Time-based Workouts or Repetition-based Workouts?

time-based workouts

Time-based sets or repetition-based sets – which are better? Time-based sets have increased in popularity over the years. For example, HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts and cross fit are very well-known. These are really helpful with fat loss and combine endurance training with resistance training. With more people performing home workouts because of the pandemic, time-based workouts are more popular now too. 

Time-based Workouts 

With time-based workouts, your sets are based on seconds. 30 seconds, 50 seconds and 60 seconds are most used for this. Gyms often offer 10-minute ab workouts, for instance, in which some exercises are performed time-based. In that time, you’ll try to perform as many (clean) repetitions (reps) as possible. 

This kind of training is done to increase the time under tension (TUT) in your muscles since repetitions are not counted. The slower and longer you perform your reps, the more tension it will create in your muscles. For both time-based and rep-based training it is advised to do one rep in 8-9 seconds, with 2-3 seconds concentric movement, 2 seconds full hold and 4 seconds eccentric movement. This is easier in time-based workouts since the goal is not a fixed number of reps. 

Time-based workouts are mostly HIIT workouts too. You have short rest periods and keep those in check. Make sure that every exercise hits another body part. For example chest, back, chest, back, etx. This provides more rest time for the body parts to still be working on full strength. 

Benefits of Time-based Workouts 

  • Increased heart rate and fat burn 
  • No rep counting 
  • Very fast 
  • Very suitable for home workouts 
  • Increase in aerobic performance 
  • Short and long workouts possible 
  • Consistency in work/rest period 

The downside of time-based workouts is that it is harder to track your progress because you do not count your reps. Additionally, this training is more difficult in the first few weeks when you are still finding a perfect rhythm.

Rep-based Workouts 

In rep-based workouts you work with repetitions. Studies show that that 1 to 5 reps with the correct weight and speed work on muscle strength, 6 to 12 reps with the correct weight and speed work on muscle mass and more than 12 reps work on endurance. Most people start working out with a rep-based schedule. It is easy to keep track of what you do and how you are improving. 

However, rep-based workouts are often performed in such a way that you do not live up to its full potential. In between sets, people start looking at their phone, talking with their gym buddy, etc. Once sets get harder you could lose motivation since you do not see the same progress anymore. 

Benefits of Rep-based Workouts

  • You know exactly what to do 
  • Very efficient in building your body the way you want (science-based) 
  • Very specific workouts tailored to you 
  • Many options to perform exercises and variations 

The downside of rep-based workouts is that it is easier to loose your motivation over time. They also provide less consistent rest periods. There is no increase in fat loss. And they are less suitable for home workouts.

time-based workouts

The Time Under Tension Counts

Don’t get us wrong both ways are very good to train. It often comes down to how you approach both techniques. Muscles do not count reps but keep track of the TUT to gain hypertrophy, strength and endurance. So in both workouts, we advise you to do 8 to 9 seconds per repetition. 

Time-based workouts come with a rhythm. But it is important to have a rhythm in rep-based workouts as well. So make sure you work on that. For 10 reps, aim for 90 seconds. That may be very long with your usual weight. So try this with less weight to complete your set. You will surely notice the burning afterwards. 

Time-based Workouts or Rep-based Workouts in Calisthenics 

In calisthenics, you train using your own bodyweight. Since this is a ‘standard’ weight you cannot change, we advise you to start with rep-based exercises. In the beginning, do reps to build up muscle strength and muslce mass and get familiar with techniques. After a while, you know how many reps you usually do. After one or two months, switch between the 2 types of workouts. Because calisthenics includes static exercises too. To master these, you need proper control of your body and the dynamic movement. For example, to do a pistol squat hold without falling you must perform it slowly in the full range of motion (ROM).  

If you keep focusing on reps at this point in your progress you definitely cannot concentrate on the TUT. Since a lot of exercises also challenge balance and have a difficult form it is easy to loose yourself and perform them quickly to reach your 10 reps. Therefore, doing the exercise for 60 seconds gives you more time to explore the ROM and cadence and hold your form at some points. To keep a good balance, we recommend switching between the two types of workouts every two weeks. But that depends on your training frequency. 


You now know about the importance of TUT with time-based and rep-based workouts. Both have some pros and cons and you can choose a style that suits you the most. In calisthenics, performing both types of workout will be good for the static exercises as well to gain more control over your body and concentrate on form. Besides time-based or rep-based, it is good to know the best time to exercise. Morning, afternoon, or evening? Click here to find out.

1: Yeung AJ. The muscle fiber test. Health and fitness. https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/muscle-fiber-test/ consulted on 14-12-20 

 2:  Gillies G. Why everyone is wrong about reps. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/greg8.htm consulted on 14-12-20 

 3: LaChance, P.F., and Hortobagyi, T. Influence of cadence on muscular performance during push-up and pull-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 1994; 8(2), 76-79. 

 4: Wernbom, M., Augustsson, J., and Thomeé, R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007; 37(3):225-64. 

5: Häkkinen, K., and Pakarinen, A. (1993). Acute hormonal responses to two different fatiguing heavy-resistance protocols in male athletes. J Appl Physiol. 1993 Feb; 74(2):882-7. 

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