Will low reps get you strong?

A lot of people who we see on a day to day basis often have the same burning question when it comes to lifting: “Will high weight and low reps make you stronger?” The answer to this question is more complicated than you might think. Here, we’re going to have a look at this in a bit of depth, but take note that this article mainly applies to compound exercises, such as your bench press or squat.

High Weight

Firstly, we have to define what is actually meant by high weight. For most of you reading this, you may think that a 150kg squat is really heavy, in fact its likely too much for you to lift. If we then asked some competitive power lifters what they thought of lifting that weight, then the chances are they’ll laugh and tell us 150kg is “nothing but a peanut”.

What we’re trying to get across here is that the phrase high weight is simply relative to what you can lift: if you have a bench press PR of 100kg, then chances are that a heavy weight for you is 75kg or more. On the other hand, if you can bench 200kg (don’t worry, we’re talking hypothetically) then a heavy weight for you is likely to be 150kg or more.

To sum this up:

  • A heavy weight is relative to your own strength
  • It is typically at least 75% of your PR (or one rep max)

So does this mean you should train at 75% or 100% of your PR? Well you ideally want to be training within that range, sometimes nearer 75% and sometimes very close to your PR. Like with most things, variety is the spice of life, and the key to getting stronger.

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Low reps

So you’ve heard from your local gym rat that low reps is the way to go for getting strong: only bodybuilders lift for high reps and they’re all weak. Now we won’t lie to you, there is some truth in this, but again we need to explore it a little bit more. Most people in the gym, which probably includes you, like to train for at least 10 reps. They love to train for that pump and feel the burn: sadly, it’s not really going to get them or you much stronger.

Most scholars out there agree that the rep ranges you choose will benefit you in different ways

  • 1-5 Reps: Strength
  • 6-8 Reps: Strength and Hypertrophy
  • 9-12 Reps: Hypertrophy
  • Higher Reps: Endurance

As you can see, the two areas which are best for promoting strength are the 1-5 and 6-8 rep ranges. Now we imagine that most of you reading this probably weren’t aware that 8 reps could be good for building strength as it doesn’t really seem low, so hopefully this clears things up for you.

Now, like we said with the weight you should be using, you should be mixing up your rep ranges as well. Putting two and two together, we can see that there’s a pretty obvious link that arises: you aren’t going to be lifting 95% of your one rep max for 8 reps. There’s also not much point in trying to lift 80% of your one rep max for 2 reps as it will be far too easy. Which leads us on to our final point

How many reps for a given weight

  • 1 rep = 100%
  • 2 reps = 92-95%
  • 3 reps = 90-93%
  • 4 reps = 87-90%
  • 5 reps = 85-87%
  • 6 reps = 82-85%
  • 7 reps = 80-83%
  • 8 reps = 75-80%

Note: This is estimated and can vary depending on your levels of endurance. It is however a very good indicator for how much weight you should be lifting depending on your recommended number of reps.


We hope that we’ve now cleared up for what exactly is meant by high weight low reps and you can make some educated decisions on how much weight you should be lifting. Like we said, you should eventually use a variety of rep ranges to achieve your goals and become a stronger person. If you are after a programme to help start you out, check out the EHF Beginner Programme, which is full of information and guidance.

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What Does “Toning” Really Mean?

Why do you work out? What is your main fitness goal?

If you answered either of those questions with “To tone up” then you’ve got the same goal as 90% of the fitness conscious population. If we then asked all of you “What does toning up actually mean?” then things start to get a little sticky. Most of you will struggle to come up with an answer, and if you have an answer it’s probably different to the next guys. This might sound strange but that’s because the word tone is just a massive fitness-industry buzzword.

Saying you want to tone up says a lot but means very little. If you want to get toned you probably don’t want to build muscle. Are we right? Well a simple fact that seems to go against mainstream thinking, is that you have to have muscle to even looked toned. But you probably don’t want to build muscle, that’s only for bodybuilders isn’t it? Wrong. If you want to look like one of those guys and girls on the front of the fitness magazines, or the latest Calvin Klein model, you need to build muscle. If you didn’t build any muscle then the only aesthetic change that you would experience with exercise would be fat loss. This would ultimately lead to you being thin and unhealthy with no curves, bum (or biceps) and we know that’s not what you want.


So what should your goal be?

Instead of just saying you want to “tone up”, you should sit down and consider exactly what it is that you want to achieve. Do you want to be able to run further and faster, deadlift double your weight or look more athletic? Whatever your ultimate goal is, you need to work out what steps you will need to take to in order to hit it. For the vast majority of you wanting a toned look it will involve adding on muscle and then eating healthily to try and cut some fat. You will also need an exercise regime to help you get there. Consider checking out our beginner workout programme to set you on your way. Suitable for both males and females its the perfect start to your fitness journey.

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Toning is not the only fitness buzzword that means nothing and causes confusion. Another example is the much discussed “functional fitness” but that’s for another article. Make sure you hit the follow button below so you don’t miss out!

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