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There are lots of ideas when it comes to rep range. How many reps of each exercise should we do to meet our goals.
Well, today I will discuss various rep ranges (and sets) that will help you reach the goals you have set for your own fitness.
Also, I’ll discuss a new idea that you may not have heard before.
Let’s get started!
Muscle Building Goals
There are basically three goals we have when we start any exercise program.
First, we want to learn about whatever it is that we are doing. If we are starting to play tennis, we read about tennis; we research equipment; we find exercises to perform to improve our game; perhaps we hire a coach.
The next goal is to perform better at the sport. This comes from practice.
The next goal is to be able to comfortably compete at the sport. For tennis, we would need to build up our endurance to be able to finish a match.
Now let’s talk about weight lifting, since that is the focus of this site. There are also three goals in weight lifting.
First, we need to build strength. The weights we lift are heavy, so we need to be strong in order to lift them.
The second goal is muscle hypertrophy, or size. We want bigger muscles! This may, in fact, be the first goal of every person who has ever lifted a weight. Bigger muscles!
The third goal is endurance. We want our muscles to be able to perform for a longer period of time without becoming fatigued.
I started this section with a tennis analogy. Weight lifting could be used to improve tennis performance. Lifting weights could make your serve faster, your movements faster, and your endurance better.
The same could be said for golf (or any sport). Lately it seems that the golfers on TV are more buff than ever before! And their golf game has improved.
Regardless of the sport, those are the goals for our muscles: strength, size, and endurance.
So how do we achieve these goals?
The common knowledge in this topic is as follows:
If you want to improve your strength, perform 1-5 reps of each exercise you are performing, for each body part, using 85-100% of your one-rep max as a weight. Choosing three different exercises for each body part should be sufficient.
So, for example, if you have a one-rep max of 225 lbs for a bench press, then use between 190 and 225 lbs on the bar, and do three sets of 1-5 reps of the bench press. This will improve your strength.
It would be naive to think that working your muscles for strength would not increase their size. Of course it will, but heavy weight and low reps is not the ideal method to build muscle size.
If you want to improve your muscle size in the most effective manner, then perform 6-12 reps of each exercise you are performing for each body part, using 70-85% of your one-rep max as a weight. Again, choose three exercises for each body part.
Using the bench press example, if your one-rep max is 225 lbs, then put 155-190 lbs on the bar and do three sets of 6-12 reps of the bench press during your workout. This will build the most size in the most efficient manner.
To reach the third goal, great muscle endurance, then you should perform in the range of 15 reps for each of the three exercises you have chosen for each body part, using between 50-70% of your one-rep max.
Once again, using the bench press example, if your one-rep max is 225 lbs, put 110-150 lbs on the bar and perform three sets of about 15 reps of the bench press for your workout.
This is pretty standard understanding of how muscles work and grow and the best way to reach your goals.
The idea is that on the last rep of each set your muscles are fatigued to the point of not being able to do another rep.
I would say, that you should stop when you can no longer perform the exercise with perfect form, to reduce the chance of injury.
That is all fine and good, and if you follow the above protocols, you will meet your goals, but there is some new research that may turn all of this on its head!
Some New Research
So, McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has published some new research that may change how we lift weights forever!
McMaster University asked 49 men (23 years old on average), to participate in a 12-week weight lifting study.
One group was the high-rep group. They lifted 30-50% of their one-rep max for 20-25 reps per set.
The other group was the low-rep group. They lifted at 75-90% of their one-rep max for 8-12 reps.
The goal of the study was to see which group gained the most muscle mass overall and improved their strength on a series of exercises: inclined leg press, barbell bench press, machine guided knee extensions, and machine guided shoulder press.
At the end of the 12-week study, the researchers tested the participants muscle mass and strength, and found that both groups had made essentially the same gains in size and strength, except for the barbell bench press, which was higher among the low-rep group.
Given our discussion above, you would think that the high-rep group would have gained endurance, and not so much size.
The difference between the endurance group above, and the high-rep group in the McMaster study, is total volume. By increasing the rep range to 20-25, the total volume of weight lifted by each group is similar.
Let’s use the bench press example. If your one-rep max is 225 lbs, and you are in the low-rep group, then at 80% you would lift 180 lbs for three sets of 12. That is a total volume of 6480 lbs lifted.
If you are in the high-rep group, then at 40% you would lift 90 lbs for three sets of 25 reps for a total volume of 6750 lbs.
The high-rep group is actually lifting more weight at 40% of their one-rep max than the low-rep group at 80% of their one-rep max. The more volume, the more hypertrophy.
The high-rep group only fell behind in one metric, the strength gain on the bench press. This just shows that if you want to improve your one-rep max, you still need to lift heavy once in a while.
The Bottom Line
The McMaster study is just one study. We shouldn’t take it as gospel for rep range and start lifting in the 20-25 range all the time.
It does show that change is a good thing and could be beneficial. The body is more complex than we will ever know. Our brains adapt to what we do very quickly. If we always lift heavy weights, our bodies will adapt and the growth will stop.
We need to be willing to change up out routines and try new things. 12 weeks is a good length of time for a routine. Pick a routine, figure out your one-rep max, chart the weights you will use for each exercise in that routine, and get started.
When the last couple of reps in the rep range you have chosen become easy to do, add some weight. Continue on this path for 12 weeks, and then re-assess and change up the routine for the next 12-week session.
Start with low weight, high reps. After 12 weeks, go high weight, low reps. Then after 12 more weeks, switch to 80% of one-rep max and 12-15 reps. Try a variety of workouts, and then rotate through them.
You may not want to do the heavy weight low-rep for 12 weeks. Maybe only 4 weeks before you try something new.
Remember, I am not a professional. I am sharing what has worked for me in my journey.
For a more professional outlook, read this article and perhaps this program will work for you!
Traditional rep ranges and a little new information.
In the next article, I’ll discuss another option that may be more controversial: 8 sets of 8.
But for now, the choice is yours. Try some new rep ranges and new weight ranges and see of it helps you reach your goals.
As always, if you have questions or comments about my opinions, please leave them below.
Thanks for listening.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!