3 Ways High-Rep Lifting Can Improve Your Routine

In general, I am one to separate exercises done with high repetition and low weights from those done for maximal strength (high weights and low reps). This is mainly for two reasons: The first is because, when training novices don’t know proper form, I prefer to have these people reduce their repetitions to avoid risk of injury. The second reason, which I apply both to trainees and myself, is simply due to the fact that most people have jobs, school, family or some combination of all three of these, they are not capable of spending multiple hours a day in training.

With all of that being said, there is a place for increasing repetitions of in your arsenal of weightlifting knowledge and tricks. More specifically, there are three reasons that I am aware of, and if there are any more, do inform me:

1. Increasing Muscular Stamina

This is the use of increasing repetitions that you are most likely familiar with: doing more repetitions to increase your capability of doing even more repetitions. To be more accurate, increasing the amount of repetitions done will cause a build-up of lactic acid that the body will gradually become more tolerant to. This, combined with the build-up of “slow-burning” red oxidative muscles (As discussed in a previous article), will increase muscular endurance—which is to say, the amount of time that the muscle being used can be exerted to some degree. Increasing muscular endurance will increase the amount of time that any muscular exertion will last, from the lightest exertion to the maximum.


To accomplish this, you can use weights, but I find that doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and bridges, as well as martial arts practice, works sufficiently for purposes of muscular endurance. However, weights can be used in high repetitions for purposes of strength and mass training, and this is where the odd-seeming title comes from:

2. “Greasing The Groove”

Greasing the groove is, essentially, doing repeated repetitions of lifts to increase strength in the long term. In the words of Pavel Tsatsouline, “As your grandmother should have told you, if you want to increase your ability to do something, you ought to do a lot of that.” The mechanism of this can be done exactly like the first subheading, but I think you’ll find that doing multiple sets of your one-rep maximum weight is going to result in, at best, rapidly deteriorating form and crippling injury at worst. You could decrease the amount of weight done, but that sort of defeats the purpose of building pure strength, which “greasing the groove” can do (increasing and decreasing weight will be discussed in the next and final subheading).

Greasing the groove is a variant technique that you can do to increase the amount of repetitions of your “one rep maximum” (and yes, I understand the paradox of that statement), and it is a technique that actual professional weightlifters use—both Olympic style and powerlifting style.

This technique involves doing a high-weight low rep routine as is typical for strength training, but increasing the number of sets, rather than the amount of repetitions within sets. To begin, get up fairly early in the morning, and after getting some breakfast in your stomach, do a few heavy lifts—no more than 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps. Then go relax for a bit,  and when you’re up to it, do a few more lifts—again a few sets of 1-2 reps. Then eat lunch, wait a few more hours, and then—you guessed it—do a few more lifts.  And that is all. As you can see, this routine organizes itself very well around the eating of three square meals a day; I’m not really a fan of that “grazing cow, six meals a day” stuff.

Thus, throughout the day, you will have done 18-24 repetitions of your one rep maximum, or a weight pretty close to it. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. The problem with this method is, of course, that you need to set aside your whole day to utilize it, and this is not practical for most people. Still, as it is a legitimate technique utilized by people whose trade it is to lift heavy things over their head, it is worth knowing. Perhaps you can do a truncated version of it—do a few sets, take a break for 10-20 minutes, and then another set to call it a day.

clean and jerk

3. Increase Size And Strength Through Gradual Decreases

While this technique is hindered by a lack of a catchy name, it is a useful one for those who want to build both strength and a statuesque physique: Referencing the works of Pavel Tsatsouline again, his Power to the People book refers to incidences of Spetsnaz commanders in Afghanistan having so-called “Hollywood Units” of hulking, chiseled muscle men to satisfy the inspectors from Moscow. These men trained to be both big and physically capable by—again—increasing their repetitions. But in a different way then the second subheading here:

Begin with one set of your one rep maximum, with no more than 2-3 reps. Then drop 5 pounds and do another set of 2-3 reps. Then drop another 5 pounds. And another, and so on and so forth. You can literally do this exercise until you’re just lifting the bar. With this technique, you will be training your one rep max, as well as doing a massive amount of repetitions, developing both size and strength.

The downside to this technique is, again, that it basically kills your entire day. But if it was good enough to satisfy Moscow Center, it should be good enough for you should you choose to use it.

In conclusion, I must admit I only do the first of these techniques for bodyweight exercises. However, as numerous professional lifters swear by these tactics, and they require literally no training once you’ve learned proper form and technique, you might want to try them out.

