Do you work out hard but your body looks the same? If so, you might be training in the wrong rep range. The number of sets and reps depends entirely on your goals, whether it’s fat loss, strength, or muscle growth. Training for size is different than training for strength. You won’t get bigger or stronger by doing hundreds of reps. While it’s true that muscle growth can be achieved by training within more than one rep range, there are a few rules you should follow.
So, how many sets and reps are needed for mass and strength?
What’s the Best Rep Range for Mass?
Ask 10 people how many sets and reps work best and you’ll get 10 different answers. Most trainers will tell you to use low reps for mass and high reps for toning. These are misleading oversimplifications that can ruin your gains. The ideal rep range depends on a number of factors, such as:
• Your age and fitness level
• Your body type
• Your body composition (muscle-to-fat ratio)
• How long you’ve been training
• Fitness goals
• Workout frequency
• Workout intensity
Muscles can grow from low reps (1-5), high reps (13-20), medium reps (6-12), and even really high reps (21-50) as long as you train to the point of muscle failure, or the intensity of effort is extremely high. This means that avoiding heavy weights or certain rep ranges won’t help. It all comes down to your goals and individual needs.
If you’ve been training for years, your body grows wiser. To get stronger and/or build muscle, you’ll need to constantly change the number of reps and adjust your workout routine. What was working a year ago may not work today. Your body adapts, grows, and hits a plateau. To overcome plateaus, you must change your approach to exercise and nutrition.
According to researchers, the peak of muscle growth occurs between 70-85% of your 1RM (one rep max). Training in this rep range leads to maximum protein synthesis, increasing the anabolic response by up to 130%. One rep max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition. Most people can perform 8 to 12 reps at 75% of 1RM. In other words, you should do 8 to 12 reps per set to build muscle. This allows you to recruit all muscle fibers and produce hypertrophy.
If your goal is to build muscle, aim for 8 to 12 reps per set.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. When training your lower body, aim for 12-15 reps per set. The same goes for your abs. Whether you want size or strength, perform 3 to 5 sets. Rest for 60 to 90 minutes between sets.
The Ideal Rep Range for Strength
To gain strength, do 5 or less reps per set using extremely heavy weights. Keep in mind that intensity and reps go hand in hand. The fewer reps you do, the higher your training intensity is. More reps require a lower intensity. This approach works best for powerlifting or Olympic lifting. Most bodybuilders switch between high and low rep ranges to gain size AND strength.
What about High Reps?
“Low weight, high reps” is the classic mantra of men and women who are afraid of getting “bulky” or want to “tone up.” Contrary to the popular belief, using high reps with low weights doesn’t build “lean/defined/long muscles”. This is just a myth. In the best case scenario, it will help increase your endurance.
Contrary to the popular belief, using high reps with low weights doesn’t build “lean/defined/long muscles”.
There is only one exception to this rule: the guys and gals who use steroids. So, what’s catch? The upper body, especially the shoulders, upper chest, upper arms, and traps, are dense in androgen receptors that respond to testosterone and other anabolic hormones. As a result, these muscles grow quickly when you get on steroids. In this case, doing rep after rep will help you get bigger. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll build huge arms by lying on the couch and playing with the remote control. You still need to work your ass off in the gym to get results. Steroids won’t turn you into Superman overnight.
Steroids won’t turn you into Superman overnight.You still need to work your ass off in the gym to get results.
So, why doesn’t this approach (low weight, high reps) work for most people? First of all, there is no such thing as “muscle toning.” What most people refer to as “toning” is actually a combination of two things: gaining muscle mass and reducing body fat. To build muscle, you need to lift heavy in the 8-12 rep range. To lose fat, eat clean and do some cardio. Diet, weight training, and aerobic exercise combined will give you a great looking body.
Training in a moderate rep range (8 to 12 reps) is the best way to get bigger, stronger, and leaner at the same time. This approach spares protein, increases hormone response, and stimulates muscle growth. Always remember that your body is excellent at adapting. If you want steady results, you must constantly change your training routine.