For most of you out there looking to build muscle, the prime rep range you should be working with is 5-8.
Mind blowing I’m sure, especially if you read too many magazines or bodybuilding websites.
But for most of us who have ‘average’ genetics, are drug-free, and simply want to get jacked and ripped, a 5-8 rep range will do the trick.
The key here is pumping out enough volume with an ample amount of resistance, and you simply can’t do that by training with high-rep sets above 12. To build both size and strength, you need to work with heavier loads. The more weight you can use, the more muscle you will build.
I don’t know about you, but if I train high volume, I feel completely drained. This is because high-volume training can be really stressful on your central nervous system (CNS).
But by keeping your reps low and resistance high, not only will you be signaling your body to make strength gains, you will remain fresh as well. Plus, the trauma done to your body is less severe, meaning you can train more frequently. The more frequently you can train, the quicker you will be able to build muscle.
“But Tank, if I cut back on my reps, I don’t feel a pump and I don’t even get sore.”
That’s a good thing my friend. Getting a pump, while it feels nice, has nothing whatsoever to do with an actual training effect. Sure your muscles are full of blood, but that won’t necessarily make you bigger or stronger. Being sore doesn’t either according to scientific evidence.
You may look bigger after high-volume training, but like the pump, it’s just swelling of the muscles (scientifically termed sarcoplasmic hypertrophy). This type of size increase does not result in any strength gains and some of that size will go away once you de-load. You’d be far better served slapping on extra barbell poundage and building real muscle than swelling yourself up artificially.
When can I go over 8 reps?
There are times when you can aim for more than 8 reps, but these high-rep sets should only be a small part of your training.
If you aren’t performing compound lifts and are doing more isolation work like barbell curls or dips, then hitting a high-rep set here or there is fine. In fact, to get bigger arms you may need to amp up the volume.
Even a high-rep set of 20 on the squat is effective at building bigger legs (provided your form and technique is spot on). Just remember the effect that this will have on your CNS; so don’t start crushing 20 reps sets multiple times a training session.
Never, ever do high-rep sets on deadlifts or Olympic style lifts. Your margin of error here is small and the chances of injury are increased. It’s simply not worth it, and you should be training heavy here anyway.
As you get older and more experienced, maybe you go for more than 8 reps here and there. But what I said earlier about how sets of 5-8 keep you fresh longer applies here more than ever. As you get older, your recovery times will increase. Crushing your body with large amounts of volume is going to reduce your training frequency substantially the older you get. Depressing to think about if training is what you love!
Crank up the weight, tone down the reps, and stick to the 5-8 rep range. Hit me up when you start to make killer gains.
If you want to know about the number of sets you should be doing per training session, click here.
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Underground Strength Coach