Read More: How To Train Your Body For Strength Versus Endurance

36 thoughts on “3 Ways High-Rep Lifting Can Improve Your Routine”

  1. I think that last technique you mention is called stripping. At least, that’s what we called it back in the day (1980’s). Not sure if that is an idiosyncratic term, but I think I read it in a bodybuilding book way back when.

    1. confirm stripping. At least that is what arnold calls it …. stip sets….when someone tells me they know better than arnold i will judge the merit as i see it.

      1. They are also called drop.sets.since you drop the weight and keep going each time you stall.

        1. I was under the impression that there was a slight difference in that a drop set you will finish your reps, drop weight and go to failure, drop weight go to failure, etc etc etc
          But that in a strip set there was a finite number of reps like finish your 5×5 then drop weight and do 5 drop weight and do 5 etc etc
          A subtle difference but in the strip set you will get to a point where you are not lifting to failure and not so in the drop set.
          Of course, other people may use them differently or interchangabky. This is only how I’ve always known it.

  2. As long as you are taking your kratom, not doing cardio, and posting to social media every time you go to the gym you shouldn’t have to worry about this extra stuff…

  3. I am not generally a fan through high number set ranges. That said, I do like to do them once every two weeks or so (fortnight incase GOJ is lurking). Also, if I am feeling something is off with my form on a big lift I will deload and basically do it until I drop. 135 deadlifts….yup…until you can do that shit in your sleep and then in a few days put the weight back on.
    That said, the general rule I like to follow is heavy weight, low to medium set range and as much protein as I can eat. You know it is heavy enough when you do a two rep set on a compound lift and when you re rack you realize you are sweating like a whore in church.

  4. By the way, Larsen, Your comment about time is really funny. The marriage of high and low reps, the arnold blue print to mass, was fun and, I think, the perfect intermediary lifting program. I still do it maybe once a year just because it is a good bench mark to see my numbers. But man, some of those workouts took 3 hours.

  5. Nice Article Larsen! Number 1 has been my go to for obvious reasons but haven’t even thought of choice two in years. Funny enough building muscle and strength this way was my go to when I was a teen. Might be time to return to that. Number three was a hypothetical discussion I was having with a gym buddy, which he thought didn’t work. I’ll test it and share results if any, but so far my gains have been showing. Keep up the informative articles! I want all kinds of gains this summer. All kinds.

  6. I’ve counted to 12 more than any employee working for a beverage company. More reps gives makes the muscle be higher quality, and increase your stamina and endurance and will pay dividends in anything else you do. Though i don’t do low reps or max reps I find that my max, on the occasion that I do it, compared to my body weight is just as good as anyone doing lower reps. People who do low reps only do it to show off or are some sort of body builder.
    better muscle quality
    less injury
    more dividends outside the gym

    1. I’m thinking of going this route myself more and more lately. The main reason is that I’m not much of an eater at all. And I don’t want to be. I know that I have to be but it’s not happening, so I’m starting to realize that my workout should match my diet. The low rep guys who continually progress must also be the ’12 egg whites’ before bed types or whatever extraordinary amounts of protein they take in. A light eater should be in the upper rep ranges. Thoughts?

      1. I dont subscribe to the diet BS though maybe now that Im 30 I should.
        It comes down to this: If you’re hungry you’ll eat and if you’re eating and you’re not getting full then eat meat because thats what your body is craving.

  7. I’m a fan of stronglifts.com. It’s not so much that this is a revolutionary thing, but the site is alright. It’s basically just heavy compound lifts with few sets. As heavy as you can lift, you weekly add weights. Not complicated. I did low weight high rep for years in that program called Bodypump. It’s alright for your stamina, but you won’t develop real strength.

    1. I use it, but as my training due to work is a bit sporadic I can’t train 3 times a week. Other than that it’s a good system and I’ve noticed some great gains, even if it takes me 3 times as long as it should.

      1. Why 3 times as long? Now, doing 5 heavy sets is indeed mentally discouraging. But it’s obviously better than doing 3×5 (Rippetoe scheme).
        If you want to train for aesthetics it’s just less weight and more sets and reps. But for strength? Mwa.

        1. It was a number I pulled out off the air and demonstrating my frustrations at my current shift pattern.

    2. The issue I have with “heavy” lifting is the inevitable injuries. Essentially you wind up becoming weaker with time rather than stronger.

      1. And heavy lifting is not good for aesthetics, and a good looking physique. Look at powerlifters.

        1. So doing compound lifts makes you a powerlifter? That is BS. Better to do squats, deadlifts, bench than to sit on stupid machines.

      2. You always can lift heavier every week until you hit a plateau. Then it’s just maintenance. I don’t care about being very big. Just muscular. Compound lifts work great for that.

