High Reps / Low Weight Vs. Low Reps / High Weight.

Which is better: Light weights and high reps or heavy weights and low reps? Well, it depends on your goals.

But first things first, let’s define low and high reps. A “rep” is one repetition of an exercise. For example, if you do three push-ups, you just performed 3 reps. Low reps are anywhere from the 6 to 10 range – that is, performing 6 – 10 push-ups, presses, curls, etc. High reps are anything including and above 10, usually the 10 to 15 range.

High Reps / Low Weight

Some trainers (i.e., Tracey Anderson) are big fans of using light weights performed at high reps. The truth is, it depends on the goals of the client. If you can curl a dumbbell 15 times, for example, the weight is generally too light to actually break down your muscle fibers. It is the body’s repairing of muscle fibers that builds muscle – so high reps will do little to increase muscle mass. On the other hand, high reps will get your heart pumping and a cardio effect occurs and you’ll burn calories and fat. In addition, high reps build muscle endurance which helps muscles work under stress. If you’re training for a triathlon, for example, high reps and light weights could be very useful. 10 – 15 is generally considered high rep.

Low Reps / High Weight

Lifting heavier weights at lower reps is the best method for building muscle mass. Increased muscle mass boosts metabolism and heavier lifting increases bone strength. There a lot of great benefits here, but again, it depends on the goals of the client. In general, you should select a weight that fatigues your muscles (in other words, you can’t do one more rep) in 6 – 10 repetitions.

The bottom line: Which is better? It depends on your goals. If you want to build muscle endurance and get some cardio, then high reps of low weights are for you. If you’re looking to increase your muscle mass, boost your metabolism and strengthen your bones, low reps of higher weights are your cup of tea.

Questions? Leave ’em in the comments, below.

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. Did i tell you how much i love you? This is exactly what i wanted to know! Thank you

  2. Low reps are definitely my cup of tea and I hope to build muscle mass as fast as I can. ; )

  3. First, thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! It was very helpful. My question kinda piggybacks (hehehe) off of this topic. I’m a skinny dude with a gut and some, what I call excess body fat. I have 2 major goals in the next 6 months to a year: (1) Lose the gut/fat and tone up and (2) Get a little bigger…in that order.

    That said, which plan would be best for me? The high reps/low weight, or low reps/high weight? The jury (my friends) seems to be out on that one. Also, I don’t belong to a gym. All I have are 2 30lb dumbbells and my handy Wii Fit disk, lol. Again, for the moment, my main goal is to get rid of the gut/fat and tone this hot bod up! Whaddya think I should do? Any help is very appreciated.

    Thanx a bunch, dude! 🙂

    • Without free weights, the high/low question is a bit irrelevant to you. You’ll have to stick to using your own body weight as resistance. Fear not – you can get fabulous results (my entire Total Body Assault program is equipment-free). Having said that, you’ll also need to do cardio. Cardio, strength training and nutrition are what you’ll need to reach your goals!

    • I was in the same situation – tall and thin, not overweight but definitely some excess fat around my middle which just looked silly on my small frame. For me cardio was the big thing – my mantra was “keep moving.” Even if it’s just going for a 20 minute walk instead of sitting on the couch at home. Of course, more intense cardio (swimming, running, biking) will make things happen faster, but just remembering to keep moving helped me.

      As far as weights, that would depend on how much you currently exercise. I hadn’t ever really “worked out” so I started light just to see what I could do, and where my trouble spots were, and then progressed from there as I got stronger. Some things I still use the lighter weights for and some I use heavier. Just play around and see what kind of results you get. The best method is whatever works for you.

    • What if I want toning

  4. Benjamin says:

    wow this is extremely useful thanks davey

  5. What work out do you use?

  6. Oh cool! Thanks for clarifying this! When I was doing track, we were instructed to do both high reps, low weight and low reps, high weight depending on days and now I know why! 🙂

  7. Well this might sound stupid, but just wanted to make sure… I definitely want to add size thus I do the low reps/ high weight combo. My question is, is that the best way to increase strength too? Thanx! 😀

  8. O.k. I am basically low rep/
    high rep at this point…so
    here is what that looks like:
    I lift XX pounds 6-10 times,
    pause and then do it again
    and again, so 3 sets times
    6-10 reps…are you saying
    to build mass, it should
    be 1 set times 6-10 reps
    instead or am I on the right

  9. Zeeshan Parvez says:

    Sweet and simple. Exactly what the doctor ordered. Your post answers the question in such a concise way that it is amazing. Thanks!

  10. I want to build my pectoral muscles
    as i have very low muscles on my upper chest (almost nil)
    help me, hw can i grow those in very short period

  11. How would a big but semi-muscular guy train to have a build like taylor lautner? Do you believe high reps low weights will make him leaner but still strong too?

  12. Valuable information. Lucky me I found your site unintentionally, and I’m stunned why this coincidence didn’t happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  13. For low reps/high weight how many sets should you do? Ive always been told 3. Is that okay?

  14. I know, but how many sets?

  15. Richard says:

    Quite simply put, very helpful

    Thank you

  16. Im looking to turn the little bit of a podge i have into pure muscle which would b better for me?? I eat well & im using HENCH WHEY protien shakes

  17. Daniela says:

    I do a lunge workout 2x/week. I start out with 48 lunges and immediately do 20 glute kickbacks and a 30 second wall sit. Repeat that 3 times and I’m done… Over the past few weeks, however, I feel like I’m seeing zero progress. For how many lunges I’m doing, I thought I’d start to see some changes when I looked at my legs! My question is this: How can I start to feel/see a difference without increasing the weight and lowering the reps??? I LOATHE bulky legs and do not want to build any muscle mass to my thighs. Should I further increase the reps and further lower the weight?


  18. fhenry44 says:

    How about alternating between the two say for example one week of Low Reps/Hi Weight and then the next week Hi Reps/Low Weight?


  19. love this, exactly what i wanted to know! <3

  20. Firstly, around 15 to 20 is medium reps. High reps start at 20 and can go anywhere into 40, 50, 60 …

    Secondly, to get the benefit from higher weights and lower reps, you only have to do that exercise infrequently. Say, once a week.

    What do you do the rest of the time? You should build a base by doing lots and lots of reps with lighter weights! You need that to do a better job with the heavier weights. Plus all those reps will stimulate fat burning in your body.

    It’s the pyramid principle and is done in every sport. For example, 400m runners don’t simply run 400m reps. They do a lot of lighter running over long distances. AND heavy squats, at least during some periods in their training.

  21. Ok question, say I was training to actually decrease muscle mass will high rep low weights work ? If so how many reps and how should I be dieting because I know nutrition also plays a big part. Thanks

  22. am skinny and i want to get musclier and show my pecks off bigger bi seps and that so will i do heavier weights with like 3 sets of 10 reps ?

  23. Dear Davey. I am 24 and weight 100 kg and i am 1,81 cm
    i do 30 minutes of running on treadmill and 20 minutes on bicycle
    everday. do u think that high reps of lifting weight will tone my shape
    and increase my muscle mass as well thanks in advance

  24. I am trying to increase the amount if push-ups I can do to help with army training. I’m 5’9 and 180 lbs. most of my muscle is in my legs so my upper body is rather lacking. I read that lifting a light weight until muscle fatigue will help with this. Currently I am curling 8lbs per arm for 300 reps. Is this helping at all with my goal of increasing my amount of push-ups?


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