You’ve probably already heard the supposed idea that you should use low reps to build muscle/strength, and use high reps to lose fat. Is that actually true? Does exercising in a higher rep range help you lose more fat?
Using High Reps
The whole idea of using high reps for weight loss came about from the idea the you should turn your strength training workouts into more of a cardio workout when you want to lose weight. Instead of doing 5-10 reps per set, people would do 10-20 (or more) reps. Usually, they would accompany this higher rep range with a decrease in rest time between sets. Good idea?
Absolutely! However, there are some drawbacks with this method. Most importantly, you run the risk of losing muscle mass when in a calorie deficit. Reducing the amount of weight you lift with increases the chance of muscle loss. This is not a guarantee though. When trying to cut body fat, keeping your strength levels up should be a major priority. As you know, muscle is your best friend when it comes to maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Using Low Reps
You might be surprised to know this, but yes – you can lose fat lifting weights in a low rep range. Sure, lifting in rep ranges of 3-6 reps might be geared more towards strength gains, but that doesn’t mean you won’t gain muscle or lose fat in the process. With an increase in strength, there is almost always a corresponding increase in musculature – so long as your calorie intake is supporting that goal.
Muscle and Fat are 2 Different Entities
I like to look at muscle and fat as 2 different entities. After all, they are. I also like to focus my exercise on building/maintaining muscle and improving cardiovascular fitness, and using nutrition to manipulate body fat levels. Many people like to use exercise to manipulate both. There is nothing wrong with that, but using exercise for both means you won’t be able to fully optimize both strength and fat loss goals. It’s hard to continually get stronger if you’re working in rep ranges well over 15 reps.
Separate Your Fitness Into 3 Categories
A better way to look at your fitness program is to separate it into 3 different sections – strength training, cardio, and nutrition (rest/recovery is the 4th, but we’re talking “active” sections right now). Then, you can fully focus on each one. It is entirely possible to combine both strength training and cardio into one workout, just understand that this will come at the expense of maximizing both strength and endurance. It’s difficult to put 100% into both strength and endurance training in a single workout. One goal is bound to suffer at the expense of the other.
Low Reps vs High Reps for Fat Loss
I periodize my workouts so that I’m using all types of rep ranges. Some workouts I focus more on strength in the 3-5 rep range, and other times I work on speed-strength where I work on pushing/pulling the bar at a high velocity. This rep range is in the 10 area. On non-strength training days, I work specifically on my cardiovascular training. I might do some trail running, or run a 5K. Or I might do some high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Combine a well-round training program with proper nutrition, and you have a perfect recipe for fat loss. As you can see, there is no clear answer for what is best for fat loss. That’s because they are entirely different exercise protocols. By themselves, they are poor models for fat loss, but combining high reps, low reps, cardio, and good nutrition will get you to your ultimate goal much more efficiently.