Choose Reps for Optimal Results

In regards to resistance training, the single most important factor to your results is the rep range(s), or loads, at which you train.  Research has shown that rep ranges hold value to the results you desire because your desired reps will dictate the amount of weight you will need to select (not the other way around).   Sets are the amount of repetitions done at a given time and don’t hold as much value to your goals.

Choosing your rep range is like choosing an offensive/defensive play in a sport.  You pick a play to accomplish a task (you either score or defend your goal).  Without a chosen play, you are free-lancing your way around the court or field until you score or give up a score.  There’s no sense of direction or mission that the team can focus on without a play.  Without a set rep range for strength training leaves your body (muscles, nervous system, etc.) without purpose and direction as well.

To cover the basics as to why this is so, I want to dive it what each rep range means, starting with squashing the myth of you can only build toned muscles through light weights and high reps.

Much of the hype over the last +20 years has been about muscle “toning.”  A toned muscle is a revealed muscle, which means that this part of the body contains less body fat over top of the beautifully built lean muscle.

Key word: “built”.

The buzz created over toned muscles in the mid-90’s and through the 2000’s had to call to action that consisted of light weights and high reps blended with some steady-state aerobic work.  While this particular prescription of exercise saw some good results, research blasted through with newfound methods that could help develop more “toned muscles.”

While this routine worked for over two decades, it wasn’t until updated research and the evolution of the internet that we saw a major breakthrough in lean muscle and fat-burning capabilities.hull-gym-weightsRemember the keyword from earlier (built).  In order to achieve toned muscles you have to build muscles.  Muscles are naturally lean, so the more lean muscle you build, the more fuel that muscle will need, and the more fuel the muscle needs, the faster your metabolism becomes ultimately allowing you to burn more  unwanted fat while at rest.

You read that right!

More lean muscle = more fuel needed = faster metabolism = increased fat-burning (while at rest).

Fast-forward to today and go over that breakthrough, called strength training.

Strength training, also known as resistance/weight training, is the single best form of exercise one can do for sustainable results towards lean (toned) muscles and fat-burning.  However, strength training doesn’t simply consist of light weights and high reps, rather a combination of light, moderate, and heavy weights that are actually calculated by the amount of reps you completing (which is also a combination of low, moderate, and high reps).

As I mentioned in the opening sentence, the single most important component to your strength training program is the amount of reps you are prescribed.  The reason being is because the amount of reps directly relates to the result you are working towards.    We know this because of research.

There’s minor difference among organizations, but the general consensus of rep ranges are as such:

Goal
Load (% 1RM)
# of Reps
# of Sets
Rest
Effect
Power
85 – 100%
1-5
3-5
+120 sec
Neural
Strength
75-85%
3-6
2-6
120 min
Neural & Some Metabolic
Hypertrophy (muscle-building)
65-85%
8-12
2-6
30-90 sec
Metabolic & Some Neural
Muscular Endurance
60-65%
+12
2-3
30 sec
Metabolic

 

Yet, we most people are still hooked on the light-weights-and-high-reps method. ..Why?

Well, for starters, we have to back-track over 20 years of exercise methodology.  Trainers and fit pros alike were programming light weights, high reps, and low impact exercises day in and day out (like a boss, I might add).  This is what the industry knew as the correct program for women (you know, because men were thought to be the only gender to stick to the heavy weights).weight_machines_gymmembershipfees

The other reason is that small weights (and machines) are a lot less intimidating than heavy weights, so they present a safe and non-aggressive approach.  This allowed for a barrier that attracted more people just starting out in a gym.

Since we know reps matter more than anything else, we can then apply the right amount of weight to the selected reps to achieve the desired results.  If you’re just starting out, you will want to start out with higher reps so you must select lighter weights.  This stimulus will have the best effect for starting out as it is directly impacts your metabolic needs of the muscle tissue.

As you progress into your fitness journey, you’ll need to venture into new rep ranges.  The absolute best prescription for your fat loss goals will be a consistent mixture of all rep ranges, including heavy weights from time to time.  (Side note: practice technique and safety at lighter weights!)  You want to be mixing up the reps in order stimulate your nervous system and other metabolic pathways to help build more muscle tissue and overall strength.

Remember our equation from earlier (more lean muscle = more fuel needed = …)?

You can actually build even more muscle at a faster pace by altering your rep ranges every 4-6 weeks rather than just staying in one rep range! 

Strength training is a must-do for your workout routine.  If you’re not, I highly encourage you to start strength training and doing what I mentioned above.  If you’re currently strength training, make sure you’re experimenting with new rep ranges to help stimulate more lean muscle development and increasing the likelihood of results because WHO DOESN’T WANT MORE LEAN MUSCLE?!

