optimal workouts involves balancing higher and lower rep sets. Begin your session by prioritizing primary strength compound exercises, adhering to the recommended rep range for strength development. Then, incorporate additional sets of unilateral movements or single-joint exercises to target hypertrophy or muscular endurance, further enhancing overall muscle development. Finally, conclude your workout with some recovery-focused activities. Pay attention to your nutrition and hydration to maximize results and support your body's recovery and growth processes.

Jarrod Nobbe
Jarrod Nobbe is a USAW National Coach, Sports Performance Coach, Personal Trainer, and writer, and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 12 years. Read more about Jarrod
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