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Expert Insights: Understanding Reps in Strength Training

You need to know the why and how of building a resistance training program, including how reps relate to strength training. That’s why we put together this comprehensive guide detailing the ins and outs of reps in strength training, including what a rep is, different types of reps, how to match your rep range to your fitness goals, and a few sample workouts you can try at home or the gym.

10 min readSeptember 8th, 2023
SLWritten By Sara Lindberg

What Is a Rep In Strength Training?

A repetition (aka rep) is a single completion of a specific movement. It involves going through the entire range of motion for a given exercise and then returning to the starting position.

Regardless of the move, the targeted muscles will lengthen, pause, and then shorten when completing one rep, which is considered the full range of motion.

At this point, you might be wondering if one rep is all you need to do. Not quite.

For example, when performing an exercise like a squat, your goal may be to complete anywhere between 8 and 12 reps, depending on your goal (more on that later).

You will then repeat that rep sequence, which brings us to the next term in strength training that you will come across, a set.

Here’s how to think about the similarities and differences between a rep and a set: If a rep is considered a single movement, a set, on the other hand, is a group of consecutive repetitions of a specific exercise, like the squat.

When you perform a set, you complete the designated number of reps without resting. After completing a set, you rest for a specified period before starting the next set.

For example, you may do a squat exercise for 3 sets of 12 repetitions, resting 30 seconds between each set.

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Determining the Right Number of Reps

Part of determining the right number of reps is understanding how many sets you want to complete and how much weight you want to move.

The number of repetitions you perform during an exercise set can impact the way your muscles respond and adapt, leading to different outcomes in terms of muscle growth and strength development.

This includes three main rep ranges:

  • Low rep range of 1-5 reps with a focus on heavier weight for power and strength.
  • Moderate rep range ot 6-12 reps with a focus on moderate to heavier weight for muscle hypertrophy or growth and strength.
  • High rep range of 12+ reps with a focus on lighter weights for muscular endurance and some hypertrophy.

The number of reps you complete and the amount of weight you use will also affect the results of your strength training program. In general, you should use a weight that is challenging but allows you to maintain good form throughout the entire set.

Good form also involves breathing through the movement. You don’t ever want to hold your breath when performing a strength training exercise. Instead, exhale during the resistance portion or concentric part (most often the hardest part) of the exercise and inhale with the eccentric or lowering phase (most often the easiest part of the move).

Rep Ranges for Fitness Goals

The number of reps you can crank out and the amount of weight you lift is inversely related. In other words, when you increase the weight, the number of reps you’re able to complete typically goes down and vice versa.

So, if you’re focusing on a heavier resistance, you’ll want to keep the reps in the moderate to low range. But if you drop the weight to a lower load, you can increase the number of times you do the exercise. The training load or volume is based on your goals and current fitness level.

Defining a rep and understanding its role in strength training is pretty straightforward. Where it gets a little more complicated is when we talk about the training load and repetition schemes for targeted goals. That’s because organizations like to publish recommendations based on their own research or findings.

For example, the rep and set range established by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is slightly different from the guidelines set forth by American Council on Exercise (ACE). The good news is the differences are minor. Let’s take a look.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends the following rep ranges based on fitness goals:

Fitness GoalRep Range
General muscular fitness8-15 reps
Muscular endurance≥ 12 reps 
Muscular hypertrophy (muscle mass)6-12 reps  
Muscular strength≤ 6 reps 
Power (single-effort events)1-2 reps 
Power (multiple-effort events)3-5 reps 

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends the following rep ranges based on fitness goals:

Fitness GoalRep Range
Muscular endurance 1-3 sets of 10-25 reps
Muscular hypertrophy (muscle mass increase)1-3 sets of 8-12 reps for beginners, 3-6 sets of 1-12 reps for advanced
Muscular power (physical strength)1-3 sets of 3-6 reps 

When you’re first starting out with weight lifting, start on the low end of reps and sets, and go from there.. When in doubt, consider working with a certified personal trainer. They can help you sort through the differences and create a fitness program that meets your specific needs.

Increasing Reps in Strength Training

Incorporating progressive overload in your rep training involves gradually increasing the demands placed on your muscles over time to encourage growth and adaptation.

