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nikipedia's avatar

What's better: lots of reps with low weights, or fewer reps with heavier weights?

Asked by nikipedia (27333 points ) November 6th, 2010

I’m pretty new to strength training. My goals (unsurprisingly) are to build muscle and burn fat. So what’s better—using the heaviest weights you can and doing fewer reps (approaching or achieving muscle failure), or doing lots of reps with lighter weights? And why?

Any other strength training advice is very welcome!

Bonus points: I overworked my quadriceps muscles and they hurt like hell. What can I do that won’t tax them at all until they repair themselves?

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7 Answers

heresjohnny's avatar

If you want to work on strength, that is, the ability of a muscle to apply force once, it’s definitely better to do higher weight, low reps, and high sets. T-nation has some good information about different programs, although there are tons of ads and various BS that you have to sift through to find the good stuff.

iamthemob's avatar

It depends on whether you’re trying to tone up or bulk up. Toning is best with less weight. Bulking is best with more weight. But in any case the lowest weight you should be doing should probably be one where you max out (can’t go past) 12–15 reps per set.

crisw's avatar

Recent research has shown that lots of reps with low weights is just as good- it’s exercising to muscular fatigue that is most important.

mrrich724's avatar

You use different muscle fibers (in the same muscle) to do different tasks like those listed above, so I would say switch it up once in a while.

And like @crisw said, as long as your muscles get nice and burned and tired after the workout, you’ll be ok.

Both low weight-high rep, and the opposite will be beneficial to your work out routine. So switch it up and incorporate both!

cockswain's avatar

Like @mrrich724, switching up your routine to include everything is best. Like one day just do 5 sets of 3 clean and jerks, trying to go as heavy as you can. Another day do 3 rounds of 400 meter sprints and 40 pushups for time. Another day complete as many rounds as possible in 20 min of 5–10-15 pull ups-pushups-situps. Another day try 21–15-9 dips and snatches (first round 21 dips then 21 snatches or whatever weight, second round 15 of each, etc…all for the fastest time possible). Another day run a 5K as fast as you can.

Once I switched to that philosophy of doing a little of everything, sometimes as heavy as possible, sometimes as fast as possible, I got way stronger way quicker in more aspects of fitness, with less boredom.

Check out crossfit.com. That’s where I learned most of this.

funkdaddy's avatar

It seems simplistic with all the varied advice out there, but it seems to boil down to “do more of what you want to get better at”.

If you want to get stronger, lifting heavy weights is the fastest way. Crazy power-lifter guys seem to go as low as 4–6 reps. 8–12 seems to be a general rule of thumb.

If you want to gain endurance, lift less weight (or your body weight) more times, more quickly, or with less rest.

If you want to burn fat, just keep yourself moving, sweating, and panting for as long as you can.

Even a hardcore gangster such as yourself (running those races is no joke) will gain muscle doing any of them. Just keep yourself motivated and always go until you can’t do any more.

General advice I don’t always remember, so have to remind myself:
– Always start light when trying a new motion/movement…
– keep your head up, shoulders back, and back straight…
– concentrate on the muscles you’re working on…
– a spotter will let you try that last rep you’re not sure if you can do… if you’re unsure, and don’t have a spotter, the weights will still be there after you rest…
– remember to breathe
– don’t be embarrassed

@nikipediayour earlier question got me moving again, thanks for that…

Disc2021's avatar

It depends on what you’re going for, where you’re “at” and what you can handle.

People new at strength training generally lug the heaviest weights they can find around with horribly improper form and think they’re getting a good workout. I say, if you’re starting out, start low even if it feels easy and get the form down. The form is very crucial to strength training; if you dont have good form, you won’t build muscle, you’ll probably just weaken it or hurt yourself. Watch lots of videos online, don’t be afraid to talk to people at the gym (this is a very good way to learn different techniques, “hands-on”) and keep at it. Switching up your routine is also a good habit, as the others suggested.

For burning fat, try a good aerobic “fat-burning” workout before your strength training. Gets your heart pumping like a monster and cuts fat. Afterward or during your “off” days, try a good 30min + run outdoors or on the treadmill. Ride the bike. The elliptical is good, but not as affective as a jog or the bike.

As far as soreness goes, the best thing you could do is stretch before and after a workout. Massages also work wonders. A little soreness is a good sign, but not so much that you feel you could barely move the muscle without being in pain. May be a sign to either lessen the load or stretch out a little longer beforehand.

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