In the new wave of gyms out there, like Unity Fitness, your very own program is designed with all of the previously mentioned information in mind.  Today’s personal trainers are fully equipped with this knowledge as well.  So instead of looking for a gym with machines and tiny dumbbells, isn’t it time to start looking for a gym that cares about your results and can help program your entire routine while safely coaching you through exercises?

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Times have changed.  From the low weights and high reps to building a complete strength training program that consists of different rep ranges and heavier weights, a well-developed strength training program is exactly the recipe one needs to see serious results by building beautiful, lean muscle and burning fat!

Fitness Like a Sport

Think of every sport out there.  From football to baseball to swimming to fencing to horse racing, all of these sports have their differences in rules and scoring while also sharing a few things in common.  For the sake of this post, let’s take having an in-season and an off-season, for example.

Now imagine having football season all year-round where there is no off-season.  Injuries would surge, performance would decrease, and the sport itself would plummet.  As a matter of fact, this statement would be relevant for any sport.

The same scenario holds true for strength training and exercise.

What we tend to forget that we’re using strength training and exercise to provide fuel towards some sort of goal.  Those goals can be narrowed down to four: 1) Look better, 2) Feel better, 3) Move better, and 4) Play/Perform better.  No matter what your goal is, it is proven that exercise can help.

Now look at exercise, or fitness, as a sport.

The first thing that may come to your mind is CrossFit and their annual CrossFit Games that recently took place.  To CrossFit, the Games are the pinnacle of the sport.  Now let’s say your goal isn’t competing in the Games, let’s just say your goal is to lose a few pounds because you want to look better and feel more confident.

How do you go about preparing for that goal?

Do you set yourself up with a 30 day plan?  Or a 90 day plan?  What about a 12 month plan?  Do you plan for an in-season and an off-season?

At my gym, we operate in 90 day or annual (12 month) plans.  We actual prefer the 12 month plan because we can create a 12 month program (macrocycle), broken down into phases (mesocylces), or seasons, and completed within a week’s worth of workouts (microcycles), or games.

That’s a full year containing the ups, downs, and go-arounds aka the victories (results), setbacks (injuries), and whatever else comes into play (life).

The point I’m getting is that if we physically, mentally, and emotionally can’t/shouldn’t sustain a full year’s worth of a particular sport, again say football for this example, then we should also treat your exercise and fitness routine the same.

Oh, and by the way, congratulations!  You are now an athlete!

If your goal is to lose 10 pounds because you want to look better, your in-season just became your fat-loss phase.  That phase can last anywhere from 60 to 180 days.  The other days consist of phases, or “seasons”, that include maintenance, strength (muscle-building), and resets.  This allows your body to recover, adapt, and improve which will allow you to get incredible results.

Staying too long in one season will be a surefire way to become fatigued.  Your muscles will start to breakdown, your tendons and ligaments will become rigid and inflamed, your joints and bones will start to ache, and your nervous system aka your brain, will become fried.  This is a really easy way to become demotivated and pissed off at the world, especially at fitness industry and/or your trainer.

If we continue to walk down that line, this is the same reason why you shouldn’t be training to muscular failure, a mega burn, or maximum effort every time you step foot in the gym.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a special time and place for that, but it’s not every day.  Even the most gifted athletes in the world know this, possibly because they found out the hard way, but that’s not something you should test to find out.

I recently got to hear from Chris Frankel at a mastermind in California.  Chris is the director of human performance of TRX.  I remember watching videos of him 5 years ago, in awe of his knowledge and coaching abilities.  Well, the man showed up to our mastermind and impressed again, leaving the attendees in utter amazement at his expertise.  He said two things in particular that really stuck with me in regards to training philosophy:

“The best ability is availability (meaning we, as trainers, shouldn’t be running our clients to the ground every chance we get because if they are not available to train due to soreness or injury, that’s on us), and

“There’s a difference between high-intensity work and high-fatigue work.”

High-fatigue work is what gets us in trouble.  The key is recognizing the difference.

High-fatigue essentially leads to the dreaded over-training response that your body produces when too much is applied to it and there hasn’t been enough recovery.  When we over-train, we overuse.  And we overuse, we fatigue tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, brain, etc.).  And when we fatigue tissues, we get injured.  Dr. Carla Murgia noted this type response is “abundantly evident” in her study Overuse, Tissue Fatigue, and Injuries posted in The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.

We need to start treating fitness like a sport, included with in-seasons, off-seasons, assessments, and programming.  If you haven’t played basketball for 4 months, 4 years, or have never played, you can’t expect just to pick up a ball and run the court in a game of 5-on-5.  You need to become conditioned, get your shot back, or learn the rules of the game.

