I overheard a couple of massive and ripped bodybuilders talking in the gym a few days ago and they were discussing the topic of repetitions. One guy said that 8-10 reps per set is the ideal amount for building overall muscle mass while the other guy was saying that lower reps in the range of 3-5 are the best. They were both big as a house and ripped! So, which one of the guys is right and what is the best rep scheme for packing on muscle?
You’re lucky those massive dudes didn’t notice you hovering around listening in on their super secret bodybuilding conversation or they might have pummeled you with a 50 pound dumbbell! It seems to me that both of those guys have nothing to worry about and whatever repetition scheme they are using in their training is definitely working since they sound like they are carrying around a ton of lean muscle.
When it comes to us mere mortals, topics like the perfect number of reps per set takes on a more serious note because we are scratching and clawing for every little morsel of muscle tissue and strength we can acquire. The rule of thumb when it comes to the ideal repetition layout when weight training is that the lower the reps, the more you will be focusing on overall strength. The higher the reps, the more you will be targeting endurance. Somewhere in the middle of these two is the ideal range for muscle hypertrophy which means building solid slabs of quality beef to get diesel huge!
Here is a more detailed breakdown of the different repetition ranges and how they affect your overall goals of building overall muscle mass and increasing strength levels:
- 1-5 Reps Per Set = Mainly Strength
- 5-8 Reps Per Set = Strength and Muscle Equally
- 8-10 Reps Per Set = Muscle With Some Strength
- 10-12 Reps Per Set = Muscle With Some Endurance
- 12-15 Reps Per Set = Endurance With Some Muscle
- 15-20 Reps Per Set = Mainly Endurance
I recommend a range of 8-10 reps per set for the best overall range to work in for the ideal balance of lifting heavy enough weights to stimulate growth. If you go too low and heavy then the core focus will be primarily on overall strength. This is why using super low reps is the cornerstone of a powerlifter’s training routine since they want to absolutely overload the muscle with the highest amount of weight possible in order to keep getting stronger.
The end result of lifting super heavy is building up a ton of thick and burly muscle because the amount of weight is dependent on the level of mass you can build. Have you ever seen any of those massive dudes in the Strong Man competitions? They are absolutely gigantic monsters and they are lifting inhuman amounts of weight! It’s easy to see that the amount of weight lifted has a huge influence on how big you can get. Ever seen any small guys who are deadlifting over 500 pounds? Probably not many since one of the byproducts of lifting super heavy weight is building a lot of thick muscle along with it.
Even though the rep range of 8-10 is a great training protocol to stick with for your goal of building maximum muscle, you should always be aware of changing up your overall workout routines, exercises, and training techniques every few weeks to keep your muscles guessing and growing. The last thing you want to do is go into the gym day in and day out with a “Groundhogs Day” effect where you do the same exact thing over and over again. After a while, you might see a guy roaming around the gym who keeps saying to you, “Phil Connors, I thought that was you!” So, make sure you mix things up often which will help you avoid absolute boredom and as well as stagnation because your muscles will adapt quickly to the stimulus you give them and you will eventually hit a wall of both strength and muscle gains if you continue doing the same routine using the same exercises.
A great way to keep your workout routines new and exciting while stimulating your muscles to keep adapting and growing is to follow a different repetition range for your workouts. A lot of people like to train with a “heavy” and “light” approach to their routines. They will do one week with 6-8 reps as their “heavy” lifting week and then the next week will be higher reps in the range of 12-15 for their “light” week. Not only does this switch up their overall repetitions and confuse the muscle but it also gives you a week to recover a little since you will be lifting less overall weight on your “light” days. You can also break up your training into 3 separate modes that cover multiple rep ranges like this:
- Week #1: 6-8 reps per set (only free weights)
- Week #2: 8-10 reps per set (free weights & machines)
- Week #3: 10-12 reps per set (only machines)
Along with changing up the rep scheme, you will also be using different exercises over the course of the three weeks. You will start by using exclusively free weights with lower reps and heavier weight for the first week and then move into a combination of free weights and machines for your second week. You will finish off your third week by using only machines for the exercises you choose to train with. After you finish your third week, go right back and start your 4th week with lower reps of 6-8 per set along with heavier weight. This way you are giving your muscles a little different mix of stimuli each week to help keep them confused. Confusion means chaos which results in packing on more muscle mass and getting closer to reaching your physique goals!