In my time as a Personal Trainer – and, not to sound too old, that’s a considerable amount of time – I’ve seen many fitness trends come and go.
One thing which has seen a lot of change over the years is the general thinking on the number of reps (repetitions) we should all be doing when carrying out a particular exercise at home or in the gym. For example, if squats are your thing, doing 10 squats then having a quick rest before doing another 10 would mean that you are performing 10 reps and in this case completing 2 sets (a set being a group of repetitions).
For a while it was all about getting the highest possible number of reps in each set, going for it like there was no tomorrow. Then, the thinking turned towards quality rather than quantity and trainers everywhere were recommending fewer reps but with more focus on the control of movement.
Go for style rather than speed
Personally, I have always believed that attention to detail on each individual move is way more important than the number you can do at one time. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen someone who claims to be record-breaking in the number of burpees or push ups they can handle, but when we watch them, their technique is somewhat underwhelming (sometimes almost comedic!).
If you are focussing on a particular area it is essential that you maintain good form, not only to maintain effectiveness, but also to ensure safety. Many a back injury has been caused by incorrect lifts or haphazard sit ups done in a rush. As well as being painful, this can lead to many longer term problems and is certainly counter-productive to the progress of any fitness journey.
All great advice, I hear you say, but is the target 5 reps or 500? Is there even just a ball-park figure to aim for?
Well, here is my personal guide to what I believe is a good starting point, depending on what exactly you are looking to achieve:
Repetition and Rests
- To build general fitness – 12-15 repetitions with 60-90 seconds rest between
When it comes to achieving a good general level of fitness it really is a case of honing your exercise first and then turning up the numbers when you’ve nailed it. Rests can be relatively short as you’re level of exertion hopefully isn’t too stressful at this stage.
- To build muscular endurance – 12-20 repetitions with 30 -60 seconds of rest between
The high reps here will train your muscles to perform for an extended period of time and the short rest period will encourage your body to recover quickly, both important steps for building endurance.
- To build muscle strength – 1-5 reps with 2-5 minutes between
In these highest intensity work outs you are really testing (if not shocking) your muscles and also putting a significant amount of pressure on your central nervous system. The longer recovery time here is the best and safest way to ensure that the nervous system catches up before you go again.
When considering the number of sets you are going to incorporate in your training, think about it as a method to turn up or tone down the difficulty of your workout. I always suggest starting with 3 sets and then gradually increasing to 5 or 6 as you become more confident in your technique and feel you want that extra push.
The above is meant only as a guide and, unsurprisingly, it will vary from person to person. It is always best to seek professional advice on what your starting point and targets should be for any given activity. That way you can ensure that you are exercising safely whilst not being too easy on yourself. Results depend on putting the work in and your Personal Trainer is the best person to recommend what the initial and subsequent levels of ‘work’ in your workouts should be.