Reps vs. Weight


Photo by Fusion Fitness Center

There’s nothing more frustrating than not improving, it’s something that can happen to any of us at the gym. After completing the same workout routine multiple times we find ourselves facing something called the fitness plateau. This plateau is a grey area where our body has adapted to our routine and no strength or muscular progress is being made. There are a few ways to break through the plateau; change the entire routine, add more weight, or add more reps. The question has been debated many times before, is it better to do more reps with less weight or more weight and less reps? Follow along to see if we can determine if one is truly better than the other.

When adding more pounds or plates we usually test the waters first, meaning that we try for a heavy set of three or sometimes five. We intuitively know that we won’t be able to complete as many reps with more weight. It might not sound like much but the added weight puts another component into the equation, the psychological factor. Our bodies are capable of much more than our brain believes. Once we conquer this psychological factor we greatly improve our ability to lift heavier weights in the future. Lifting heavy can be a scary thought for some people; others can get too caught up in chasing numbers. Lifting heavy requires lots of stamina that can increase our overall strength. Lifting heavy also feels great and that’s because adrenaline is pumping through our veins in order to amp our bodies up to complete the heavy reps. The extra adrenaline can make us more competitive and in some cases we can add too much weight simply because we want to hit an even number. Adding too much weight too soon can be dangerous because it can compromise our form and put us at risk of an injury.

If the weight is too heavy and we can feel our form getting off track it’s best to drop the weight lower than we started and increase our reps. Lifting lighter weight at more reps can still make us stronger because we are developing muscular endurance, our ability to exert a certain amount of energy before fatigue. Pairing a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout with high reps and low weight can help us burn lots of calories and put us in the zone for the after burn effect. Although no movement at the gym should ever be rushed, this practice generally requires more time than others because of the added reps—this can be the deciding factor for people who have tight schedules because they may not have extra time to spend at the gym. The goal of this low weight high rep technique is to squeeze big results from little changes.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of training. We generally like to switch things up and choose to incorporate both types of workouts in our weekly routine, a technique known as periodization. This will ensure long-term progress because our bodies will have to keep adapting to the changes between high reps with low weights and low reps with heavy weights. The takeaway is that there is no one technique that is substantially better than the other. Lifting more weight, adding more reps, or doing both with proper from and high effort will keep our bodies conditioned and ready for strength building.

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