Demystifying Repetitions in Bodybuilding Workouts,
Part 1: Rep Scales
How can you perform the best repetitions while working out?
A repetition or “rep” is the act of performing a specific movement that satisfies the completion of a single “unit” of exercise. For example, a bodybuilder performs one repetition of a dumbbell curl when he is able to raise a dumbbell near his chest.
A set, on the other hand, is the pre-determined number of repetitions that a bodybuilder will perform in succession. The number of sets and number of repetitions per set varies depending on the intended movement.
The natural trend is that the number of repetitions per set generally decreases as the weight or resistance progressively increases until the bodybuilder reaches the 1:1 ratio (1 rep/set).
What is the average rep count and set count?
This is a tricky question because bodybuilders across the country use different formulas to achieve specific ends.
The average number of sets in most heavy workouts is 5-8, while the rep count can be as high as 12 or “to failure” which means the bodybuilder will keep performing the repetitions until he has fully exhausted the target muscle.
The set count and rep count of professional bodybuilders also change depending on the current season.
When it is “off-season,” rep and set counts are often higher with less weight/resistance. As the months roll into competition season, the rep/set count may increase with a marked increase in the total resistance used in every exercise.
Professional bodybuilders rarely follow a single system when it comes to building their muscles. As you continue progressing with your own bodybuilding workouts journey you will also develop your own “muscle sense.”
Muscle sense works this way: when a bodybuilder doesn’t feel very challenged, he may add a completely new movement to his repertoire or he will change the rep count or set count to “shock” his muscles. It’s difficult to explain exactly what bodybuilders feel – you just have to find out for yourself!
What is the purpose of increasing or decreasing reps?
Apart from “shocking” the muscles to ensure continuous development, bodybuilders also follow conventional rep scales depending on what they are trying to accomplish. Note that rep scales don’t apply to everyone and that results will vary from person to person.
If you want to build maximum lifting power and develop your natural strength, increase the resistance so you can only perform a maximum of 5 repetitions.
The minimum rep count is 3 – if you’re brave enough to increase the resistance up to this point. If you can still perform five more reps after 3 to 5 reps, your weights aren’t heavy enough!
The 3 to 5 rep scale is highly recommended for bodybuilders who are not preparing for any major competition in the next few months. Keeping the resistance high and the repetitions few helps maintain muscle mass and continues improving your natural strength without completely exhausting the muscles.
For those who are focused on building maximum muscle mass, either for competition or personal aesthetics, three average rep scales are applicable: 8-12, 6-8 and 15-20.
The 8-12 rep scale is applicable to most bodybuilders and if you are trying out a new movement, there’s no harm in aiming for at least 8 repetitions and a maximum of 12.
Some bodybuilders like keeping things heavy all the time. If this is the case for you, the 6-8 rep scale is reasonable. This rep scale is also reasonable for individuals who have yet to find a way to limit the natural catabolism that occurs in muscle tissue after a period of strenuous activity.
And finally, we have the 15-20 rep scale. If the first two ranges don’t work out for you, it’s time to reduce the total resistance per movement and increase the repetitions. This rep scale is also ideal for individuals who are just starting out and still have a relatively high body fat-lean muscle ratio.
The high rep count ensures a longer workout that can potentially burn more calories. Though many fitness experts now espouse “short and intense” bouts of exercise, not everyone is physically capable of continuous high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Don’t worry: if you can’t handle high intensity workouts with heavy weights yet, just continue improving your physique and endurance.
The majority of bodybuilders eventually reach their goals and milestones after a few months of intense workouts. You can do this, too! You just need to stay on the path no matter how difficult the workouts seem to be.
Demystifying Repetitions in Workouts,
Part 2: The Perfect Rep
What are the performance secrets of superstar bodybuilders when performing reps?
The number one advantage of veteran bodybuilders is technique. Because of their long experience in bodybuilding, amateur/professional champions have been able to learn or develop their own unique training techniques that bring them the best results.
Of course, if you’re a complete beginner you won’t have these techniques yet. You’re at a point in your bodybuilding journey where you’re still learning the basics and absorbing information from fellow bodybuilders and fitness experts like a sponge… Like what you’re doing now!
Today’s blog post will focus on the exclusive techniques of the best bodybuilders in the industry. Take notes, apply these techniques and see where they lead you.
The Superstar Techniques
- Higher Reps for Better Calorie Burn – Cutting fat during competition season can be a grueling task. If your natural strength is up to par and you have no issue lifting the heaviest weights you can manage, you may want to increase your reps to improve your caloric burn rate.
Though many factors contribute to actual energy expenditure, performing more repetitions can theoretically raise your metabolism up a notch and the additional reps mean more work for your muscles.
If your main goal is muscle maintenance, higher reps can also help. However, you have to find the maximum resistance point so you don’t end up lifting really light weights that won’t contribute to the preservation of large muscle mass.
It can be difficult to achieve superstar muscular girths and it would be heartbreaking to see your efforts wasted just because you use resistance that was lower than what your muscles needed.
- Practice Proper Form 100% of the Time – We have to be strict when it comes to the implementation of movements because the wrong form and techniques can injure your muscles, joints, ligaments and sometimes even the bones!
If you observe aspiring Mr. Olympias in training, you will notice that they take their time with every repetition. Speed is not the name of the game!
The real champions of bodybuilding know that slow, deliberate movements can actually help you gain more muscle mass than “fast swings” which shouldn’t even be used in weightlifting!
“Cheaters” often swing their weights to gain momentum, thereby reducing the overall strain on their target muscle groups. You may be able to slog through your intended routine for that day, but did you give your muscles sufficient strain for them to develop? Certainly not.
Safety is also an important concern you should always consider when you’re in the gym.
People who aren’t concerned with gym safety and proper form are often the ones who suffer from the most physical damage. The damage may not come immediately, but there will be that one day where the bad form will result in an accident or injury and sadly, it will be too late to prevent it by then.
- Maintain Equal Focus on Positive and Negative Phases – Each exercise or movement is composed of two distinct phases: the positive phase and the negative phase. When you perform a bicep curl, the positive phase occurs when you lift the dumbbell upward, straining against gravity. The negative phase, of course, is when you lower the dumbbell.
Usually, bodybuilders focus only on the positive phase of the movement because that’s when you really strain against the weight of the barbell, dumbbell or Russian kettlebell.
But what if we tell you that people were wrong all along?
Sports scientists have discovered that the negative phase of weightlifting movements actually have more muscle-splitting potential than the negative phase! That’s right: when you lower a dumbbell after a curl, that’s when you should really make the movement very slow and deliberate.
Focus on every second of your workout and feel your muscles heave and strain against the weights. This is the true way of the classical bodybuilder!
- Take Care of Your Joints, Please – Your joints allow you to perform all the movements necessary to build your muscles. Take care of them because without them, you’re toast.
It’s unfortunate that many bodybuilders are setting bad examples for the next generation. We see old bodybuilders swinging weights and throwing them around like toys, as if they weren’t handling hundreds of pounds of weights.
“Bouncing Bills” are also very common in gyms across the country. “Bouncing Bills” are really strong fellows who try to outdo their old personal records by benching weights… by bouncing the weights off their chests!
We can’t deny that these fellows are strong but one day, some joint or ligament could snap and when that happens… well let’s just say that any long term goals are going to be disrupted for a few months at least.