Do High Reps Get You Toned?


“High reps, low weight makes you toned and heavy weight, low reps make you muscly.” I’m surprised as you are that muscly is an actual word. Anyway, this statement, commonly assumed by many people, is a bit more complicated than you think. Kind of like your high school crush that likes all of your Instagram pictures and texts you smiling emoji faces, so you think she has a crush on you, but when you confront her you find out you have been shoveled so deep in the friend zone that even Stanley Yelnats can’t get you out. Yes, that was a total run on sentence and a reference to Holes, that if you caught, virtual high five.

Here are some helpful tidbits of information to know about this topic.

  1. Before we dive in, it’s hard to define what are high/low reps. A nice general reference for the sake of this article can be 1-5 reps is for building strength, 8-12 for increasing muscle size, and 15-20 reps for increasing muscular endurance.
  2. A definition of the word toned: an increase in muscle tissue and a low percentage of body fat to see the definition/shape of the muscle. The road to becoming toned (gaining muscle and losing fat) involves several different factors and can be achieved in different ways. High or low reps can achieve muscle growth, as long as the effort is equal.
  3. What do I mean by equal effort?
    • Let’s say you’re doing 3 sets of both styles, heavy weight/low reps (HW/LR) and high reps/light weight (HR/LW). You’re curling 45lbs for 5 reps (HW/LR). Equal effort is putting the same amount of energy you put into those 5 reps with ‘heavy weight’, with a lighter weight and more reps.
  4. To reiterate this point, to become “toned”, you have to burn fat in the area. You can burn fat by either method, most import thing, is to exert yourself and use up energy #caloricdeficit.
  5. Doing heavy weight/low reps (HR/LW) does seem to have a greater effect on your muscular endurance.
  6. That said, doing HR/LW does not mean you don’t exert yourself. Yes, it’s lighter weight, but you better be doing a lot of reps to the point you have muscular exhaustion at the end.
  7. The best way to increase your strength is by heavy weight/low reps (HW/LR).
    • An easy way to simplify this is by understanding that you will get better at what you do more. This is a totally “no duh” statement, but think about it. If you want to gain more strength, your body needs to push heavier weight (which will naturally force you to do less reps). If you want to increase your muscular endurance, you will need to pick a weight in which you are able to execute a lot of repetitions (which will naturally be less weight).
  8. So which way burns more fat?
    • Whichever way forces you to exert more energy and burn more calories. So whether you do LW/HR or HW/LR if you’re not pushing yourself, you’re not going to see results. Other factors also matter, such as rest time. To maximize fat burning, you will have to lessen rest periods to keep your heart rate up. The expense will be you will not be able to lift
  9. Most important point: incorporate BOTH in your workouts.
    • One is not necessarily superior than the other. Both should be incorporated into a workout regimen. Generally, by incorporating both styles, you can achieve the 3 main goals of weight lifting: increasing strength, increasing muscular endurance, and decreasing body fat. Oh, and looking jacked and Instagraming it #nofilter #whyyoulyin’ #obviouslyafilter. So that’s 4 goals.
  10. To summarize
    • High reps can get you toned…but so can low reps with heavy weight. You get toned by building muscle and losing fat. Both ways can accomplish this.
    • Both styles can cause muscle growth, as long as the effort is equal.
    • Both styles can cause fat loss, as long as the effort is equal.
    • HR/LW helps more with muscle endurance.
    • HW/LR is required for increasing strength.
    • Incorporate both styles into your workout.

      I hope I didn’t leave you confused. If you have any questions or if anything is unclear please feel free to drop a question in the comment section.

      Jones N. The New Approach to Training Volume. StrengthTheory; 2015 May 12.

      Shoenfeld BJ, Wilson JM, Lowery RP, Krieger JW. Muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load resistance training: A meta-analysis. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016 Feb;16(1):1-10. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.989922. Epub 2014 Dec 20. (website link for summary:


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