Ever since muscle confusion became a popular term, there’s been a big debate about how often you need to adjust your workouts. For most people, the number of reps you perform are shockingly similar. In a survey of 100 people (equal gender split), 83 percent said they normally perform 8 to 10 reps per exercise. Coincidence? I think not.
For men, that 8 to 10 rep range is usually associated with building more muscle. For women, the weight is viewed as not too heavy, but with enough volume to help get that “long and lean” look so many people want.
But if you really want to see results, the key is making sure you hit a wide variety of rep ranges, and even change up your exercises too.
The “best” answer is that the frequency that you change reps ultimately depends on your goals and your performance. If your primary focus is becoming stronger, this will ultimately influence your workout approach. But that doesn’t mean you’ll only do low reps all day and all the time. Assistance work (with moderate reps) and even speed work (with lower weight and higher reps) have both been shown to benefit increases in strength.
What does it all mean? If you have a well designed program, you might not need to change up reps too often to keep seeing results. But completely ignoring rep schemes might also be the reason why you’re constantly finding yourself on plateau island.
In general, you want to change your reps every 4 to 6 weeks. However, there are many exceptions and your workout design will determine how frequently you need to make changes.
There are many ways you can stagger this approach. Let’s say you’re trying to build muscle or just training for general fitness. One approach is very simple: just follow a particular rep range for 4 to 6 weeks (called a linear approach of periodization), and then shift to a new range.
Let’s say you have three rep ranges: low, medium, and high. Your plan could look as follows:
- Week 1-4: Low reps (2-5 per set)
- Week 5-8: Medium reps (6-10 per set)
- Week 9-12: High reps ( 12-15 per set)
If you want to mix things up, you can always follow an undulating pattern, meaning you’re using different rep ranges during each of your workouts.
Research at Arizona State University found that different repetition ranges in three weekly training sessions (such as 5 reps on Monday, 15 on Wednesday, and 10 on Friday) led to almost twice as much strength as those who didn’t vary reps.
Creating Your Rep-Changing Workout Plan
Let’s say you workout three days per week. (You can adapt this for any training model, just create different rep ranges that you can mix and match.)
Step 1: You’ll want to create three categories for rep ranges
- Low: 5 reps
- Medium: 10 reps
- High: 15 reps
[If you have more than 3 days, you can create more than three categories or you can simply mix up the 3 ranges over multiple days.]
Step 2: Set up a model that will be easy to replicate over time.
- Monday = ____ reps
- Wednesday = ____reps
- Friday = ____reps
Then replicate the process and shift up what reps you perform on each day. For example, your 4-week plan could look like:
Week 1: 15, 5, and 10 reps
Week 2: 10, 15, and 5 reps
Week 3: 5, 10, and 15 reps
Week 4: 15, 5, and 10 reps
Perform and results should increase, and you’ll have enough variety to keep you moving until you need to adjust to a different approach, such as the “linear” model shown above.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.