The truth about rep ranges for building muscle and strength.
Posted by Shaun LaFleur on
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Rep range is a hot topic of discussion and debate, and sadly, also a topic with a ton of misinformation. Not only is there a lot of bad information circulating about rep ranges, but even the accurate information can be a bit confusing and leave you unsure on how to program each rep range into your training. In this article we will take a dive into rep ranges to help you better understand how each rep range fits into programming a solid routine.
All Rep Ranges Build Similar Amounts Of Muscle
It is a common misconception that in order to build muscle, you have to train within a certain amount of repetitions per set. The truth is, when controlling for total amount of sets done and how close to failure each set is performed, most rep ranges will build relatively the same amount of muscle with no practical difference.
Put more simply, total amount of sets is a better predictor of muscle hypertrophy than any other factor, including rep range. So performing 5 sets of 15 will build the same amount of muscle as 5 sets of 5, provided all sets are taken near failure. This allows you to train in a wide range of rep ranges without having to worry about missing out on hypertrophy.
Strength & Endurance ARE Tied to Rep Range
While muscle hypertrophy is not tied to rep range, strength and endurance are. Working with heavier loads closer to your one rep max will produce superior strength gains than working with lighter loads, and working with lighter loads such as 12+ reps will produce superior muscle endurance than working with heavier loads. Working in the mid range will produce both some strength and endurance gains but at a lower rate than training at the extreme end of things.
Rep Ranges & Training Fatigue
You may now be wondering that since all rep ranges build the same amount of muscle and that training heavier also provides superior strength gains, why not just always train heavy to build muscle AND strength? The simple answer is that you can't perform the optimal amount of total volume required for maximal muscle growth while training in the very heavy rep ranges due to heavier rep ranges causing more training fatigue.
Training in only the strength range isn’t a practical way to train if your goal is to build muscle, as it is not sustainable at higher volumes because heavier loads will produce more overall training fatigue than lighter loads. This means that performing 5 sets of 3 with a very heavy load will be much more taxing on your body than performing 5 sets of of a lighter rep range. Because of this added fatigue, you won’t be able to consistently accumulate a lot of total sets (volume) per week if every set is trained with very heavy loads, because your progress would begin stalling due to being unable to recover between workouts.
Because of this, it is a good idea to train in a variety of rep ranges. If your goal is to build muscle and/or get stronger, you’ll want to utilize multiple rep ranges. You’ll want the heavier loads to elicit faster strength progress, while using the lighter loads because they are more sustainable and will allow you to perform more sets without a lot of fatigue accumulation.
Heavy Rep Range (1-5 Reps)
The 1-5 rep range will be optimal for strength progression. By training in this rep range you will be able to gain strength at a much faster rate than if you were to train lighter. However, the downside to this rep range is that it causes the most amount of training fatigue when total sets are controlled for. In other words, 5 sets of this rep range will produce more total fatigue than 5 sets of a lighter rep range. Because of this, total amount of sets done in this rep range should be lower than the lighter rep ranges in order to facilitate proper recovery.
Moderate Rep Range (6-10)
This rep range is probably the sweet spot for being able to get in a good amount of volume without building up a ton of training fatigue while also building a decent amount of muscle, strength and endurance. However, it's a jack of all trades and will of course build less strength than the heavier rep ranges and less endurance than the higher rep ranges, but of course the same amount of hypertrophy per set. This rep range is a great range to train in for the majority of your training if your goal is to build a strong and muscular physique.
Light Rep Range (12-15+)
This rep range is ideal for building muscular endurance and will also cause relatively little training fatigue, however it will build strength very slowly. If you are already training in the strength rep ranges to make sure your bases are covered for strength progression, you could train in this rep range to get in more quality volume to build more muscle with minimal training fatigue accumulation. Depending on how important strength is to you, you may or may not want to use this rep range more often than the moderate rep range; if strength is a high priority, training in the moderate rep ranges will elicit slightly better strength gains than this rep range.
So if your goal is to do as many sets as possible in order to maximize muscle hypertrophy, but you also want to get stronger, you’ll need to split up your total weekly sets between your strength work in order to elicit strength gains, and then lighter loads so that you can continue to perform more total sets without the large amount of fatigue caused by going heavy.
For example, if I wanted to do 20 sets per week on a given lift, there’s no way I could do 20 high intensity/heavy sets without running into recovery issues. However, if I split that up into 10 heavy sets and 10 lighter sets, recovery would be much more manageable and muscle hypertrophy would be the same.
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