What is the best rep range for muscle growth is one of the most common questions I receive from women about lifting weights.
If you google this topic, ask the local buff bro at the gym, or even refer to the curriculum most personal trainers receive during their certification course, you will likely receive an answer similar to the chart below.
1-5 Reps (heavy loads)
Hypertrophy (muscle growth):
6-12 reps (moderate loads)
15+ reps (light loads)
Unfortunately, this perfectly proportioned rep range outline is a somewhat false representation of the facts and gives the perception that if muscle growth is your goal then you should ONLY train in that moderate 6-12 rep range.
There there is some merit to the rep ranges listed above. For those who are mostly interested in just gaining pure strength then the 1-5 rep range will be your sweet spot. If you are focused on muscle endurance 15 or more reps will be your sweet spot, but the middle muscle growth range is a bit murkier.
As you dig into this topic keep in mind that the term heavy, moderate and, light is relative to the individual. If you two people pick up the same 20lb dumbbell and perform a goblet squat, Person A may perceive 8 reps as heavy while person B may not “feel” fatigued until the 12th rep.
Physiological and Fiber Type
There are three vital physiological factors that are necessary for hypertrophy
- muscle tension
muscle does not know the weight, it only knows tension. Muscle tension can be manipulated with tempo, bands, and the amount of weight loaded.
- metabolic stress
the pump or burn
- muscle damage
micro tears of the muscle
Each one of these is physiological factors is possible to achieve in all three rep range categories. A recent study comparing muscle growth between two control groups using 3 sets of 8-12 reps and 3 sets of 20-25 reps showed similar muscle gains for each group.
One thing to keep in mind in order for any rep range to be effective you have to train with an all-out effort and it is logical to conclude that although higher rep ranges with lightweight did yield similar results to moderate weight there is likely a “too light” threshold where lifting too light of weight for 100’s of reps will be ineffective and not elicit those three must have physiological facts…
If you would like here another study comparing moderate loading range of 8-12 reps to heavy loading range of 2-4 reps that yielded similar results in hypertrophy.
Next, let’s talk about muscle fiber type.
Your body is made up of both Type 1 (slow twitch) muscle fibers that respond best to light loads. And Type 2 (fast twitch) muscle fibers that respond best to heavy loads. For the most part, your body is evenly comprised of both Type 1 and Type 2 fibers. Therefore giving you another reason to train with a variety of rep ranges so that you target both types of muscle fibers.
A study looking at the role of both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers as it relates to hypertrophy concluded, if your primary goal is muscle growth then it may be advantageous to “include training across a wide spectrum of repetition ranges. Higher intensity exercise appears necessary to fully stimulate fast-twitch fiber growth, while lower intensity exercise preferentially enhances hypertrophy in slow-twitch fibers.”
What Rep Range Do You Enjoy? (yes this matters too)
First the science and then there is YOU, and how you prefer to train.
Lifting anywhere from 1 to even 8 reps is tough and taxing on the body. You have to be mentally prepared to lift very heavy loads and to be honest not everyone enjoys this kind of training. In fact, it can be very mood dependent.
Past injuries may also keep you from dabbling into those heavier sets, but this does not mean you cannot build muscle. In fact, I would argue that your training plan should reflect what gets you excited, what rep ranges feel good to you?
If you love knocking out 3×15 deadlifts then go for it…you will build muscle. If you want to focus on muscle growth but also train in those heavier working sets then 3×5-8 deadlifts might fit the factors that feed into your personal motivation to stay consistent.
With anything fitness and strength training relates, do what you love first, this alone will drive consistency and get you the muscle you want.
What Does A Variety of Rep Range Training Look Like?
Now if you are a visual person like me none of this jibber jabber will make sense until you see some examples. Here is have broken down a 4 day training week that incorporates both low, moderate and high rep ranges. This is very similar to my own training plan and how I program for my clients
Barbell Hip Thrust 4×6
Walking lunge 3×12
45-degree hyperextension 3×20
Standing Cable Hip Abduction 3×12 (each leg)
Banded Glute Bridges 2×25
Seated DB Overhead Press 3×12
Chin Ups 3×3
Cable Face Pulls 3×15
Cable Lateral Raise 3×15
Frog Pump 2×35
Barbell Hip Thrust 3×12
Goblet Squat 3×5
Seated leg curl 3×12
Monster Walk 3×25
Constant Tension Sumo Squat 2×20
Military Press 3×8
Inverted Row 3xAMRAP
Incline DB Press 3×10 superset Assisted Pull Ups 3×12
Wide Grip Lat Pull Down 3×12
Cable Lateral Raise 3×15
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