The Bigger Muscle Builder – High or Low Reps?

By Nancy Andrews

The Bigger Muscle Builder – High or Low Reps?

Apr 23rd, 2012 | By Nancy Andrews | Category: Coach Nancy - The Way I See It...

When muscle gains are what you are after, whether it’s building a bigger bicep or developing your glutes, knowing the most effective way to lift, is important.  After all, who wants to waste any time and effort when working out?

I recently got asked this question in a comment when a gal had gotten confused by some of the marketing statements made about P90X and Les Mills Pump.  I’ve been quite clear in many posts here that if you want to build lean mass, then lifting heavy in a shorter repetition range is superior to lifting light with high reps.  When looking at the Les Mills Pump product marketing, they state that you can “…burn more fat and build muscle without bulking…”.

So is Les Mills saying you can build the kind of muscle you can with P90X?  No.

Is Less Mills claiming you can build muscle while doing it?  Yes.  Do I agree with this? Yes – but it’s  fairly limited.

High rep lifting may better stimulate human growth hormone levels but only if you are exerting yourself with more energy (overall higher intensity) than you would with P90X.  But to me that just says you weren’t ‘Bringing It” with P90X.  When I do a P90X resistance training session I know I brought it when I’m dripping with sweat and my muscles are screaming.  Lifting heavy taps into Type 2a & 2b muscle fiber recruitment which are the fibers you want to engage if you want muscle growth and strength development.  Les Mills will tend to recruit Type 1 and some Type2a muscle fiber which is more an endurance development model.  (Interestingly, you don’t hear the Les Mills trainers talk that much about building muscle, rather they talk more about burning fat and building endurance during the workouts.)

So if you are a guy looking to get ripped, P90X is clearly your choice.  But do things change if you are a woman?

No… But…

This is a bit fuzzier but not because muscle building, fat burning physiology is different between men and women.  Sure, men have a lot more testosterone and HGH then women but all that means is that women won’t bulk up while doing P90X.  So for most women, P90X is the preferred workout.  But if you have some sort of injury that interferes with pull ups (the primary back move in P90X) or you have very muscular legs (rare – most women complaining of bulky legs just haven’t burned of enough fat), Les Mills is an interesting solution.

Your legs/glutes are the biggest muscles on your body.  Your legs in particular are built to take a lot of exercise load and do because you walk with them everyday.  So they are one muscle group that actually can take overtraining.  Les Mills workouts are oriented towards working the legs and glutes more than the upper body within each session.  So doing Less Mills can actually lean up your legs more than P90X.

Now if doing Les Mills, do work up the weights just as you would while doing P90X for best results.  For example, the very first time I did Les Mills, I only put 10lbs on the barbell but now, about 3 or 4 weeks into it (I’m actually doing a P90X/Les Mills hybrid) I load up 30lbs and will shortly go higher.

Les Mills won’t build big biceps but can lean legs.  Any high intensity workout can increase your metabolism and help you burn fat.  So whatever you pick, work it hard!


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