I overheard a couple of guys talking the other day while they were working out.
One asked the other, “How many reps should I do?”
The other replied, “It depends on whether or not you want to build muscle or burn fat.”
It was at this point that my eyes began to roll, but I continued to listen to his “expert” advice.
“If you want to build muscle you should stick between 8 and 12; If you want to burn fat you should do between 12 and 15.”
It was then that the first dude replied, “Yea, I just want to burn fat; I don’t want to get too big.”
I then proceeded to make this face:
Please keep in mind that he probably weighed about a buck sixty five soaking wet, but that’s beside the point.
He then began to bang out 15 reps of dumbbell presses, and I did the same with my head against the wall.
Unfortunately, this myth of “reps for muscle” and “reps for fat loss” still circulates around the fitness industry and your local L.A. Fitness like a joint at a Willie Nelson concert.
I’ve even heard trainers give this advice to their clients.
In a nutshell: they are all wrong.
I’ve said it before, whether your goal is to burn fat or gain weight, you should ALWAYS train for strength and performance.
If your goal is fat loss you should already know that diet will control 90% of your results.
You could literally sit on the couch all day and, as long as you are in a calorie deficit and your macro nutrients are in check, lose body fat.
Remember that the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism will run.
And that if you are dieting and in a calorie deficit, you will probably lose some muscle as well as body fat.
Your #1 priority when dieting should be to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss.
Therefore, whether you are trying to lose weight or not, the goal should always be to get stronger.
If your are overeating you should build muscle.
If you are under eating you should just maintain muscle.
The more muscle on your body the faster your metabolism will run, and the more fat you will burn at rest.
Long story short: you will reach your body fat goal a hell of a lot faster!
Now, what are the correct sets and reps for strength and size?
Well, it depends on the exercise:
For the big compound movements this will be between 5-10 reps, generally.
This includes all barbell presses, squats, and deadlift variations.
For upper body dumbbell work, like pressing and rowing variations, I would stick to between 8-12 reps.
You can go as high as 15 reps on upper body weight exercises like pull ups, dips, inverted rows, and push ups.
For lower body assistance lifts, like single leg squat and deadlift variations, swings, goblet squats, back and hip extensions, you can stick between 8-20 reps.
On all isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions, the range should be 8-15.
These ranges are all based on a combination of research and personal experience.
Once you are performing over 20 reps on anything, you are usually no longer strength training; you’re just doing cardio with weights.
To elicit the best hormonal response for both size and strength, I recommend training each body part with an average of 100 reps per week, across all rep ranges.
Any less, and you will not provide enough stimuli to your muscles.
Any more, and you’re just beating a dead horse, falling into the law of diminishing returns.
Let’s single out our chest since it’s everyone’s favorite body part.
Since you’ve been reading this blog you already know that bodybuilding splits don’t work.
Therefore, you should be training your upper body about 2-3x per week, depending on the particular split you are following.
For the purpose of this post we’ll say twice.
A typical week for chest would look like this:
Day 1: Low Inclined Barbell Press – 3×5-7, Flat Dumbbell Press 4×8-10
Day 2: Dips or Ring Push ups – 3×12-15
This would put you somewhere between 83 and 106 reps, depending on the amount of reps completed.
You’ll be working across ALL rep ranges, giving yourself a well rounded and strong physique.
Follow a template similar to this for all body parts and remember to keep a training log.
I cannot stress this enough!
There is no way of telling if you are getting stronger if you are not recording your sets, reps, and weight used.
I’ve heard a couple of comments over the years that carrying a notebook with you to the gym is “embarrassing,” or makes you look like a “nerd.”
The same guys making those comments have used 45 pound dumbbells to dumbbell press since they were in high school.
I’d rather be the “nerd” using 85’s than the “cool guy” using the same weights for 20 years, but then again that’s just me.
There is no “magic” rep range for fat burning.
You lose body fat by dieting your ass off and doing some conditioning a few times per week.
You lift weights for one reason and one reason alone: to get stronger.
When dieting, your first priority should be to maintain muscle mass.
The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will run, and the more calories you will burn at rest.
Whether you are trying to lose or gain weight, always focus on strength and performance in the weight room.
Track your progress and never settle.