More Weight or More Reps: What Should I Focus on First?

No matter what your motive is to lift weights, your goal is the same as mine, or the person taking a selfie next to you: to progress. Your first instinct might just be to add more weight and lift harder, but increasing the reps is another option. Let’s figure out when each option is better.

By the time you need to think about weight gain or reps, you’ve realized that your body has adapted to what fitness circles call your current “training stimulus” – in other words, you’ve made progress. ! Unfortunately, as you know, the road to power is not a non-stop flight to a funky town.

Why Your Training Progress Is Slowing

Before answering the question “weight or reps first,” we need to face an elephant-sized nemesis in the gym: no progress or this neutral zone where your workouts seem easy enough, but you don’t get better after a while. or getting stronger. In fitness jargon, you’ve hit a plateau.

Basically, a plateau occurs when the stimulus that made you the last time you were better and stronger is no longer good enough. Of course, this usually goes away when you add more weight, more reps, or both – in fact, very easily if you’ve never lifted weights before. But our nemesis is a worthy opponent, and in the end, doing the same thing that worked before, doing the squats … and then you plateau again.

Plateaus happens for a variety of reasons, many of which we described earlier . Basically, you can blame your body for being so damn smart. Let’s assume that the other key drivers of continuous progress — sleep, general stress, and nutrition — are all coarse and under control. This leaves the following opportunities to reach the plateau:

  • You are not exercising enough : Limiting effort and intensity, your training volume, or the total amount of “work” done is another factor that can hold you back. Most beginner programs are aimed at building up your base gradually, mostly with fewer exercises and total sets and reps. As a beginner, you lack the abilityto do more , whichresearch published in theJournal of Strength & Conditioning Research shows helps you gain more strength and muscle while recovering and coping adequately from exercise. It took Uber strength athletes years to develop such high performance. As Lifehacker longtime contributor and strength trainer Greg Knuckles says in his article on Ripped Body , “You can do more work, so you can do more work, so you can benefit (more size and strength) from more work.”
  • You Exercise Too Much : On the other hand, you may be doing too much for your body to be unable to recover. What to expect? Greg explains: “As you get stronger, training becomes more metabolic-intensive. This can cause fatigue during the workout itself, causing you to have problems performing workouts and reduce the quality of your workout later in the workout. It also has a direct impact on recovery — it’s just harder to recover from a few work sets when your shape is out of shape and you have to dig deeper to get the last couple of reps done week after week. “
  • Your training program is too complicated for you : this reason sounds almost illogical, doesn’t it? The general consensus is that the more advanced the workout, the greater the progress. (“Damn it, if Arnold trained like that, I would too to be like him!”) But the problem is, if you haven’t exercised for very long, your body is not yet professional enough to exercise to really benefit. Moreover, if you use advanced techniques straight away, you will have more limited options for changing things when it comes time for the ninja to come out of the plateau.

You can see that making constant progress is not as easy as saying “put on weight” or “add more reps.”

So is it weights first or reps first?

Now, to answer the question itself, should I change the weight or reps first? Actually, this is primarily a form.

No, this is not an excuse.

Here’s the thing: Maintaining the correct form of exercise is paramount if you want to make sure your muscles are really working out , keep your workout productive, and minimize the risk of injury . However, they quickly fly out of the window when you put in heavy weights that you are not used to. Depending on the load, your form contracts, forcing you to move with the grace of tap dancing on the ice of the Silverback gorilla. After all, it is one thing to learn to move well with light weight (or body weight), but it is quite another thing to move just as well with additional weight.

So, if keeping in shape is your top priority, and overweight is getting in your way, then you should focus on changing the number of repetitions or repetition patterns, first in an attempt to push progress (finally, the Answer!).

So, reps first, then weight . The same is true for this hypothetical situation where your training program requires 6-8 repetitions of squats. Here you should aim to hit the higher limit of the rep range (8 reps) in good shape before moving on to higher weights . Conversely, if you can hit 8 reps by browsing Twitter in between, then yes, you can add more weight (this is called double progression).

This all stems from the idea of ​​increasing the volume of training and doing more work in order to get more work done. Greg adds:

As a rule, gaining weight for as long as you can do it is a good solution. But when you hit a plateau, you usually need to decrease weight and increase sets, reps, or both. It’s kind of a gimmick. If you’ve hit a plateau by not exercising hard enough before, that (volume increase) will inherently give you more stimulus. If you plateau because the workout was too hard to recover, higher volume will improve your performance (ability to recover from exercise), setting you up for greater progress when you return to adding weight later. It’s not always fun. As you build up your performance, you will likely feel exhausted and likely not to notice a noticeable increase in strength due to the accumulated fatigue, but it will be worth it when you step out on the other side.

This probably means that you need to reduce the weight of the exercise in order to be able to do more reps or sets, and that’s okay because that’s the idea.

Both solutions help prepare your body for new stressors, yes, but what happens in a couple of months or years? Be careful not to change too much, too early at once.

Better to change a little than to change a lot

I don’t play sports, but I bet you would like to be able to lift weights and enjoy your strength and mobility in your later years. If that’s true, then chasing those numbers is a dangerous game. This not only makes you prone to injury, but also hurts long-term progress.

As trainee fitness trainer and author Lyle MacDonald of Body Recomposition points out in this great beginner article :

If one goes straight to high volume or advanced teaching methods, they later run into problems when they really need to increase something. If the volume is already high, it is difficult, if not impossible, to increase it further. And if advanced techniques are used too early, there will be nothing left to break the plateau when they arise later.

In other words, the one goal of all training should always be to get the maximum adaptation / performance gain with the minimum amount of training.

In other words, you’re better off changing things slowly, bit by bit, than rolling out all the stops and running out of wiggle room too quickly, too early. This means that if you are messing with something, do it conservatively or change only one thing. In the context of this article, this means that you should focus on changing either the number of repetitions or weight in the first place, and in smaller amounts. Capiche?

Putting it all together

So what does the correct setting look like in a workout that’s already outdated?

Greg gives a few pointers here in his article and adds that, in essence, you are trying to change the number of repetitions first. When you are no longer making noticeable progress, try another method – gain weight. Then go back to repetitions to repeat the cycle. Note that you do not need to do the same number of reps and sets for every workout. You can choose a periodization method or alternate low and high repetitions of the same exercise.

Remember, our main goal is to make progress and become stronger, more alert, and faster over a period of time (maybe weeks, months, or years). Another benefit of changing reps first, as Lyle points out, is that you avoid being overwhelmed and do what is achievable, helping you get back to the gym long enough to become a habit. And this is the most important thing in the world.


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