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How Many Reps Should I Do to Burn Fat? (An Expert's Opinion)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 25, 2022

When it comes to fat burning, every person with elementary knowledge about fitness knows that strength training plays an important role in losing weight.

Not a single weight-loss workout program I’ve ever made in my long coaching career misses weight training.

Still, one of the most common questions revolves around the number of reps optimal for weight loss.

Since that depends on so many different factors, I conducted in-depth 3-week research to find the science and experts say.

Check out my findings.

Quick Summary

  • How many reps you should do to trigger fat loss depends on different factors but generally speaking, a range between 8-12 sets or above is considered adequate.
  • High reps workout plans demand better perseverance and motivation since burning sensations during final reps could be intense.
  • Therefore, you should combine high reps with heavy lifting and cardio to maintain a metabolically active body and attain optimal results.

How Many Reps Should You Aim for Fat Loss?

Woman lifting a barbell

You should aim for 8-12 repetitions for fat loss. However, this number depends on the factors like your fitness level and how you perform the reps.

Generally, a number of reps higher than 12 is believed to stimulate muscle fibers that provide endurance; 6-12 reps should trigger muscle hypertrophy, whereas 1-5 reps are considered to stimulate muscle fibers that create strength.

The number that is optimal for weight loss depends on your fitness level, above all.

Novice

If your fitness level is a novice, you should opt for one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions - a number the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends [1].

You should perform this by hitting major muscle groups (arms, legs, core, chest, and back) twice a week, avoiding training the same muscle groups daily, and providing them a full-day rest.

Advanced

If your fitness level is advanced, you should know that high rep training doesn’t mean you should exclusively use light weights and stick firmly to recommended reps and sets.

It means you should train (almost) to failure hitting higher rep thresholds with light to moderate loads to reach the goal of effective body fat loss.

Those high reps usually count between 10-20, extending even to the 20-30 range. This high reps number requires a load that leads to muscular failure. 

Therefore, if you choose a weight that allows you to do more than 30 reps without failure, you are probably using too light of a weight that probably won’t provide optimal benefits.

What Are the Drawbacks?

A person holding a kettlebell

Lifting weights to burn fat with high reps and sets or muscle failure can be debilitating and challenging, so you should prepare yourself because this weight loss journey isn’t plain sailing.

More reps mean more time consumed, more concentration required, and more sweat produced.

While it’s easy to perform fewer reps correctly, the burn you experience reaching the 20th or 30th rep challenges your concentration and form, making you want to quit.

Therefore, to prevent this, your workout plan shouldn’t consist solely of light weights and high reps to lose weight.

Should I Combine High Reps With Other Workout Plans?

Woman lifting a barbell

You should combine high reps with other workout plans like low-rep heavy weights or cardio since they can support your metabolism and help you avoid the plateau.

Strength Training Combination

Resistance training that combines lifting heavy weights and lighter weights may be an even more effective combination to burn fat.

Lifting lighter weights in high reps will build muscular endurance, while heavier weights will help you build strength and preserve muscle mass.

If you aren’t a novice, you could make this combination by performing drop sets or supersets where reaching the higher rep range is achieved by starting with a heavy weight for moderate reps and then switching to a lower weight once you reach failure.

This weight training program will keep you in high-intensity condition for a more extended period to generate a strong metabolic demand and muscle hypertrophy simultaneously.

One study suggests that low load high repetitions and heavy load low reps are evenly effective when the intensity of high load resistance training is pulled near or to technical failure [2].

Based on this study, we can assume both weightlifting methods provide similar weight training benefits.

“Ideally, I suggest weight training three times per week, as this frequency has been shown to be an effective strategy when it comes to muscle building and fat loss.”

- Eric Bowling, CPT, Personal Trainer at Ultimate Performance

Overall, lifting weights is an excellent way to lose weight as half an hour of lifting can burn from 90 to 133 calories. Vigorous-intensity strength training can burn even more, ranging from 180 to 266 calories in half an hour [3].

Related: Best Exercises for Losing Weight

Cardio Combination

Woman doing cardio exercises on a treadmill

Cardio makes a great addition to strength training if you consider that muscle tissue needs time to rest and recover before you hit it again.

Muscles don't need the same type of rest during cardio as they do between strength training sessions. So, you can burn calories while resting specific muscle groups.

On the other hand, you should be aware that too much cardio can impact your muscle mass, strength, and muscle retention besides fat tissue.

“Cardio can be done every day if it’s low-intensity; the higher the intensity, the less frequently you can perform it.”

- Eric Bowling, CPT, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance

Therefore, maybe the best type of cardio would be a quick HIIT cardio workout for fat loss that can increase aerobic performance and explosiveness while preserving or building lean muscle mass [4].

No matter the combination you pick for weight loss, make sure to avoid overtraining and give your body enough time to rest, as vigorous workouts are effective to a certain extent, after which they can become counterproductive.

FAQs

Should I Do More Reps or More Weight For Fat Loss?

For fat loss, it’s almost equally important to lift heavy with low reps and light weights with high reps as both types contribute to the goal in a specific way.

Lifting heavy weights will help you retain energy-hungry muscles and maintain strength as much as you can while in the cutting phase, whereas lifting high reps with light weights will help you lower your body fat percentage and look leaner.

Is 20 Reps Too Much?

Around 20 reps and anything greater than that number of reps may be considered too much except for beginners who are getting used to proper exercise form.

In all other cases, 20 reps will probably have diminishing results or be a sign that you are using too light of a weight.

Repetition for Body’s Definition?

High reps with a lighter weight could be a very effective way to burn fat, but it could become debilitating and ineffective over a longer period.

Therefore, strength training should consist of both heavy and light weights in different repetition ranges to reap the most benefit.

Furthermore, strength training should be supported with cardio workouts and high-quality fat-burners to enhance calorie deficit and accelerate your fitness goals.

Lastly, don’t forget that abs are made in the kitchen, so without proper nutrition (and supplements), exercises alone won’t give any results. You can check out our article where we analyzed the best weight loss supplements on the market.


References:

  1. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  2. https://www.scirp.org/html/28182.html
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights
  4. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2010/03000/Relationship_Between_Anthropometric_and.9.aspx

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