Rep Range Rules for Strength Training


Comparing the Ranges

So you now know what function each rep range serves, but that is not the whole story. To really be able to put this knowledge to good use you really need to be able to interpret this info. Let’s take a closer look.

Even knowing all of this info there are still those that say high rep training is not necessary and it is best to train only with low to moderate rep ranges and focus solely on progressive overload. A fairly recent study recently proved that this is just not true.

This study took 15 young men and compared two protocols in the leg extension. The researchers compared the protein synthesis response from 4 sets with 90% (RM) taken to failure, with 4 sets with 30% (RM) taken to failure. This study found significantly higher protein synthesis rates after the high rep protocol (Burd et al. 2010). This means that the old saying, low reps are for size and high reps are only for fat loss is way, way off.

There is still one problem with high rep training that cannot be ignored. As stated earlier, high reps do very little for increasing strength gains. Progressive overload is essential for growth to continue and this should lead us to one conclusion. While a high rep protocol will work well in the short term, the lack of continually increasing the resistance will eventually lead to a stall in growth.

There is actually a way around this stall though. By training with low to moderate reps and loads you can increase strength over time. These strength gains in the 1-5 rep range will have sort of a “trickle down” effect. This means that strength gains in the 1-5 rep range will transfer and lead to more strength in the other rep ranges. If a bodybuilder increases his one rep max from 250 lbs. to 350 lbs. on the deadlift, you had better believe that his 20 rep max will increase as well. This is what I mean when I say the strength will trickle down.

So using a variety of reps and loads will have a synergistic effect. Rep ranges are not independent of one another. Improvements in one area will lead to improvements in other areas. This exchange is important to understand when putting the whole picture together.rep-range-1

The Takeaways

There are actually two main takeaways from all of this information. All rep ranges will increase muscle growth but through different pathways. Therefore all ranges should be utilized, no matter if you are gaining or cutting.
Do not use high reps to stimulate fat loss. All weight training will stimulate the metabolism and cause a calories burn. No one rep range will cause significant fat loss over another. Diet and cardio should be the primary tools you use to shed fat and get lean. Let the weight build muscle, let your diet cut the fat.
As you can see, there are no rep ranges that are magically going to make you lose fat or get shredded more than other rep ranges. There is also no merit to the idea that high reps will not allow you to gain lean mass. If you are dieting for a show, just trying to drop a few pounds, or trying to gain as much muscle as possible you must use every single rep range to maximize growth to your fullest potential. So how do you apply this to your own workout? It depends if you are training a muscle group once or twice per week.

If training a muscle group only once per week the best way to work in all rep ranges are as follows:

  • First 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with heavy loads in the 1-5 rep range with compound movements.
  • Next 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with moderate loads in the 8-12 rep range with mostly compound movements.
  • Last 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with light loads in the 15-30 rep range usually with an isolation movement.

When training a muscle group twice per week this really allows you to specialize and focus on one type of training at a time. This is why I most often recommend more frequent training to my clients. Here is a good way to split it up:

Session 1

  • First 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with heavy loads in the 2-4 rep range with compound movements.
  • Next 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with moderate loads in the 4-6 rep range with mostly compound movements.
  • Last 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with light loads in the 6-8 rep range usually with an isolation movement.

Session 2

  • First 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with heavy loads in the 12-15 rep range with compound movements.
  • Next 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with moderate loads in the 15-20 rep range with mostly compound movements.
  • Last 1-2 Exercises – 3-4 sets with light loads in the 25-30 rep range usually with an isolation movement.

The bodybuilding world is filled with misinformation. It is important to constantly question everything. The guy at the gym that is a legend in his own mind is not the only one spouting nonsense. Even top level pro bodybuilders are often misinformed themselves.

I say it all the time, for every method you use in your training and diet it is important to ask, “Why I am I doing this?” If you don’t have a good, scientifically sound answer, then it’s time to reevaluate your methods. The outdated ideas about rep ranges are now a thing of the past.

So get out there, lift brutally heavy weight, achieve skin tearing pumps, and burn it out with high reps. Do this and you’ll be good to grow!