Best Rep Range for Fat Loss

October 4th, 2007 by Paul Johnson

Bodybuilders have long argued whether, heavy weight low reps or lower weight higher reps for your weight training routine, is better during a cutting cycle.

The arguments:

One group advocates heavy weights because they believe that it will help preserve lean muscle during low calorie dieting. The more muscle they believe, will also help keep the metabolism higher, which automatically slows during cutting.

The other side advocates that heavy weight is too much and can lead to overtraining, causing more harm than good. They also believe the high reps with quick repetitions, lead to metabolic and hormonal changes such as Growth Hormone production, that help aid in fat loss.

Who is right?

There is only one study I found comparing rep ranges of resistance training on calorie burning. It was published in 2001 Thornton, K., et al. A comparison of two different resistance-training intensities on exercise energy expenditure and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.. One group of females did 2 sets of 15 repetitions on 9 excercises. The 2nd group did 2 sets of 8 repetitions for 9 excercises. The study concluded the low repetition group had burned more calories post excercise than the high rep group.

Another study I find relevant is Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1990;61(1-2):37-41. They showed that endurance resistance training for a few weeks reversed all the hypertrophy gains from a few weeks worth of heavy strength training.

Trying to make your weight training workouts more "cardio like" with less weight and higher reps, is faulty logic to me anyways. On one hand you are trying to stimulate your muscles to preserve them, yet you are also not giving them what they need to be stimulated adequately. People who do high reps during fat loss, are trying to stimulate the most fat burning, while maintaining their muscle simulataneously. Sorry, you can't have your cake and eat it too. One is going to have to be sacrificed for the sake of the other. The higher reps is going to cost you muscle, due to the lack of stimulus. If you believe that high reps light weight and short rest maintains muscle, then tell that to any 220 lb muscle bound bodybuilder and he will laugh in your face. If muscle is important to you, then lift heavy.

The argument in response of course to this argument will be, that you are then susceptible to overtraining from doing heavier weights while in a calorie deficit. This may be true if you keep your workout volume the same, but you should have a much lower volume workout routine anyways. The goal should be to only briefly stimulate the muscles with a heavy weight. Your goal is not to build them up or give them a "good workout". You will not overtrain if your weight training is heavy, but very brief. You should also focus on the major compound excercises and eliminate isolation excercises.

One heavy exhausting set on a muscle part, should be adequate in helping to maintain muscle, during cutting. For some reason everyone seems to think you have to hit the muscle 3 sets just to stimulate it when cutting. With all the cardio and the low calories, that is a recipe for overtraining and more muscle loss than is necessary. Just do one or 2 sets and move on. Drop all isolations out too, they aren't necessary to maintain muscle. Even the common 3 day split is overkill during cutting I believe. A 2 day split, one day upper and one lower body should be all that is necessary to get the muscles worked out enough.

  1. rohit on November 29th, 2008

    what should be the no of reps for professional bodybuilders while gaining cycle as well as for cutting cycle.. ,, for maintaing muscle when off from cycles’s

  2. james pound on March 13th, 2010

    “Trying to make your weight training workouts more “cardio like” with less weight and higher reps, is faulty logic to me anyways. On one hand you are trying to stimulate your muscles to preserve them, yet you are also not giving them what they need to be stimulated adequately”.

    yeah tell Serge Nubret and other bodybuilders who only did high reps.if you do curls with 10lbs dumbbells not much will happen.but many people can still use a substantial with when doing high reps.and it’s easier on the joints(heart/aorta) than those wrecking low reps.

  3. james pound on March 13th, 2010

    I’m talking about the 12 to 20 rep range here.