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5 Tips for High Rep Workouts for Men

You and your body can realize specific benefits from doing sets with 13 or more repetitions.
You and your body can realize specific benefits from doing sets with 13 or more repetitions.
Photodisc/Thinkstock

Two world-class athletes stand side by side -- one is a bodybuilder, the other is a marathoner. They look nothing alike. One is characterized by enormous bulges and serious size. The other is thin, practically gaunt, yet well-defined. What do the two men have in common? Both have benefited from high rep workouts.

A high rep workout, for our purposes, is an exercise consisting of 13 or more repetitions. High rep workouts have little direct effect on size and strength. Instead, they increase blood flow to the muscles, create new capillaries, neural pathways and improve endurance [sources: Venuto, Birmingham]. The benefit for an athlete who participates in a sport lasting hours is obvious. The advantage for the larger, stronger competitor is more indirect. The improved circulation, endurance and increased number of neural pathways sets the stage for high weight/low repetition workouts that will cause growth [source: Apperson]. Think of it as clearing a roadway so a truckload of fuel can be transported to its destination.

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Whatever your fitness goal, high rep workouts can help you get there. And with the following tips, you can maximize all they have to offer.

There's a myth that's been held for years and is still repeated around the water cooler: High rep workouts tone muscles and limited repetitions (6 to 12) with heavy weight create bulk. Science only backs half of that notion. It's true that heavy weight and a small number of repetitions stimulates the most muscle growth. As for toning, you need to discard the view that high reps are where it's at [sources: Birmingham, Norton].

A toned muscle has a solid appearance. In order for it to look firm, it has to be seen -- it can't be hidden by a layer of fat. So, your goal is twofold: eliminate fat and develop a hard physique. The best way to eliminate fat is with a cardio program that burns a large number of calories [source: Birmingham]. There are far more effective cardio workouts (think cycling, running or cross-country skiing) than lifting a relatively light weight repeatedly. You will see some muscle growth with high rep workouts, but limited rep exercises will help you reach your goal quicker.

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Afraid of bulking up too much? Many would-be bodybuilders wish it were that easy. It takes an intense focus and months, if not years, of commitment to get truly big. A small integration of low rep/high weight workouts into your routine won't turn you into a hulking mass [source: Valluzzi].

High rep workouts have many benefits, but toning isn't one of them. Discarding that myth will help you make the best use of your time.

The percentage of time you spend doing high rep workouts completely depends on the discipline or sport you enjoy most. Getting ready for a cross-country bike ride? Perfect. Your muscles will be able to store more glycogen -- which your body will use for your energy -- if you incorporate plenty of high repetition strength training into your fitness plan. Planning to compete in a marathon? The increased number of capillaries created by all those repetitions will allow plenty of oxygen to get to your muscles and power you through those trying miles. Want to win a power lifting contest? You'll need to focus the majority of your time on heavy weight and low repetitions (1 to 5), which force the body to recruit all muscle fibers to create optimum power [source: Norton]. A bodybuilder would fall somewhere between the endurance athlete and the power lifter. He'll see the most growth if he focuses on moderate reps (6 to 12) while not ignoring the indirect value of lighter and lengthier sets [sources: Venuto, Norton].

If you're more interested in looking good at the beach than competing in a sport, ask yourself which of the above athletes would you prefer to look like? After all, it's all a matter of opinion, and you certainly don't have to have a medal around your neck to get a date.

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High rep workouts aren't an excuse to use bad form. There are few things more important in the fitness world than doing an exercise correctly. It's key to targeting the intended muscle group, and it's a vital component of injury prevention [source: Stefano]. The lighter weight associated with high rep workouts should make it easier for you to use a full range of motion whether you're doing squats, dead lifts, curls or any other exercises.

But there's a danger in associating high repetitions with high speed. If you're doing an exercise so quickly that you end up swinging, jerking and flailing about, you're asking for an injury. Doing 20 repetitions properly is more important than completing 20 repetitions fast.

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Circuit training can provide a challenging, satisfying and short workout.
Circuit training can provide a challenging, satisfying and short workout.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Any workout routine can get boring. What's more, if you're already pressed for time, it's easy to skip the most monotonous activity on your schedule. But that's one of the beauties of a high rep workout. You can get creative and simultaneously save time by designing your own circuit training plan.

Select six exercises and complete one high-rep set of each with very little rest in between. For example, you could do 30 push-ups, followed by 50 sit-ups, leading into 25 squat thrusts. Finish with 30 calf raises (both calves done simultaneously), 20 curls per arm and 25 tricep extensions per arm. You'll get a challenging workout that won't even give you a chance to be bored. In addition, it'll only take about 15 minutes out of your day [source: Marinello].

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The fitness world is rife with debates. Opinions on what exercises, equipment and, yes, number of repetitions are most effective are exchanged daily in online forums, coffee shops and gyms. Often the differences come down to semantics. (If one person considers 10 repetitions to be a moderate number, while the other interprets 10 to be high reps, they're actually advocating the same thing.) But conflicting pieces of information can make you want to throw in the towel and abandon your workout routine altogether. That's the biggest mistake you can make.

If high rep workouts represent part of or the majority of your exercise regimen, stick with it. Consistency is king. A person who does gives 100 percent to an intense program but periodically abandons it, will see fewer results than someone who makes a low-key training plan part of his lifestyle [source: Horton]. The winner of any fitness debate is the athlete who stops talking and gets to work.

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Sources

  • Apperson, Lee. "The Intensity Course." (April 8, 2011)http://www.leeapperson.com/bookone/page2intensity.html
  • Birmingham, Akanke. "The High Reps Myth." Warrior Fitness World. (April 8, 2011)http://www.warriorfitnessworld.com/articles/2007/06/the_high_reps_myth.php
  • Horton, Tony. "2nd Law of Exercise: Consistency." Beachbody.com. (April 8, 2011)http://www.beachbody.com/product/p90x-online/tips/tonys-laws/2nd-law-consistency.do
  • Marinello, Sal. "Try High Repetition Circuit Training to Combat Exercise Boredom." Health and Fitness Advice. (April 8, 2011)http://www.healthandfitnessadvice.com/fitness-tips/try-high-repetition-super-circuit-training-to-combat-exercise-boredom.html
  • Norton, Layne. "Representin' the Repetition." Body Building.com. (April 8, 2011)http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/layne45.htm
  • Stefano, Michael. "How to Lift Weights to Lose Weight: The 5 Golden Rules." topendsports. (April 8, 2011)http://www.topendsports.com/weight-loss/weightloss-lifting.htm
  • The Weightlifting Encyclopedia. Oct. 29, 2006. (April 11, 2011.)http://www.wlinfo.com/frequent.htm#3.%20Aren%27t%20Bodybuilders
  • Venuto, Tom. "What happens within the muscles in response to different rep ranges?" Freedomfly.net. (April 8, 2011)http://www.freedomfly.net/Articles/Training/training29.htm Valluzzi, Kevin.
  • "Weightlifting 101." Fitness Guru. (April 8, 2011)http://www.fitnessguru.org/exercise/articles/weights-2.php

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