The same goes for fitness.  If you step into a gym and expect to deadlift 300 lbs without warming up or without proper technique you might as well say “Sayonara” to your ego as you simultaneously feel your L4 shooting across the room.

As an industry, we trainers need to create better programs.  Actually, we need to design expert programs with integrity that accommodate all of our client’s goals, abilities, knowledge, and history.  We need to stop looking at quick-fixes as an easy cop-out.

It’s up to the trainer to educate, motivate, and empower clients and their families as they better their lives through health in fitness.  We can do all of that without making our clients go through a year’s worth of fat loss workouts, do 10 straight minutes of burpees, perform an overhead press 150 times without checking an overhead assessment, and not warm them up before each workout (for the record, all of these scenarios actually exist and have all led to injury).  We can do all of that with awesome programs that get incredible results and keep our clients injury-free.   That’s what we value here at Unity Fitness.

Now take a moment, what does your gym or routine value?

Pat Summit’s Impact on Unity Fitness

When I was a younger lad in high school, there were several sports figures that I looked up to. LeBron James, so was Brett Favre (for a time), Coach K, Bob Knight, Muhammad Ali, and many, many more. One that seemed to always stick out to me a little more to me was Pat Summit because I held value into what she accomplished not only off the court, but off the court as well.

 
Pat Summit passed away earlier this morning, after a statement was released by her son. I’m sure there are excellent pieces all over social media today, but if you haven’t had a chance to see this one on ESPN, do yourself a favor and check it out.

 
Not the kind of news you like waking up to and hearing first-thing on the radio on your way to work. The reason I bring this up is because I wrote several papers and gave many speeches in high school and college regarding Pat Summit’s tenure as the best basketball coach in history. She coached for 38 seasons at the University of Tennessee, where she made her claim to fame by racking up championships and graduates. Even though she is the winningest coach in Division 1 for both men’s and women’s with 1,098 victories, she had done something no other coach has ever done and (I would argue) no coach will ever be able to do.

 
What was that feat? Every one of her players graduated with a degree. Her players didn’t leave early. They didn’t just show up to play ball. They showed up to get expert coaching on basketball and life.  Not many coaches are actually that great at coaching basketball to their kids, let alone preparing them for life. Very rarely is there a coach that can do both at such a high-performing level for even a year while Pat made it work for over 38 straight years.

 
To me, it was her visionary philosophy towards coaching for life that really hit home. I feel like I’ve carried that attitude with me into everything that I coach and I relate it into some shape or form of coaching for my athletes/clients.

 
That same attitude exists within the core values of my gym to this day. Sure, it’s easy to relate it to “functional training” as everything we do in Unity Fitness serves a purpose for how we do things (physically speaking) outside of Unity Fitness. But I’m also trying to prepare our members for having a better attitude, vision, and mindset toward their life. Our core value Learn and strive to be better each and every day reminds us to do this, well, every day.

 
Having an outlook that is positive is the first part I help bring to the forefront for my clients. Unfortunately, as personal trainer, we tend to see people when they are at their worst and they are usually in a bad mindset. After we establish the positive outlook, we then start using the results and newfound positive energy to help people grow and develop in and out of the gym. We literally get a chance to change people’s lives for the better!

 
A lot of people that I’ve worked with in my short time in the industry have noted that they’ve never had anyone in their life care for them as much as I do. That’s a true statement, and a pretty awesome one at that! I’ll support my client in his or her endeavors as much as I possibly can, keeping their safety and results in mind, of course. And the thing about it, I just feel like I’m doing my job because I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

 
That’s how I know I’m in the right place and that’s how I know I’ve followed the right people, like Pat Summit and co.

 
One of my personal goals to be of some influence to anyone I come in contact with so that I can have even the tiniest positive impact on their life. I also tell people that if I can influence their decisions for about 100 hours a week then my client is most likely making decisions to better him/herself and taking a step forward towards reaching the goal. Soon that becomes a habit. The next goal in my book is to having a lasting impact to that person, so that they continue to accomplish new goals, face new battles, and know that they have my utmost support.

 
A lot of my philosophy has stemmed from Pat Summit’s incredible journey that we viewed as coaching. Her values, her demeanor, and vision all spoke wonders to me and how I coach people today. If I can be a part of influence as Pat was for her players, her family, the game of basketball, and all of sports, I would say I’d be doing a heck of a job. That’s how amazing she was at what she did.

She was and still is a life-changer. A hall-of-famer. A legend. She is Pat Summit and she will be missed.