strength training reps

What Rep Range Should You Use to Build Muscle?

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.

rep range
Kirk Karwoski built this physique training sets of heavy 5’s.

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.

Evolve!!

— Tank
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Underground Strength Coach

8 thoughts on “What Rep Range Should You Use to Build Muscle?”

    1. Derek, You are right. You want to be near failure but not AT failure. Going to failure too frequently can fry your central nervous system and put your hormones and musculature out of whack. I always try to leave at least 1 rep in the tank every set. The only time I go to failure is if I’m trying to set a new personal record in weight.

      — Tank

  1. Derek, You are right. You want to be near failure but not AT failure. Going to failure too frequently can fry your central nervous system and put your hormones and musculature out of whack. I always try to leave at least 1 rep in the tank every set. The only time I go to failure is if I’m trying to set a new personal record in weight.

    – Tank

  2. Hi Tank, i'm new from your site, first i want to thank you from your sharing, i pratice bodybuilding since 8 years and since 1 years i stop bodybuilding routine and try powerlifting routine to make me stronger and bigger!
    I try full body and really love it, it make me bigger and stronger but sometime CNS is wrecked.

    You say:
    Just remember the effect that this will have on your CNS; so don’t start crushing 20 reps sets multiple times a training session.

    I love lift heavy but for to give enough recover to my cns i was thinking, alternate 8reps week with 20 reps week do the job….

    20reps is equally testing for the CNS? So how to give enough rest to cns when we lift heavy?

    (i want to try your free program but cant access to it, give me a url error)

    I dont know if i receive any notice from your post, so you can join me at coaching.amo@gmail.com

    Thank in advance!

  3. Hi Tank, i’m new from your site, first i want to thank you from your sharing, i pratice bodybuilding since 8 years and since 1 years i stop bodybuilding routine and try powerlifting routine to make me stronger and bigger!
    I try full body and really love it, it make me bigger and stronger but sometime CNS is wrecked.

    You say:
    Just remember the effect that this will have on your CNS; so don’t start crushing 20 reps sets multiple times a training session.

    I love lift heavy but for to give enough recover to my cns i was thinking, alternate 8reps week with 20 reps week do the job….

    20reps is equally testing for the CNS? So how to give enough rest to cns when we lift heavy?

    (i want to try your free program but cant access to it, give me a url error)

    Thank in advance!

  4. So, If I’m a beginner doing a full body routine and wanting to work in the 5-8 rep range, how many sets should I do per muscle group/body part each time i do the routine? I’ll be doing it 3-4 times a week.

    Thanks!

    1. Hey Jackson,

      3-4 sets should do the trick. The key is making sure you have about 48 hours rest between muscle groups. So if you train bench press on Monday, try not to train chest again until Thursday. Three days per week for full-body is enough. If you want to train 4 days per week, consider switching to an upper/lower split.

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