I am interested in decreasing my body fat percentage. Right now it is hovering around 24% which is (at least) 10% higher than I would like it to be. I have started going to the gym to help rectify this, in addition to modifying my diet to include better quality foods, and little or no "snacking".

My question is this: while at the gym, during my weight lifting sessions, is it better to do:

1 set of 20 reps of a lower weight, or
3 sets of 10 reps of a higher weight?

Remember, my goal is not to bulk up, but rather to slim down. I wan to have a lower body fat percentage.


  • 3
    To reduce body-fat percentage: Eat less calories than you use. Choice of exercise regime should be geared towards your FITNESS goals.
    – John
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 15:23

1 Answer 1


Your goal main goal is fat-loss. You say your diet now includes better quality foods and little to no snacking, while this is an improvement, it's usually not enough. In order to actually lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. In case you're not aware, your body burns a lot of calories daily on its own without you doing anything in order to function. The amount is determined by something called the RMR, go online and calculate this value. Or if you're lazy, whatever your bodyweight is in lbs, multiply by 14-15 and subtract around 500-600 calories to be safe, and aim to eat that amount of calories everyday. Eat the majority of your carbs around your workouts in order to improve insulin sensitivity and speed up fat loss. Eat at least 0.8g of protein per lbs of bodyweight in order to minimize muscle loss.

I very quickly gave you an overview above but your diet is the most important part of fat loss by far. I would go as far as saying fat loss is 90% diet.

Now, since you can't gain muscle on a caloric deficit, your goal should be to maintain the most amount of muscle possible.The more muscle mass you have the higher your metabolic rate. The higher your metabolic rate, the more efficient your fat loss process becomes. So in simple terms, more muscle increases your metabolism. If you lose a considerable amount of muscle during the weight loss, your metabolism will slow down and you will find it extremely hard to lose additional fat and you will most likely gain fat. So you basically just traded fat for muscle!

Now, in terms of the actual question. High-intensity strength exercises (in the 70-100% range) are better than low intensity strength exercises (in the 40-70% range) while dieting. The higher training loads help you preserve strength and muscle while on a hypocaloric (reduced calorie) diet much better than super-high volume/low intensity workouts. We've been brainwashed by the various muscle magazines to believe that you should do high rep training for definition. This is absolutely ridiculous! Sure, you use a little more energy during your session, but think about it: the higher the training volume you perform, the more energy you need to recover from your workout. The more glycogen you burn while strength training, the more carbs you'll need to recover and progress. If you're on any kind of cutting diet, chances are that you've lowered your carb intake quite a bit. So you need more carbs, but you're actually giving less to your body!

Furthermore, while on a hypocaloric diet your body has a lowered anabolic drive, meaning that it can't synthesize as much protein into muscle as it does when you're eating a ton. A super-high volume of work (with high reps) leads to a lot of microtrauma to the muscle structures; a lot of microtrauma requires a great protein synthesis increase, which your body can't do at this point. Of course, using Maximum Strength HOT-ROX will allow you to maintain muscle while on a hypocaloric diet, in addition to helping you burn away fat. So if you use high-volume/low-intensity training while dieting, you'll break down more muscle and build up less. Not exactly good news! Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of high-rep training is an increase in blood and nutrient flow to the muscles, but if you have a reduced amount of nutrients available in your body, this benefit is pretty much wasted!

Hopefully at this point you understand the message of this answer: During a fat loss diet, strength training (intensities above 60%) is used to prevent muscle loss and even stimulate muscle gain. It shouldn't be used as a fat loss agent! The bulk of your fat loss will come from your diet and energy systems work.

Source: T-Nation

  • Brofessor, this is a detailed answer, so thank you for that. Your answer seems to be that the preferred method of weight lifting will be 3 sets of ten reps at the highest weight I can manage (and still do almost 3 full sets). Your answer also raises several questions for me, but I will think about those and ask new questions on the forum. Thanks!
    – zeeple
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 17:50
  • @zeeple In terms of keeping muscle mass, you'd be better off with heavy weights for 4-5 sets of 3-6 reps. But 3 sets of 10 with a moderate weight is also good. I suggest you switch them up, just don't do very high reps unless you're warming up.
    – 0xMert
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 17:52
  • This is a very detailed answer, but do you have any scientific evidence not paid for by the company that the product you mention does what it claims?
    – JohnP
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 4:42
  • Sources cited by the article below indicate that diet is the most important, and that HIIT (interval training) is dramatically more productive for fat loss. Time for me to rethink my workout. bodybuilding.com/fun/… Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 4:54

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