        1. The trouble with plateaus is that then exercise becomes unfulfilling. I try to mix it up.
          The trouble with compound lifts is that even if you are lifting heavier, you are still contributing to RSIs in your body.

        2. As long as you can lift heavy with good form the risk of injury is not that big. But you will have to take a step back sometimes.

        3. I used to think that but not anymore. The best lifters in the world suffer injury. I think the only way to avoid injury is rotate your work-outs (avoiding lifting from time to time) and take time off from time to time.

        4. Take time of sometimes. Yes sure, that is never a bad idea. Squating heavy 3 times a week is not a joke. Most people in my gym however don’t even train their legs and back in a proper way. It’s mostly young men with big arms and weak torso’s.

  8. There is nothing wrong with mixing in a few high rep workouts. I recently came across a rich piana video on youtube where he discusses “feeder workouts”. There really is something to doing extreme concentration lifts with light weight for high (30-40) reps and pumping as much blood as possible into a muscle. That intense burn is worth chasing, feels really good afterwards, and is a great way to mix up a routine and get results.

  9. Low weight reps take tons of time, I prefer to have 4 days of few reps with lots of weight, and on weekend do some cardio and the low wight reps since I have more spare time; it works very well on sore muscles and minor injuries

  10. I am not a fan of high-rep workouts. At all.
    I prefer to lift heavy, and be in the 4-6 rep range, or about 80% of my 1 rep max. If you can only do 3 reps at a certain weight level, it is too heavy, take some weight off the barbell. If you can do 7 reps at a certain weight level, it is not heavy enough, and you should make the barbell heavier. Once you can get a bunch of sets in at 6 reps each, increase the weight and do 4 reps at that higher weight, and keep working up.
    Read the book “Bigger Leaner Stronger” by Michael Matthews — A great book, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to cut through the B.S. about getting stronger.

    1. I can’t stand high reps of anything. I get bored. I think that the best way to build stamina or endurance is either loaded carry or intensive exercise (such as bag/pad work or sparring). This is fun work and time passes very quickly.

    2. I like to shake my routine up. Generally I lift 8-12 reps, single set, but once a week I alternate in either 4-6 heavier reps or 12-15 lighter reps. Of course, with each of these routines the goal is to run through the total routine as fast as I can (while maintaining form – basically never let the muscles come close to cooling down), so it’s always a challenge no matter how I do it.
      A stronger, fitter gym partner of mine got me into it when I was starting my lifts, and it does make things fun.

    3. Matt Kroc said he did Kroc rows up to 30 reps so going that high seems just fine to me. Kroc is bigger than you, even now.

  11. I have learned to respect high-rep sets.
    Back when, I would have said about almost any movement “If you can do more
    than 10-12 strict-form reps, you don’t have enough weight on there”.
    Then I got an elbow/forearm injury. I couldn’t handle heavy weights for overhead
    presses, curls etc. anymore. But I figured it would be best if I did at least something instead of waiting for complete recovery, so I started doing sets of overhead presses and curls with a pair of 25lb dumbbells, working to exhaustion.
    My injury lasted for months. When I finally worked up the nerve to try heavy weights again, I expected everything would have gone to hell and I would have to slowly work back up.
    Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was as good or better than I ever was. Since then, I’ve incorporated some high-rep sets into my routines. For one benefit, there’s very little chance of injury at those weights. Also, the high-rep sets can be done at home, at my convenience, because I don’t need gym-style equipment to perform them.

  12. I’m pleased that you have moderated your previous stance on “not writing about exercises or techniques that” you haven’t tried yourself. It is useful information for the rest of us.
    How about German Volume Training? Would that come under the category of high repetition training?

  13. Those of us that create and maintain our societies have always done this, but we just call it work ;).

  14. I do strength training not bodybuilding as a result I need 3-5 min rest time between sets what sucks about this is that the owner of the gym dont like me resting so long and hogging the rack what do I do?

  15. Some lifts such as the bench press I prefer high weight low reps (5-10). Other lifts such as curls I prefer low weight high reps (10-15). I do whatever I feel hits my muscle the hardest. I have no problem with high weight when it comes to hitting my chest muscles hard, but I find that I can maintain a form that targets my biceps much more if I use lower weight. If I try to curl with high weight I feel like my forearms are being targeted far more than my biceps.

  16. Had a Karate Trainer who’d start the class with a rep of say, 20 push ups. Then the next rep would be 19, and so on, all the way down to 1. He was a tiny guy, but got a national title at some point.
    I like the idea of doing reps throughout the day, and you can plan ahead if you can be places where things are around that you can use as weights. When we were conditioning, remember trying to work daily activities into moves and isotonics or lifting.

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