I get asked this all the time, what is better – low repetitions or high repetitions? I personally say: Do both!
Lower repetitions (<6) help develop power and as a result – myofibril hypertrophy; these are actual contractile protein which move the muscle. This is the so-called “functional” muscle mass. Your body uses ATP (adenosine-3-phosphate) as a primary fuel source for working out with minimal glycogen usage. You need lower repetitions in order to build strength and muscle density. Once you get stronger you will be able to handle bigger weights for your long sets and this way cause a stronger sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Getting stronger is an incremental part of success for the natural bodybuilder. It is important to constantly get stronger in order to force your muscles to grow and adapt. If you stop getting stronger you put a substantial part of your muscle building potential on stop.
Higher repetitions (>10) help mostly with increasing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy –these are the energy reserves of the working muscle. When you do higher repetitions the body turns into glucose as a primary source for energy and thus the body demands for glucose rise dramatically following such high-repetitions training protocols. It is important to load with carbohydrates well after training in order to charge the muscle and restore their glycogen stores and performance potential. Higher repetitions lead to increase in muscle size, which is not proportional to the increase in strength.
To sum up, I suggest mixing both training protocols for optimal results. Depending on my goal and current period I can do higher reps or lower reps or a mixture of both. I recommend you don’t do less than 3 reps in your training, since 1 rep maxes are not optimal for training and may lead to injury. I believe the best way is to do between 5 and 15 reps depending on the exercise and current training goal in mind. Higher repetitions help burn more calories and are thus more suitable for fat burning period. In order to preserve muscle during fat burning it is also important to lift heavy, so make sure that you include both rep ranges in your training routine.
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