The Case for Varying Reps

So, today marks the day that I get started with my new training program and everything. To mark that occasion, I’d like to talk about a key concept I’ll be using to try and build strength, not get bored, and continue keeping my endurance up! But before we begin with that, it’s important to talk about what my goals are, and the inspiration for this post specifically.

Goals?

If you’re not familiar with what I’m trying to accomplish, it’s this: I’m trying to become a better fighter. That includes eventually finding a proper dojo, and until then sticking to the basics — building my body to withstand the requirements of a fight. As a fighter, I’ll need:

  • Speed
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Endurance

These four key concepts aside, it’s also important to see what I’ve already got access to, and where my weaknesses lie. As a beginner, my weaknesses are pretty much everything. But I do have a few advantages: for one, I’m fast. And I’ve got a great core. That’s where the list ends. Pushing power, pulling power, explosive strength, leg strength, long-term endurance and more — the list of focus points is pretty long. So what I needed was an all-purpose training program that addresses my extremely stiff lower body, my lack of strength, and my lackluster aerobic performance. The training program is up in a link on my about page, if you’re interested.

What is a rep range?

With that out of the way, let’s get to talking about today’s topic: rep ranges. Most people have a rep range, but using two is an invaluable training tool that I don’t always see in beginner programs, although everyone should be using it to create a more flexible program to work with. A rep, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the shorthand for repetition. Every instance of an exercise is a repetition — when you say you can do 20 pushups, then you’re saying you can perform 20 repetitions of a pushup.

The other bread-and-butter term that goes along with the rep is the set. A set is a collection of reps done at once, without rest. Most programs advise three sets per exercise — so when you see “3×12 – Bench Press”, that means perform three sets of 12 reps of the bench press.

But a rep range is something else. When you’re performing 12 repetitions, you’re basically stressing your muscles to grow larger. That’s what muscular hypertrophy is. But if you’re constantly upping your resistance while sticking to 12 reps, your body gets used to the motion, and you get stuck. Not only will you fail to continue getting stronger, since you’re not properly stimulating your neurons — you’ll also fail to continue packing weight.

Instead, you can choose a rep range. 10-12, for example. This way, you pack on more weight, more quickly — instead of upping your resistance a slight bit and plateauing at 12, you can increase your weight more drastically and shoot for ten, own the weight, then step it up to 12 and move on to 10.

Having a single rep range is basic stuff. But the key lies in varying your reps.

Think of it this way. For a few months, you train in a very low rep range. Pure strength. 3-5 reps at most, pulling and pushing way more weight and concentrating on each repetition and set with your full personal 100%.

Once you make a bit of a dent in your strength PRs, pump the weight down a few plates and aim for going back to 10-12 reps on a weight above where you stopped last time. Do that for a while. Rinse, repeat. You don’t have to dedicate yourself entirely to a strength-based program, and neither do you have to live your gym life in the range of just about a dozen reps. Bodybuilders mix things up when they feel their routine is getting stale. They also spend anywhere between 4-6 hours at the gym. Unless you have that kind of time, utilizing varying reps to create a more effective workout is basically the best way to get a better bang for your buck. And it’s what I’ll be doing for now. I’m sticking to my low rep, high volume workout, aiming for my current goals (about 280 in squats and 210 in pressing), and alternating when I start to plateau.