Best Rep Range For Building Muscle
If you remember when we last got together we talked about training to failure, whether you should do it and if so how often. After looking at a lot of evidence I came up with my opinion based on the data we have available. If you missed it be sure to check it out as at least in my opinion there is some pretty fascinating info to at the very least make you think about the way you’ve been training. Moving forward with this muscle-building series we are now going to shift focus to rep range and what should be used depending on what your goals are.
Okay, let’s get the simple stuff out of the way first. You may have heard this before, but in case you haven’t let’s go over it. There are generally three different rep ranges that produce three different adaptations. Low reps, generally considered 5 reps and under, produce greater strength adaptations. Medium reps, generally considered between 6-12 reps, produce greater muscular hypertrophy and high rep sets or sets over about 12 reps produce better muscle endurance adaptations. While these generalizations are pretty commonly believed to be true and even though I could argue with some of this that is not why I’m here today. In fact today we will assume that these are in fact true statements and try to make a determination which rep range you should use and when depending on your weight lifting goals.
Before we dive too deep into it I’d like to take a look at research done by Campos et al. (1) In this study they took 32 untrained men and had them lift for 8 weeks splitting them up into four groups. One which did a low rep range of 3-5 reps with 3 minute rest periods, one an intermediate rep range of 9-11 reps with 2 minute rest periods, a high rep group which kept reps between 20-28 with 1 minute rest periods and a control group.
At the end of the study the low rep group improved maximum strength significantly over the other two groups and maximum number of reps at 60% 1 rep max improved the most in the high rep group. So far just as we’d expect results to go based on the above statements. However, when it came to hypertrophy both the low rep and intermediate rep groups made significant progress while the high rep group did not. Basically low reps significantly increased both strength AND hypertrophy, intermediate significantly increased hypertrophy and high reps significantly increased adaptations for prolonged contractions and time to exhaustion AKA muscle-endurance.
So this falls in line pretty well with what you’ve probably heard before, that when it comes to building muscle you need a heavy enough weight with enough reps to cause the right adaptation. However, if you are the type of person who doesn’t care about how much you lift and only how big you can get, does it make sense to stick with the intermediate weight range? You don’t care about how much you can lift you just want to get big. You don’t care how many reps you can perform, you just want to get jacked! If that’s your goal shouldn’t you stick to a rep range between 6-12 since that’s supposedly best for building muscle? Not so fast.
We’ve talked about this before but I think it’s important to continue to bring up. For the best results you need a plan that includes all rep ranges. If low reps builds more strength and you are then able to lift more weight with your intermediate rep lifts you are set up to build more muscle. If high reps build more endurance and you have a greater work capacity you’ll be able to perform in the gym better and longer and be more productive. Not to mention if you always work the same rep range your body will adapt fast and results will be harder to come by. Plus if you look at the above research I presented both low reps and intermediate reps produced similar hypertrophy but the low reps produced more strength. Again more strength means better hypertrophy work.
With that comes the real question – how do you incorporate all the rep ranges in your training? The first thing you want to think of is what’s your main goal? If size is your main goal it makes sense to include more of the intermediate rep range than the others, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include the others. If strength is your main goal certainly a low rep range should be your main focus, but again not the only thing you do. You want to set up a program that effectively includes the best of all worlds, and that’s exactly what we will talk about next time. I hope you’ll come back!