How Many Reps Should You Do for Strength?
So you're not too sure how many reps you should do to help you build strong muscles?
Well I can help you out in four words: Low Reps, High Weight (intensity)
Personally, I had been doing 4 sets of 5 reps for almost all my lifts, but you'll more commonly be told to do something like 5 sets of 5.
For your strength training you'll want to stick around 4 to 6 sets and do 1 to 6 repetitions each set, with at least a minute of rest in between each set (this depends on what YOU need rest-wise). If you're using sets with reps as low as 1 - 3, then you'll need to do some extra sets (6 or more total), especially if you do multiple sets with this low of reps.
But... but... you mean doing endless amounts of reps until failure isn't going to make me super strong?
No, not really, all you'll get from that is endurance strength and that's not comparable to your max strength.
You can mix it up though and do different sets with different reps, do whatever you want, something like:
- 1st Set (6 reps)
- 2nd Set (5 reps)
- 3rd Set (4 reps)
- 4th Set (3 reps)
- 5th Set (2 reps)
- 6th Set (1 rep).
Lower the weight for a count of two and then, with no pause at the bottom, lift the weight in a fast, explosive but controlled movement. Have fun with it; raise the weight each set, if you use an inverted pyramid like I just showed you above.
Do what makes the best strength gains for you, not some other guy. Keep reading and I'll tell you why this works.
Why Lower Reps?
The reason you need to do lower reps is because this will work the most amount of muscle fibers with each movement.
You have three main types of skeletal muscle fibers: Type I, Type IIa and Type IIx.
Type I are your smallest muscle fibers and they'll be what you're working hard if you do HIGH reps. These fibers last longer than any other fiber, but they're the weakest muscle fiber.
Type IIa fibers are a little bigger than Type I fibers and they're stronger. The downside is that they won't last as long.
Then you step up to your Type IIx fibers, these are your biggest and strongest muscle fibers. This is where your brute strength will mostly come from. The problem is that in seconds your strength starts to drop off in these fibers. They're great for explosive movements of power, but if you do too many reps, you'll notice a steep drop off in strength after the first few reps.
So, you'll want to do lower reps with fast, explosive movements (as you lift the weight), so that with each repetition you're using the maximum amount of muscle fibers (Type I, Type IIa AND Type IIx fibers with each movement). But you can't go easy and expect to trigger your Type IIx muscle fibers; you need to be lifting heavy weights and lifting them fast (concentric phase).
I'm not saying to go in and see what the biggest guy in the gym lifts; I mean a weight that's heavy for you, but a weight that you can handle, with good form. Why? Because your body will trigger your Type I fibers first, until it feels the force is heavy enough to call in the big boys. So there's the basic idea as to why you need to lift at low repetitions, with heavy weight.
Specific Strength Programs
If you've done the basic 4 or 5 sets of 5 for a while and want some massive strength gains, then maybe you should start listening to people like Pavel Tsatsouline and Chad Waterbury.
I was reading Pavel's book, The Naked Warrior, and I got to a section where he was talking about "freshness". He stressed that in order to train your body to be stronger you need to be doing each of your lifts when your body is fresh. Which would mean even lower repetitions and a nice amount of rest between each set.
There were even tests done on a volunteer doing a bench press; they used a Fitrodyne unit to track the speed he moved the bar. Each time they tried it, by the time he got to his 3rd rep, he couldn't lift with the same amount of force as he could with his best rep. The speed he moved the bar started to decline at the third repetition every time, and went downhill from there. They also noted that the best repetition for power output was usually the second rep.
So you're fresh for your first rep and that rep gets your body warmed up for the second rep. Then when you go to do your third repetition, your muscles are already starting to lose their power. My thoughts would be that your Type IIb muscle fibers are slowly starting to give out at this point.
This is why Pavel recommends that you do multiple sets of 2, for great gains in strength. That's right, only two repetitions each set; I guess that's the average number of repetitions used by Russian power lifters as well. You'll just want to do a higher amount of sets, so that your overall rep volume is still high enough to work your body, like it's use to.
So for me, being that I'm use to doing 4 sets of 5, I'd want to do 10 sets of 2 to be working with the same rep volume. Volume is your sets times your reps; the overall amount of repetitions you do. (4x5= 20, 10x2= 20) But please don't try to do 2 sets of 10 reps and expect that to work the same; you'll be training the wrong type of muscle fiber and really not getting much of a workout.
And if you talk to Chad Waterbury, he'll probably tell you to do 10 sets of 3. Why? Because he's had great success with this setup, for himself and others. Pavel and Chad both recommend very low reps with higher amounts of sets for the same reasons.
He recommends you do one compound exercise for 10 sets of 3 and then the rest of your exercises for that day would be 4 sets of 6. Also, if you want to add explosive power, add some low weight/higher rep exercises in every day or so. Do something like 3 sets of 10 but do your reps as fast as you can. This will help you blast through sticking points. I plan on putting Pavel's suggestions and The Waterbury Method to the test in the near future and I hope you'll give it a try too.
So in closing, four words: LOW REPS - HEAVY WEIGHTS.
© 2007 Ben Guinter
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