It also requires patience on your part, because pushing too hard too fast or adding more than one strategy at a time can lead to injury or burnout.

When it comes to rep training, you can implement progressive overload using several strategies, including:

  • Increasing the number of reps you perform without upping the weight
  • Increasing the weight you lift while leaving the number of repetitions the same or decreasing them
  • Adding sets to an exercise
  • Adjusting your rest periods
  • Adding more challenging exercises
  • Implementing a periodized training program of smaller three-month blocks of workouts over the course of 12 months

Types of Reps in Strength Training

Fitness is full of variations, with some concepts being grounded in science, others originating from gym culture, and the rest a combination of both.

The different types of reps in strength training are a perfect example of a fitness concept you may come across while reading articles online, listening to people talk at the gym, or from a personal trainer. That’s because there are several ways to perform reps.

While not an exhaustive list, here are some rep types you may come across when designing a workout program:

Traditional reps

A regular rep you perform through the full range of motion.

Partial reps

A rep done in a limited range of motion, such as the lower half of a biceps curl.

Eccentric reps or negatives

A rep focusing on the lowering phase of an exercise.

Tempo reps

A rep where you control the speed of both the lowering and contracting phase of the exercise, such as slowing the speed down or increasing the speed to target different goals.

Examples of Rep-Based Exercises

Rep-based exercises are the foundation of a strength training program. Designing a routine that matches your current fitness level and goals is easy, especially since you have so many possible workouts to choose from.

For example, you might focus on high-rep, low-weight exercises to improve endurance, or low-rep, high-weight exercises to build muscle mass or strength. Check out the three sample workouts below based on fitness goals.

Sample Muscular Strength Workout

Muscular strength workouts focus on heavier weights and lower rep ranges, which is designed to help you build overall strength and improve your ability to lift heavier weights over time. Since this type of training places a higher demand on your body, make sure to include adequate rest days for recovery.

Quick Tip: Emphasize low rep ranges with heavy weights that are challenging for the specified rep range. Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are foundational moves for building strength. Rest between sets is longer, about 2-5 minutes.

How To Do the Muscular Strength Workout:

  • Do this routine 2-3 times per week, with at least one day of rest between sessions
  • Aim for 3-5 sets of each exercise, rep ranges included with each move
  • Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets, can rest up to 5 minutes if needed

Exercise #1: Squats

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core

Reps: 5

Exercise #2: Deadlifts

Muscles targeted: Lower Back, hamstrings, glutes, core

Reps: 3-5

Exercise #3: Bench Press

Muscles targeted: Chest, shoulders, triceps

Reps: 5

Exercise #4: Overhead Press

Muscles targeted: Shoulders, triceps

Reps: 3-5

Exercise #5: Barbell Rows

Muscles targeted: Back, biceps

Reps: 5

Exercise #6: Pull-Ups or Weighted Pull-Ups

Muscles targeted: Back (lats, upper back), biceps

Reps: 3-5

Exercise #7: Farmer's Walks

Muscles targeted: Grip strength, core, full-body stabilization

Distance: 40-50 meters (or as space allows)

Sample Hypertrophy Workout

This workout is designed to target major muscle groups using compound exercises. It's important to adjust the weight for each exercise so that the last couple of reps in each set are challenging but still doable with proper form. Progressive overload is key to hypertrophy, so gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.

Quick Tip: Incorporate moderate rep ranges with moderate weights. Isolation exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions can be included. Rest between sets is moderate, about 1-2 minutes.

How To Do the Hypertrophy Workout

  • Do this routine 3 times per week, with at least one day of rest between sessions
  • Aim for 3-4 sets of each exercise, rep ranges included with each move
  • Rest for 60-90 seconds between sets

Exercise #1: Squats

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core

Reps: 8-10

Exercise #2: Bench Press

Muscles targeted: Chest, shoulders, triceps

Reps: 8-10

Exercise #3: Bent-Over Rows

Muscles targeted: Back, biceps

Reps: 8-10

Exercise #4: Overhead Press

Muscles targeted: Shoulders, triceps

Reps: 8-10

Exercise #5: Romanian Deadlifts

Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, glutes, lower back

Reps: 10-12

Exercise #6: Pull-Ups or Lat Pulldowns

Muscles targeted: Back (lats, upper back), biceps

Reps: 6-8

Exercise #7: Leg Press

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes

Reps: 10-12

Sample Muscular Endurance Workout

Muscular endurance workouts involve higher repetitions and lower resistance, helping to improve your ability to perform repeated contractions over an extended period. Muscular endurance workouts are designed to keep your heart rate up and promote sustained muscle contractions.

