T Nation

Reps for Strength vs. Reps for Size


So why is it that all of the articles/discussions on here seem to lead towards a lower weight/higher rep scheme for size and a higher weight/lower rep scheme for strength when all of these other "personal trainers" tell everyone that low weight high reps will tone your muscles instead of lifting heavy and with low reps?

Their argument is something along the lines of doing more work - but yet isn't the 3x10 a classic size building scheme?? Or is there something to their "toning" argument when used with a ridiculously low weight?

I'm currently having this discussion with my g/f since all of the personal trainers and professors and such at our university tell her she should be using low weight/high reps for getting "toned" without being bulky. I'm trying to switch her to a 5x5 or even an 8x3.

Who's right? Why? and how can I convince her if I'm right?


One seminar I had to attend in graduate school, the only interesting thing was the person explaining why she used female rats in her studies, which required the rats doing exercise. It turns out that female rats love to run on exercise wheels, so there is no problem doing such studies with them, but male rats do not like to run on exercise wheels.

Not everything true of rats is true of humans, but it does turn out that when going to the gym, usually you'll see the females aerobicizing away -- maybe on a treadmill, maybe on a bike, maybe in some kind of class -- while the males mostly don't like doing that and instead are doing heavier briefer work.

My point is to not assume that psychology is the same regardless of gender.

Of course what the people in question are saying is stupid. Few women are likely to get "bulky" with muscle no matter how hard and effectively they train. The idea that they must use special plans to avoid it is just foolish.

However, it is true on a most-cases sort of basis that women are a lot more fond of high-rep work that is nowhere near their 1RM than they are of doing brief hard sets with high percentage 1RM, and men are more typically towards the reverse.

Except of course for metrosexuals.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So it really depends on how serious your girlfriend is. If she's just fairly average in interest, why not let her train how she likes and not worry about it? It is not as if 20 rep sets or whatever are a disaster towards her goals, if that is the case.


Most pro bodybuilders are using high repetitions with low weight because:

-The pump feels good
-Better hormonal response
-More mechanical work for your muscles

Most strength athletes are using low repetitions with high weight because:

-Minimal hypertrophy (which is a pro or a con depending on your goals)
-Better neural adaptations

There is no such thing as "toning your muscles with light weights". It's all about your bodyfat percentage. If you were to do liposuction with any fat dude until you suck the very last ounce of fat he has, he'd look much more toned.


As far as "convincing her", you're gonna need to be respectful. You can't just bluntly say "hey, I'm smart, I know better than you, and you better listen." You should say something like "I may be wrong, and I frequently am. If I am, please correct me... I heard in T-Nation that blah blah."


thanks guys - it didn't start out as I was right and yadah yadah yadah it just ended up that way. As far as how serious she is - she likes to runs triathalons as her hobby but also lifts to keep "tone". I merely tried pointing that she should concentrate on a strength routine that she wouldn't get all bulky from such and that's how it all started. I was just curious more on how to formulate a response to her that proves my point that the people she is talking to either don't understand her question or don't know the answer and are trying to make it look like they know what they are doing.


But if you think she is going to "get bulky" from what she is doing, you are wrong.


Its rather funny/sad how so many women have this notion that if they trained with heavy weights, they would suddenly transform into the incredible hulk. I'm sure every guy wished it were that quick and easy.

For whatever its worth to the OP, I helped a former co-worker lose 12 pounds (pretty good considering she was starting off at 112). She did a very basic 5x5 tbt 3 times a week for the first two months and then complexes for the third month. Her working weight on squats and deadlifts doubled in that time and she went from being unable to do a single chinup to doing 6. Oh, and she did next to no cardio during that period (not to say she wouldn't have experienced even better results had she done some). Of course with any weight loss plan, her diet was key.


Ha hell I know some guys who say that.. MAN i just want to tone up, no heavy weights for me! Some people at my school tell me that lol.


Where did this high rep=tone BS come from anyway in the first place?


I am just guessing but it is probably from the standpoint of those in the business of pleasing people with regard to training -- personal trainers, authors, inventors of programs and so forth -- successfully finding what worked in pleasing people.

Just from trial and error, surely someone found that encouraging a woman that doing a given thing was going to "tone" her muscles worked really well.

And of course it was found that with large numbers of women, it was a lot more successful (in terms of happy compliance, repeat business and so forth) to have them do lots of reps with lighter weights relative to their 1RM, not that 1RM was ever taken.

So naturally this would be combined that the training method that kept them happy had the result that they liked to hear, "toning" their muscles.


Sorry -should have specified that I didn't think she would get bulky from what she is doing because she takes in no where near the calories that would be required for that on top of having the hormonal differences from men that type2b was mentioning earlier.

Last night we went out with some friends - one of whom lifts and the other works at a physical therapists office and both of them were saying the same things that the lighter weight more reps "tones" and the low reps build strength which equated to more muscle and of course the one was quoting the doctor at her work and some other personal trainer she knew.

In any case thanks for the responses guys - I also found some additional info to explain my position from http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/training_for_maximal_size&cr


I thought that there was no such thing as toning a muscle? I thought you could make it bigger smaller or stay the same. Is there such a process as toning and if so what does it entail?


If a person is incredibly out of shape their muscles may have a low degree of tonus: that is to say, they are slack.

Tonus is the degree of resting tension. The muscles normally are not completely slack at rest.

So if a person's condition is so abnormally bad as to lack normal tonus, then training could improve that, which could logically be called toning.


OP - Low reps (1-5) are good for strength gains, 6-12 for hypertrophy (size), and high reps (15+) for muscle ENDURANCE. In other words, low reps/high weight make you stronger, but not necessarily larger. In the hypertrophy rep range, you will get bigger and stronger, you just won't make MAX strength gains (which explains why some bodybuilders are not as strong as they appear they would be).

If youâ??re an athlete whose primary goal is performance the majority of your training should take place in the 1-5 rep range to make you stronger/faster/powerful without the added bulk. If youâ??re a bodybuilder whose primary goal is mass, the majority of your training should take place in the 6-12 rep range. However, I cannot stress the importance of having a well rounded training program that includes all rep ranges, as they all serve important purposes.

I hope this helped a bit. Good luck with your GF =). You may recommend she pick up a M&F Hers the next time she's at the magazine stand. It's one of the only true training mags out there for females and it will never give you the "3x25 bicep curl with 3 lb pink dumbbells" bullshit that a lot of the other women's "fitness" magazines push. Also feel free to PM me if you need any other tips from a female perspective to bring her from the dark side =)


Ok, thanks for clearing that up. Doesn't sound like something a person should have to worry about really. But, who knows.


No pro bodybuilders are using "low weight" lol.