Just about anyone who lifts weights has, at some point, asked the question: ‘What number of reps for building size and strength should I do for best results?’
The answer is: it depends entirely upon what your goals are; Strength, size, a lot of strength and some size, or a lot of size and some strength?
Whoa, what is this? Let me explain.
If you are working towards metabolic/hypertrophic gains, that is focused on muscle size your may want to focus on more reps per set with lower number of sets and short resting times between those sets. Keep rep count between 5-10 for each set for maximum gains.
Neural gains are more focused on strength increase. If this is your focus then you may want to do a higher number of sets with low reps. Give a longer rest between the sets as you want to rest those muscle before maxing them out with another heavy set. The usual rep count for neural gains is somewhere between 1-5 reps.
Low Rep Count
It’s widely known to anyone who lifts weights that, lower rep ranges (1-5) are the domain of the strength trainee. Strength trainees are training for functional strength and also, with the very low reps, ridiculously powerful, very short-lived bursts of strength.
This is often viewed as being geared more towards Olympic or weightlifting. But you need to be able to carry heavy weights for this to work, usually maxing out (or crossing your own limits with partner support). Focusing mainly on low rep count will not get you the muscle definition you will be looking for but will provide increase in strength that will help you to grow.
High Rep Count
Higher rep counts help to develop more muscle. The higher rep (5-12) sets allow you to focus primarily on the muscles themselves. They also lend themselves to fewer total sets per exercise. By slowing down the movement, coupled with the sheer amount of reps you do per set, you’re going to increase time under tension, which is a necessary stimulus for growth.
Sets that stretch past 15 reps, though, have a few drawbacks. Major one being that the amount of weight you can handle isn’t heavy enough to recruit fast-twitch type-2 muscle fibers. So what, you ask? Simply put, type-2 fibers are where the potential for growth resides, and they respond only to heavy weights at least 75 percent of your one-rep max.
No doubt, gains in strength will come along for the ride, but increases in muscular growth will outpace the increases in strength
Ideal Reps for Building Size and Strength?
If a trainee was to train using reps of 5 – 10, they are training in a rep range which begins firmly in strength (5) and goes into lower-rep bodybuilding size training (12), so in effect; the trainee will get the best of both worlds.
This is because of how our muscles are made up. Our muscles are made up of different kinds of fibers ranging from very slow twitch to very fast twitch. Slow twitch fibers make up the bulk of our muscle size – and it’s the higher reps which target these fibers, which bodybuilders (size) trainees mostly use. Slow twitch muscles are about endurance.
Strength trainees use lower reps (less than 5), and this hits the fast twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers are all about generating massive amounts of speed and power for a short time.
Although in general, the vast majority of people’s muscles are made up of slow twitch fibers, some people do have a significant amount of fast twitch, too. Bodybuilders – who are all about complete muscular development – have long utilized power training as a means of getting extra development out of their muscles which they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
But yes, anyone looking to gain good strength and size could do a lot worse than to hover between reps of 4 – 8. Why is that range important? Because when the set lasts longer than a few seconds, the body is forced to rely on the glycol energy system, which leads to the formation of lactic acid.
You may think of lactic acid as a bad thing, since it’s mistakenly associated with the muscle ache you feel days after a workout, but that soreness is actually a very fleeting reaction that’s vital to new muscle-tissue production. When lactic acid, or lactate, pools in large amounts, it induces a surge in anabolic hormone levels within the body, including the testosterone the key growth hormone for muscle-building.
Keep a variety in your muscle building program Switch between low and high reps to keep shocking your body to grow avoiding the monotonous cycle of fixed reps per set all the time. Substantial evidence exist that shows that keeping a moderate rep range is the best way to build muscle and strength.
But this does not mean that you consistently keep a medium range rep level. Doing so will stagnate your growth. Switching between low and high rep counts periodically will spark the necessary growth to take you to the next level.
Note: Body building programs work differently for different people. How it affects me will be different than how the same program will work for you. Remember to log and monitor your growth so you can see impact of various reps and set combinations. Learn the 8 Telltale Signs That Your Muscle Building Workout Worked.