You may think your reps are doing the job, but a subtle switch could maximise your fat loss and send your metabolism through the roof, writes Grant Lofthouse

How many reps should you do for muscle gain? - PICTURE - Women's Health & Fitness?

Five by six is the new three by 10. It’s a big statement, I know – three sets of 10 reps has become the default setting for gym-goers, regardless of individual circumstance and goals. And surely the majority wouldn’t do something sub-optimal, right?

But before you follow the crowd into a practice that may undermine your fitness goals, it’s worth taking a look at the science (which, as it happens, agrees with me).

The origins of 3 x 10

The 3 x 10 originated from a couple of studies published by Dr Thomas DeLorme. In the 1940s Dr DeLorme was working in the military with injured soldiers, whom he instructed to perform 7-to-10 sets with 10-to-12 reps per set.

He published the improvements he witnessed in his patients in 1945, but before 7 x 10 had a chance to stick, Dr DeLorme issued an amendment deeming the set count too high and revising it to three. And that’s where it’s been since 1948, in what became known as ‘the DeLorme Technique’, which demands a different weight proportionate to 10 rep max, or RM (a weight you can lift for only 10 reps, not nine or 11) – 50, 75 and 100 per cent, respectively.

The adoption of his protocol, however, misses a crucial point: you, and what you want to achieve. Dr DeLorme was working with injured people and found the 3 x 10 effective for rehab purposes. So if you currently train the ol’ three sets of 10, my next question is… Are you injured? If you answer ‘no’, why aren’t you lifting a heavier weight six times, for five sets?

The lightweight waste

The two biggest mistakes I see females make in the gym are:

1.    Too much cardio and no strength training.
2.    For those who do strength training, performing too many reps. Say, 10.

When it comes to fat loss workouts, in particular, the problem with the dominant high rep training is that because you’re so weak in the final reps, the weight you can accommodate is too light to do anything.

Nowhere is the evidence greater than in a strength seminar DVD featuring Charles Stanley and Pavel Tsatsouline, in which a participant performs a 10 rep max on the bench press, as his overall rep speed and power output of each rep is recorded with a FiTRO dyne unit, which registers velocity and power in the concentric phase of weight exercise.

In rep one he registers 92 per cent. At my suggested limit of six, he still manages an impressive 84 per cent. But after that his speed and power drop dramatically, to 69 per cent at rep 10 and a futile 53 by rep 12, which he only does because he underestimates his 10 rep max – another hazard when it comes to reps. Quality, not quantity, is key.

Get more fitness tips and don't forget to join the debate on our Facebook page.