What’s with these reps?

When you’re weight lifting, how many repetitions should you do? 6? 8? 10? 12? 15? If you’ve been lifting for a while you’ve heard all these answers, and more. “Want to build strength and power? Then 6-8 reps. Want to make your muscles noticeably larger over time? Then 8-12 reps. Want to tone your muscles without getting too big? 15 reps is your magic number.”

Does anyone really understand what any of this means? What is the magic in these numbers that will give you your desired effect? The answer is, none. Just achieving the number of repetitions is pointless. What matters is the intensity of the exercise, caused by the amount of weight you’re trying to lift. It’s the last few reps that matter, regardless of your goal. I’ll say “the magic” occurs during the last three reps. All the reps that come before those all important last three are just preparation. if I’m trying to maximize my physical strength, I’m shooting for 6, 7, or 8, reps, and the last three have to be extremely difficult to finish. The first 3-5 reps are what is necessary to get my muscle tired enough to make the magic happen on the last three reps. If you’re shooting for 15 reps in order to “tone”, the first 12 should get progressively more difficult so that by rep 13, 14, and 15, you’re barely able to finish.

Since most people, inside or outside a gym really have no clue as to what constitutes intensity, let me be clear. The last rep you try to complete should be borderline, or outright, impossible. This is true, regardless of your weight lifting goal and the number of reps you’re trying to accomplish. And don’t be afraid of overestimating yourself. 1 rep less will never ruin you or your goal. It won’t turn you into the Hulk if your only trying to “tone”. If only it were that easy to bulk up!

To sum up: whatever your reasons are for weight lifting, the last three repetitions of every set, for every exercise, should be tortuously hard. Want results? It’s not a number. It’s the effort it takes to get there!