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The Science of How Many Sets and Reps You Need To Build Muscle

How Many Sets / Reps Should I Do?

One of the most common questions people have when they’re going to add weightlifting to their routine is “How many reps should I do?” Traditionally, rep range recommendations for beginners have been:

  • 1-5 reps of a heavy weights for increasing strength,
  • 6-12 reps of moderate weights for building muscle, and
  • 15 or more reps of lighter weights for muscular endurance.

Over the years, scientists have been testing out these different rep ranges to measure their benefits. With research indicating that multiple performance benefits can be obtained across the different number of repetitions and ranges.

Training for Hypertrophy

A 2014 meta-analysis comparing low load vs high load resistance training found that both low load and high load resistance training could increase hypertrophy. With a trend being seeing for better strength and hypertrophy gains in the high load training group.[1] Muscle hypertrophy is the growth in size of muscle cells.

A 2017 systematic review comparing low load vs high load resistance training found that both training styles could increase strength and hypertrophy. Although there were significantly greater strength gains in the high load training group.[2]

A 2019 systematic review evaluating hypertrophy training techniques recommended 3-6 sets and 6-12 reps per exercise at an intensity of 60-80% of your 1 rep max (1 RM) for a total of 12-28 sets per muscle per week.[3]A study comparing the strength and hypertrophy effects of 3 distinct training programs equated for volume. The subjects were in one of three groups: a 4 reps per set, 8 reps per set, and 12 reps per set. The researchers noted that all three rep ranges were effective for increasing hypertrophy, but the 12-rep group saw a smaller relative increase in 1RM strength compared to the other two groups.[4]

Best Rep Range for Hypertrophy/Muscle Growth

Hypertrophy is a training style focused on building muscle. The main benefit of hypertrophy style training is increased muscle mass. Increased muscle mass can support functional and aesthetic goals. By focusing on progressive resistance training and proper nutrition, individuals can increase muscle mass and reap the many benefits of hypertrophy style training. This style of training is popular with bodybuilders and other types of athletes looking to pack on muscle mass.

A systematic review on the effect of resistance training for hypertrophy concluded that individuals interested in muscle growth needed to do a minimum of 2-3 sets per exercise, with 4-6 sets per exercise potentially yielding greater results, but excessively high sets (16) per exercise could be detrimental.[5]

The overall research on hypertrophy thus far shows that people can gain muscle by following both low rep/high load and high rep/low load training routines, with the overall number of sets per week taken to failure being an important factor for hypertrophy.[6]

Tip: Vary your training by using both high and low rep ranges to increase muscle size

Best Rep Range to Build Strength

Training for increasing strength can refer to absolute strength (the max amount of external load that can be lifted) or relative strength (total amount of weight lifted relative to bodyweight). The main benefit of increasing muscular strength is improved athletic performance, this is especially true in sports where strength is a key determinant of success. Stronger muscles can perform movements like lifting, pushing, and pulling with greater efficiency. Additionally, increased muscular strength can lead to an increase in joint stability and reduce one’s risk of injury. This style of training is popular with strongman and powerlifters looking to increase their absolute strength. Other types of athletes will also commonly incorporate a strength phase in their training routine as well to improve their relative strength.

While it is possible to increase strength by doing low load, high rep training, the consensus is that high load, low rep training is most effective for increasing strength. [1,2,3,4,7]

Tip: If you want to increase absolute strength focus on training with lower reps and (relatively) heavier weights

Best Rep Range for Power

Training for power involves the ability to move a relatively heavy load rapidly. The main benefit of increasing power is improved athletic performance, especially in activities that require quick, explosive strength. This can include team sports like basketball, football, and soccer. Or more individual activities like CrossFit. Improving your power is beneficial for a wide range of sports that involve explosive movements from Olympic weightlifting to gymnastics. Increased power can enable one to have increased sprinting, jumping, and throwing abilities. This style of training is popular with athletes that want to develop explosiveness like Olympic lifters, shot-putters, and combat sports athletes.In the American College of Sports Medicine’s position stand for progression models in strength training, they recommend 3-6 sets of low to moderate (0-60% 1RM) loads for 3-6 reps to increase power.[8]

Tip: Use relatively low reps, and low resistance on compound movements that you can do explosively to increase power

Best Rep Range for Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance focused strength training is done to increase one’s work output. The main benefit of increasing muscular endurance is its effects on someone’s total workout volume. Increased muscular endurance increases one’s ability to perform physical activities for longer periods of time without fatigue. This is important for traditional endurance sports like running and cycling, for field sports like basketball and soccer, and even for strength-based sports like bodybuilding. This training style is popular for high intensity activities where you need to perform multiple bouts of explosive movements like CrossFit. In the American College of Sports Medicine’s position stand for progression models in strength training, for muscular endurance focused training they recommend relatively light loads and 10-15 repetitions per set for novices and 15 or more repetitions per set for advanced trainees.[8]

Tip: Use higher reps and relatively lower loads to increase muscular endurance

Best Rep Range for Weight Loss

Weightlifting can be an effective component of a weight loss program to increase energy expenditure and preserve muscle mass. In one study, both moderate load (10 RM) and low load (20 RM) resistance training programs resulted in positive changes in body composition.[9] In a study on elite cyclists, a program that consisted of both maximal and explosive strength training led to improved body composition.[10] Overall the research shows that the inclusion of resistance training to a fat loss program can be effective.[11]

Tip: Vary your training by including different rep and load ranges to preserve muscle mass

Goal Specific Training

So, what happens if you’re someone that wants to improve all these aspects: more muscle, strength, endurance and power? While it is possible to increase many of these attributes at the same type, using specific rep ranges for goal specific training will make it easier to get closer to your individual goals. If you want to individualize your training towards your specific goals, you’ll likely benefit from periodization.

Here are some tips on how you could organize your training schedule over the course of a year to incorporate different training phases:

  • Determine your goals: Before you start planning your training schedule, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of your specific fitness goal. While it is possible to have multiple goals, having these goals prioritized will allow you to better plan the different phases of your program and focus on the areas you want to improve.
  • Try periodization: Periodization consists of macrocycles (long term training plans) and mesocycles (short term training plans). Divide your year into 3-4 macrocycles where you focus on a fitness goal. As an example, you can have a hypertrophy phase, followed by a strength phase, followed by a power phase. Within these macrocycles, you can plan microcycles where you focus on a specific aspect of your fitness goal. As an example, during a hypertrophy phase, you can have mesocycles focused on specific body parts that you want to place a greater emphasis on or on the usage of different training modalities (like cables or dumbbells).
  • Plan your workouts: Within each mesocycle, plan your workouts and make sure that each workout is working towards your bigger overall goal. As we discussed earlier, different sets and rep ranges are conducive to different aspects of fitness. When you’re designing your workout make sure that the sets, rep ranges and exercises you are choosing are aligned with your goals.
  • Allow for rest and recovery: It's important to allow for rest and recovery between training phases and mesocycles. This will help prevent injury and allow your body to fully recover before starting a new phase.
  • Monitor your progress: Keep track of your progress throughout your training phases and adjust your plan as needed.

By following these tips, you can organize your training schedule over the course of a year to focus on specific fitness goals and incorporate different training phases. 

Build Lean Muscle Mass & Get Stronger with Cellucor

Now that you have a better understanding of all the different rep ranges and ways you can organize your training, you can build out a program. If you want added support for your training & workout goals, choose a Cellucor Supplement Stack, created for your goals and to simply add into your workout plan & routine. 




Date July 08, 2021
Category Training