Repetitions – how many should I be doing when doing weights or resistance training?



How many times have I been asked the question “how many reps should I be doing”? Probably way more than the number of actual repetitions I have done performing exercises myself! Ok, well may be not that many.

It is a very common question though and it is often one poorly answered in my opinion by many Personal Trainers. Likewise by many seeking online programs or having gym programs designed by fitness instructors or Personal Trainers with generic advice and repetition ranges given.

Granted that there are “textbook” answers to different repetition ranges for specific goals such as 1-6 reps for strength, 8-12 for muscular hypertrophy and 12-15/20 for general muscular conditioning (often termed “toning”), but in reality for the majority of the population, this is all very subjective to how long you are resting for in-between sets, are you performing drop-sets or supersets, are you circuit training or moving from one muscle group to another in quick succession?

The key ingredient that is often lacking is that one must have a general guideline of a repetition range to strive for but the focus must simply be on 100% perfect technique and execution of the movement and to do this to muscular failure. What I mean by this is that I may know my clients previous best weight when performing the Lat Pulldown was 35kgs and that he could manage around about 12 repetitions. Our aim is to use the same weight but then set off performing the absolute best technique that he is capable of whilst I ensure this remains the same all the way through towards 12 and if he is capable of doing 14 reps perfectly, why would I stop him at 12 because his range and goal suggests 8-12 reps?

(See here on how to perform the Lat Pulldown.

In my role as a Personal Trainer when teaching and educating my many clients I will repeatedly use abstract analogies to highlight points and ensure that they can relate and understand what it is they are striving for and one that I will use here in relation to performing repetitions in your own workouts or gym programs is that if you were very capable of counting to 100, would I continually ask you to count up to only 20? Why would I when you are capable of so much more? How bored would you get and would there be any challenge for you? The same could be said for when doing your weights or gym-related exercises. If you are capable of more repetitions than the number your PT sets you or that your program says to do push it and go the maximum number you can perform BUT (and here in lies the key!) any repetitions must be performed to the best of your ability and with close to 100% control, form, and technique. If it is not, then you are either recruiting the wrong musculature and therefore being ineffective, potentially setting yourself up for injury or fast-tracking yourself towards poor posture and/or muscular imbalances.

Remember that when performing any resistance exercises (weights/swiss ball/body-weight/other) you are ultimately aiming to stress your muscles past what they are capable of to improve on what you are already capable of or to improve your strength, increase your musculature, improve function, the list goes on. So please ensure that you do this and remember that they key is to ensure perfect technique and not just doing numbers for the sake of it because a program card tells you too or a whiteboard in your boot camp class says it wants you to.

This brings me to the other end of the spectrum and that is performing too many repetitions that you are simply unable to do without sacrificing technique and in the end you are getting very little quality (if any). Boot camps and cross-fit bring in the elements of max reps or fastest time (PB’s that are more times than not really PB’s but merely an increase in poorly performed reps) into the world of weights/resistance training and when this happens, quite simply quality comes last. Sure the format may suit many to get motivated and have supportive like-minded people around you but you are given generic numbers to aim for with respect to how many reps you should perform, you are given a time to beat or a height to jump better than last-time and ultimately you are pushing the envelope with respect to acute or future injury. If someone tells you that you need to perform 100 skips or 50 burpees and you know yourself that you are only capable of half that number if that, then I suggest you may want to revisit the way you are approaching your training regime.

Controversial I know but off the record I have had many physio’s and chiro’s express to me that their business is booming and running hot with the emergence of crossfit boxes (as they call them) and the multitude of boot camps on offer and the net result is injury and very often re-injury and regular specialist treatment required. So please keep this in mind when working out yourself or under the not-so-watchful eye of your personal trainer, boot camp instructor or crossfit coach as the results may not be what you are capable of getting the best out of yourself.

If you would like to have a once-off program review or a gym/resistance program designed, please feel free to have one of our Personal Training team come out and ensure you are getting the best out of the time and energy you are putting into your training and your exercise.

To leave you with one final analogy in relation to value for money – if you selected your Personal Trainer on price alone and they were cheaper than a better and more effective PT it could be viewed as looking for the latest running shoes and being quoted $120 for a pair vs $200 for the exact same pair of running shoes and of course you would choose the $120 pair, BUT would you be happy and settle for them if you went home, opened the box and there was only 1 running shoe in the box?

Justin Moran

Just In Time Personal Training

0411 798 934

The client performs a TRX push-up