Quick Tip: Focus on high rep ranges with lighter weights. Circuit training and bodyweight exercises are effective. Rest between sets is shorter, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

How To Do the Muscular Endurance Workout:

  • Do this routine 3-4 times per week, with at least one day of rest between sessions
  • Aim for 2-3 sets of each exercise, rep ranges included with each move
  • Rest for 30 seconds between sets

Exercise #1: Bodyweight Squats

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes

Reps: 12-15

Exercise #2: Push-Ups

Muscles targeted: Chest, shoulders, triceps

Reps: 12-15

Exercise #3: Bodyweight Lunges

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes

Reps: 12-15 per leg

Exercise #4: Plank

Muscles targeted: Core, upper body and lower body to support weight

Duration: 30-45 seconds

Exercise #5: Bodyweight Rows or Inverted Rows

Muscles targeted: Back (Lats, Upper Back), biceps

Reps: 12-15

Exercise #6: Bodyweight Glute Bridges

Muscles targeted: Glutes, hamstrings

Reps: 12-15

Exercise #7: Bicycle Crunches

Muscles targeted: Core, obliques

Reps: 20-25 per side

FAQs About Reps in Strength Training

Can I still see results by doing fewer reps with heavier weights?

When you increase the weight or load of an exercise, you will likely decrease the reps. If your goal is muscle hypertrophy, strength, or power, you will have workouts that focus on a higher resistance and lower rep range.

For example, if your goal is muscular strength, you may only do six reps, but your resistance will be around 85% of your one-rep maximum.

On the other hand, if your goal is muscular fitness, you will do eight to 15 reps, but only at 20% to 70% of your one rep maximum.

Is it possible to overtrain by doing too many reps?

Yes, it’s possible to overtrain by doing too many reps. Overtraining occurs when you exceed your capacity for adaptation without sufficient recovery.

Intensity, duration, or frequency of training can all contribute to overtraining. While overtraining is often associated with heavy weights and high-intensity training, it can also result from excessive repetitions.

Can I do reps with bodyweight exercises?

Absolutely, you can perform reps with bodyweight exercises. Repetitions are an essential concept in strength training that applies to both bodyweight exercises and moves involving equipment or weights.

Bodyweight exercises can be an effective way to build strength, endurance, and flexibility using your own body as resistance. Plus, they are beginner-friendly and you can do them just about anywhere!

Some great bodyweight exercises to start with include push-ups, squats, planks, lunges, and pull-ups. You can do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each move, resting 30 seconds between each set.

Are there any specific rep-based exercises that target the core muscles?

Your core consists of muscles that move, stabilize, and support your spine, including the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, and the multifidus muscles.

Incorporating rep-based exercises that target the core is an excellent way to strengthen these critical muscles. Some moves to try include the bird dog, supine toe taps, marching hip bridge, deadbugs, forearm plank with toe taps, and side plank.

Strength Training Apps We Like

Strength training apps are an excellent way to get started with rep-based exercises. These platforms are full of resistance workouts, how-to videos, step-by-step instructions, interactive classes, and more.

Some apps require a monthly fee, while others offer users a free version. Make sure to check out the free trial, if the app you’re interested in has one.

Bottom Line

Understanding how reps fit into a strength training program is key in determining the intensity of your workouts and the results you want to achieve. But like most things in fitness, there's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to reps.

By carefully selecting the right number of reps, you can match your training efforts to your goals, whether it's building muscle mass, increasing muscular endurance, or enhancing overall strength.

If you have questions about rep-based training or need assistance, consider working with a certified personal trainer or strength coach. They can help assess your current fitness levels and design a program based on your needs and goals.

Plus, they can show you how to execute the moves with proper form and give you that extra boost or motivation when you need it!

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