Training doesn’t need to be complicated.
Learning how many reps to build muscle is as simple as following these proven principles.
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How Many Reps To Build Muscle?
When you’re lifting weights you’ll typically fall into one of the following three rep ranges:
- 1-5 reps for strength
- 8-12 reps for hypertrophy
- 15-25 reps for muscular endurance
Of the three, the 8-12 rep range will stimulate the most muscle growth.
This makes it the obvious choice for most of your training, right?
After all, the body builds muscle by responding the the tears we create when we train with weights. These tears are known as microtrauma. (1)
So it makes sense to use a rep range which causes as much microtrauma as possible during our training time, allowing our muscles to come back bigger and stronger over the following days of recovery. (2)
Futhermore, training our fast-twitch muscle fibers will result in the maximum possible anabolic response, promoting a faster, quicker rate of muscle protein synthesis. (3)
Therefore, hitting your muscles with the 8-12 rep range should be considered your “home” as far as muscle building goes.
Switch It Up
Of course, you can’t stay “home” all the time.
Your body will adapt to anything over time, and that’s where the other two rep ranges come into play.
In fact, each of them will also offer you multiple cross-over benefits, enabling you to improve aspects of your training you’ve been missing and making you a more well-oiled machine when you return to your 8-12 rep range.
Hitting your muscles with workouts in the 1-5 rep range will boost your neuromuscular (mind/muscle) connection and stimulate maximum strength gains.
This is particularly useful when performing big compound lifts, such as the deadlift and barbell squat.
Of course, strength training will also cause muscle growth. (4)
But it won’t be maximized. The main benefit here is the gains in raw strength which are waiting to be had.
Because when you return to the 8-12 rep range, you’ll be able to handle heavier weights – which is great for muscle growth!
Hitting your muscles with workouts in the 15-25 rep range will boost your muscular endurance.
Your ability to push beyond lactic acid build-up – “the burn” – is greatly enhanced through this style of training, and when you return to training in the 8-12 rep range you’ll find this particularly useful. Studies also show that metabolic stress is greatly increased through high rep training, making it quite useful for gains in muscular hypertrophy. (5)
But the main benefit here will be the difference in your endurance.
For instance, think being able to eke an extra rep with a weight which previously caused muscle failure at 10 reps.
Those extra reps really add up!
It’s important to remember one key point which everybody overlooks when deciding the optimal rep range for their goal – how heavy?
Well, everybody is different
And what’s heavy for your friend might be light for you, or vice versa.
So when decided what weight you should lift for your upcoming set, use your rep range as a guide.
To do this, we must understand a theory called muscle failure.
Muscle failure means training a muscle to the point where performing another rep at the end of your set is damn near impossible. And studies show that taking a muscle to failure can increase muscle growth by as much as 60%. (6)
To put this into practice, experiment with the weights until you find a level of resistance which allows you to hit your target rep range without going over or under.
For instance, if you are aiming for 8-12 reps you should aim to use a pair of dumbbells that take your muscle to failure somewhere within that range.
Hitting 15 reps should not be an option.
Likewise, if you need to drop the weights at 5 reps, it’s not optimal for your current ability.
The weights you use will change over time, as your body becomes stronger and more muscular, but the theory stays in place – always aim to use a weight which takes you to failure within your desired rep range.
For an example of a training plan which uses this type of approach try HGV, which you can use for free here.
The Bottom Line
So there you have it!
So, how many reps should you do for muscle growth? Let’s recap:
- the 8-12 rep range will stimulate the most muscle growth
- switch to the 1-5 and 15-25 rep ranges every couple of months to change your approach and obtain the benefits they offer
- always use a weight which causes muscle failure
If you can stick to these three “rules”, you’ll be on the road to success!
And now I have a question for you.
Do you agree with what I said in today’s post? Or do you think I’m talking BS? Drop me a comment at the end of today’s article to let me know your take. I try to read them all.
- McDonagh, M et al. “Adaptive response of mammalian skeletal muscle to exercise with high loads.” Eur J Appl Physiol. 52:139-155, 1984.
- Gibala, M et al. “Changes in skeletal muscle ultrastructure and force production after acute resistance exercise.” J Appl Physiol. 78:702-708, 1995.
- McCall, G et al. “Muscle fiber hypertrophy, hyperplasia, and capillary density in college men after resistance training.” J Appl Physiol 81:2004-2012, 1996.
- Hakkinen, K et al. “Changes in isometric force-and relaxation-time, electromyographic and muscle fibre characteristics of human skeletal muscle during strength training and detraining.” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. 125:573-585, 1985.
- Mitchell, C. J., et al. “Resistance Exercise Load Does Not Determine Training-Mediated Hypertrophic Gains In Young Men”. J Appl Physiol. in press, 2012.
- Burd, N. A., et al. “Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise In Young Men.” PLoS ONE 5(8): e12033, 2010.