More Weight or More Reps
One of the main questions that a person who wants to gain muscle or build strength will face is whether more weight or reps will work to achieve this goal. The exciting part of it is that the debate on this subject has existed for a long time. The conventional gym wisdom is that anyone who wants to gain muscle should lift relatively lightweight and repeat such for as many times as possible, and anyone who wants to get stronger muscles should lift heavy weights for a few times (8). So, the question becomes: more reps or more weight, which is better?
In trying to clarify which is better between the two options, a research carried out to check the effectiveness of lighter weights and heavier weights when trying to gain muscle and build strength found out that lifting light weights for about 20 to 25 times is as effective in building muscle size and strength just as when a person lifts heavier weights for about 8 to 12 times (12).
According to the researchers, fatigue is the greatest equalizer; whether a weightlifter lifts heavy or light weight is not what matters, but their abilities to lift to the point of exhaustion. The reason is that, when fatigue sets in, the trainer would have been able to activate their muscle fibers to generate force maximally.
Anatomy of the human muscles
The muscles play integral functions in our bodies as they aid the effective functioning of our internal organs. Interestingly, more than 600 muscles are in the body, which is equivalent to about 40% of human body weight. Each of the muscles in the human body has tens of thousands of small muscular fibers, each of which is about 40 mm long. A nerve controls or commands each muscle fiber, which is what makes it contract. The total fibers present in a muscle determine how strong that muscle will be (10).
There are different types of muscles in the body, including the skeletal muscles, which have different types, the striated muscles, and the smooth and cardiac muscles. Various exercises can be used for developing the muscles. As this is done, the cardiovascular system becomes healthier as well as the bone, and the effects of these on the body are strength and stamina.
Aerobic and anaerobic exercises are two types of exercise that can be used to develop the muscles. While aerobic exercises will make the body fitter, anaerobic exercises will give the body strength. By lifting weights, doing everyday chores, or using a resistance band, all of which are forms of anaerobic exercise, the body can be developed.
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How to build muscle: heavy weight or more reps?
Building muscle is very important for maintaining a healthy body. Among other benefits, it lowers the total fat in the body, increases metabolism, and protects a person from some of the factors leading to disability and early death (7). However, a person’s age, genetic, and sex are some of the factors that determine the rate at which a trainer builds muscle. Muscles can be developed significantly when a person commits to exercising consistently for a long time.
Also, as a trainer continues to challenge their muscles by working with a higher level of resistance and weight, their muscle sizes increase. In repairing and growing muscle, some hormones like human growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin growth factor play essential roles. The ways these hormones work are through the enhancement of tissue growth, stimulation of anabolic hormones, which are responsible for protein synthesis and the promotion of muscle growth, inhibition of the breakdown of protein, and improvement on how the body processes proteins (6).
Different factors to take under consideration
So, when determining whether more reps or more weight is better to build muscle, certain factors come into play. For instance, a trainer who has been following a fitness program for some time is likely to get to fitness plateau (9). A fitness plateau is a stage where a trainer’s body does not respond to their fitness or diet routine any longer. At this point, the trainer does not see any significant impact of the workout routine on themselves because their bodies have adapted to this plan. When this happens, one of the encouraging things to do to break through this level is changing the approach: whether to lift heavier weights, add more reps, or combine both, come to play here.
A scientific point of view
From research carried out on the effects of different volume-equated resistance training, the results revealed that both bodybuilding and powerlifting types of training could increase muscular size, even though in enhancing maximum strength and lifting heavier weights is better (2). As a trainer lifts more weight, it can feel impressive, but there is a level they get to where adding more weight becomes impossible because such could end up compromising their form and increase their risk of injury. At this point, what is encouraged is to increase the number of reps that they are performing.
Likewise, in the case of more reps, a trainer who lifts lighter weights will also get stronger except that it will happen differently; in this case, muscular endurance is being developed. Research has also revealed that as a trainer does more sets, reps, and workouts, they build strength in the long run (14). Another study that looked into the effects of different resistance training volumes on strength and power also concluded that low-volume resistance training could be a reasonable option in strength maintenance and enhancements of the lower body (1). A trainer who gets to the workout plateau will benefit by adding more reps instead of going for heavier weights.
What is more important: weight or reps?
We cannot downplay the fact that carrying heavier weights and doing more reps or lifting lighter weights and going on more reps each has its benefits. So, is it better to add more weight or do more reps?
One of the critical factors to watch out for is the body’s responsiveness to the workout plan. In trying to get the maximum results, it is advisable to practice periodized training. This kind of training tries to strike a balance between carrying heavier weights and doing more reps. It means that a trainer will have to alter their exercise regimen at different intervals so that their bodies can continually enjoy the challenge.
When a person is on the periodized approach, it means that in a few weeks, for instance, they may decide to embark on the high-volume workouts in which they lift lighter weights and do more reps. Of course, this exercise pattern will make their joints stronger and also prepare their body and mind for the higher intensity workouts that they will be switching over to afterward. After the high-volume workout approach, they can then switch to a higher intensity workout, which is where they lift more weights and do fewer reps. However, when they are making changes, they should do so in small increments (9).
