Discover The Best Rep Range For Muscle Growth
It’s high time we address the question of all questions – the optimal rep range for muscle building. You know that feeling of starting a set and wondering if maybe, just maybe you should do a few more reps, and vice-versa – if doing less reps and lifting heavier would produce the better results.
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The wait is over. This article will provide you with all you need to know on this very important topic.
The 3 Popular Rep Schemes
Who hasn’t heard of these three famous rep ranges? According to any gym rat you’ll meet, 1-5 reps is for strength, 6-12 reps if for hypertrophy, and 12+ is for endurance.
And you know what? The bro-science is actually backed by real science in this case, especially when it comes to strength and endurance. The 1-5 reps really does work best for building strength, which is why it’s the rep range used by powerlifters, strongman and Olympic weightlifters alike.
The 12+ rep range is used by athletes who require a lot of endurance work, such as soccer players and long distance runners. But the difference between these two categories and building muscle is that they are performance oriented. Meaning, you can actually measure the results quite easily by hitting the track, or testing your strength on bench press or squats.
But hypertrophy is a different animal all together. Each muscle responds differently, and every exercise poses a different challenge.
For example, you might be able to burden your muscles enough with just a few reps on a heavy deadlift, but for an isolation exercise to have any effect, you’ll most likely need to increase the amount of reps because you cannot make that one muscle stronger after a certain period, without engaging the rest of the body in that movement as well.
So What Does the Science Claim?
There have been numerous studies performed in order to measure the best rep range. The top 20 studies have been analyzed by Greg Nuckols, a strength training expert.
After rigorous examination of the data it is evident that there’s isn’t much difference between these three rep ranges and their muscle building potential. The 6-12 rep range was indeed slightly better, but not by a large margin.
So whether you choose to do 1-5 reps, 12+ or somewhere in between doesn’t make much of a difference. Just think about it – do the powerlifters lack muscle mass? Does a soccer or basketball player lack muscle either?
The reason why bodybuilders still look far more impressive from an aesthetic point of view has more to do with the nature of their training, than it does with the rep range. Just think about it, does your average bodybuilder perform 6-12 reps for every single exercise he does?
There are so many commons set variations. These include supersets that can jump to 50 reps in one go, and strength building low reps on the deadlifts, squats and other compound movements.
So as I’ve mentioned before, there is no reason to be dogmatic about rep range. There are many times you should do more or less reps to maximize your muscle building potential. Here are a few tips to have in mind when making that decision.
1. Form > Weight
The reason why 6-12 reps often works best is due to form. It’s the best rep range if you want to really want to make the muscle work, without making your back bend or doing half reps on those last few reps. It’s also a rep range that works well for both multi-joint movements and isolation exercises.
You can also build strength and endurance equally when performing 6-12 reps. So if you’re unsure if you can do a heavy set of squats without bending over and ruining your knees and spine, why risk it? Perform the movement with a decent amount of reps and you’ll still reap the benefits.
2. Prevent Burnout
Doing 1-5 reps is very taxing on the muscle and especially the nervous system. Strength building has a lot to do with the CNS (central nervous system).
An average human uses 20-30% of his true strength potential. The key to gaining strength is unlocking the other 70-80%, and that’s what strength training is all about. But that is also why it’s really difficult and requires a lot of downtime in between these exhaustive workouts.
If your main interest is to build muscle, you don’t have to go through the unnecessary suffering of doing low reps with huge weight, and risk overtraining. Stick to the weight and reps which feel right for you, while still making consistent progress on a weekly/monthly basis.
3. Save Energy
You might be wondering why not perform high reps all the time if it doesn’t matter at all? You’d prevent a CNS burnout, you’d build the same amount of muscle, and you’d build endurance as well.
Unfortunately, high reps have their own downfalls. One of them is the cardiovascular exhaustion.
Perform hundreds of low weight squats and you’ll be dripping with sweat and panting in exhaustion, while getting very little muscle building stimulus. You also risk damaging your connective tissue due to the repetitiveness of the movement (tennis elbow being a good example).
Go with a normal rep range that “feels” good, and temper it according to the type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re doing a set of bicep curls, doing a larger number of reps can be beneficial. If you’re doing a set of squats, going a bit lower on the rep range in an effort to build whole-body strength as well as muscle is the way to go.
The science on hypertrophy is clear – the famous three rep-ranges all work equally fine in theory. But as we’ve demonstrated in this article, and you can probably attest to it through your own weight training experience – the practical knowledge and common sense plays a vital role as well.
A simple rule is to go a bit lower with the reps on compound movements, and a bit higher with isolation work. Let us know what you think about this, and what is your preferred rep range for building quality muscle mass.