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What burns more calories: higher reps or heavier weight low reps?
For a trainer who wants to burn fat, one of the questions asked is, whether to do more reps or more weights for fat loss. There is no denying that there are so many myths flying everywhere on this subject matter. Still, the truth is that a combination of heavy weight training and doing more reps play a role when toning the body and shedding some fats while maintaining healthy muscles.
Lifting weights is not enough to stimulate the muscles for fat loss; focusing on one’s diet and engaging in high-intensity interval training will help achieve a weight loss goal. Even though lifting heavy weights and doing low reps do not guarantee much weight loss, the muscle’s maintenance in the weight loss process is essential (4). A study conducted on the effect of strength or aerobic training on body composition found out that overweight people who were lifting weights while on a dietary plan lost a little muscle mass compared to those who performed aerobic exercise while on the same nutritional plan (3).
The bottom line is that heavier weight or more reps are not what exactly matters; a trainer’s diet plays an important role in how much weight would be lost eventually. When a proper diet that encourages weight loss is combined with strength training, involving heavy weights and low reps, and high-intensity interval training which includes carrying light weights and doing more reps, it can significantly impact how many calories are burnt in the process while keeping more muscles (4).
Which is better for women, more reps, or more weight?
It is not unusual to find a woman asking this question. What most women tend to do when training is to lift lighter weights, which is about 50 to 60% of their maximum capacity, and then repeat it for a longer time for each set of exercises that they are doing. This may not be wrong, though, but the disadvantage of it is that the concerned people tend to neglect fast-twitch muscle fibers and develop only their muscle’s endurance capabilities. Also, don’t forget that these muscle fibers are essential when developing strength and power, and building new muscle tissues. Therefore to have the best results, a woman should start with one or two multi-joint exercises before attempting heavier resistance exercises.
Can you build muscle with high reps and low weight?
Yes, you can. The only thing is that it may take some time before you achieve this goal. A study conducted in 2010 to ascertain the effectiveness of light and heavy weights on muscle gain and strength building discovered that those who lifted fewer weights for more reps improved their strength and also gained the same amount of muscle with those who lifted heavy weights until their muscles were fatigued (13).
Which is better for men, more reps, or more weight?
It is not very uncommon to see men lift heavier weights in the gym with very few reps when trying to increase strength and put on muscle. Consequently, the temptation to believe that heavier weight and few reps are ideal for every man begins to set in, whereas that is far from the truth. It is wiser to incorporate the two forms: heavy and light weights as well as high and low reps as part of their workout program. Whether a person’s goal is to burn some calories, build muscle, or improve their entire physical fitness.
Is it better to use heavy or light weights?
Your training goal should influence what you will go for. If you are developing your muscles, you might want to consider lifting heavy weights, but if your goal is to gain muscles, by either lifting heavy or light weights, you will still achieve your goal. A 2016 conducted study concluded that strength gains or resistance training-mediated hypertrophy in resistance-trained young men is not determined by load or systemic hormones (11).
How many reps is too many?
Some factors have to be considered before determining whether certain reps are enough or too much. The total weights that a trainer lifts determine the number of reps that would be done. The point is, more weight will mean fewer reps and lighter weights will possibly increase the number of reps. Another factor is the purpose of training. A trainer who is after definition will likely achieve that by doing different ranges or rep (5). Of course, how long the muscles are put under tension will be more important than the total number of reps done.
Finally, the goal of a trainer should determine whether to go for more weight or more reps. Besides, it should be noted that a trainer who lifts more weights will likely do fewer reps while a trainer who lifts less weight will probably do more reps. However, to avoid workout plateau, a person should be flexible enough to alter their exercise regimen at different intervals so that their body can continually enjoy the challenge. Check out the 20 Minute Full Body Workout at Home below!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Strength and Power in Team Sport Athletes (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of Different Volume-Equated Resistance Training Loading Strategies on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of Strength or Aerobic Training on Body Composition, Resting Metabolic Rate, and Peak Oxygen Consumption in Obese Dieting Subjects (1997, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- High Reps or Low Reps for Fat Loss? (2017, blog.myfitnesspal.com)
- How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (2016, acefitness.org)
- How to build muscle with exercise (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- How to Get Strong (n.d., nytimes.com)
- If You Want to Build Muscle and Gain Strength, Lift Lighter Weights for More Reps (n.d., mensjournal.com)
- Is It Better to Lift Heavier Weights or Do More Reps? (2016, ajc.com)
- Muscles: Why are they important? (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men (2016, journals.physiology.org)
- New research from McMaster University is challenging traditional workout wisdom, suggesting that lifting lighter weights many times is as efficient as lifting heavy weights for fewer repetitions (2016, sciencedaily.com)
- Pumping iron: Lighter weights just as effective as heavier weights to gain muscle, build strength (2016, sciencedaily.com)
- The Effect of Training Volume on Lower-Body Strength (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)