How many reps per set should I perform to build muscle?
This has got to be one of the questions I get asked most by beginners and even some more experienced bodybuilders.
- Is there an optimum rep range for hypertrophy/muscle growth?
- How many reps per set should I perform?
In my experience, there is indeed an optimum rep range for muscle growth.
8 – 12 Reps
I have trained in all sorts of ranges for experimentation purposes. From experience I can advise you that 8 to 12 reps per set is the ‘Anabolic Rep Range.’ Up until about 6 months ago I was experimenting with the 4 to 6 reps per set range as in the Max-OT program by AST.
My problem with that is that it’s too damn hard to get good form when performing each rep with a weight that heavy i.e. If I’m curling a dumbbell so heavy that I can’t get any more than 6 reps, I find my form sucks!
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the high rep theory. Basically anywhere between 13 – 25 reps per set would be classified as high reps. I personally believe that people who work out in this range are seeing some amazing pumps and so are convinced they’re getting big fast. However, getting a pump is not prerequisite for building muscle. A weight in this rep range is simply not heavy enough to force the muscle to continually adapt and grow.
So that leaves us with the sweet spot i.e. 8 – 12 reps.
Light enough weights for good form; heavy enough to force growth.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association also agrees with these relationships between number of repetitions performed and physiological responses. They propose that shorter bouts of anaerobic training (2 to 4 repetitions) are best for improving muscle power, moderate bouts of anaerobic training (5 to 6 repetitions) are best for building muscle strength, and longer bouts of anaerobic training, 8 to 12 reps per set, are best for increasing muscle hypertrophy.
So what about periodization? Periodization basically says that every now and then you need to work within a different rep range in order to ‘confuse’ your muscles into continuous growth. I have no experience of this being the case. Also bear in mind that in some sets you will perform 8 reps and some sets 12 reps and this is going to be all the variation you need.
The Exception to the Rule
Yep, there’s one exception – abs. When I’m working my abs I stay within an 8-16 reps per set for growth. I am using a slightly higher rep range simply because of the importance of good form. I perform sit-ups quite slowly and also hold the movement at the top for a second. There is just no way that I could get good form performing these sit-ups with weights that were too heavy. That’s it. Don’t sacrifice form for weight. Good bodybuilders feel the muscle, not the weight.
Also – Marathon, no-weight sit-up sessions won’t sculpt nice abs. So to the guys doing 100′s of sit-ups – you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Lower, weighted sit-ups will grow those abdominal muscles more than anything else. Anyway, I’ll get into abs more in future articles. You can subscribe here to be notified when new articles are published. Alternatively, enter your email into the box in the sidebar to the left.
Thanks for stopping by.
P.S. Saw this on another website, the quote is from Tom Venuto:
“For example, when you train in the 6-8 rep range, the adaptations are still somewhat neural, but also metabolic/structural: In this rep range, you get excellent strength gains and also excellent hypertrophy. In the 8-12 rep range, there is still some neural adaptation, but less than the 6-8 range and much less than the 1-5 range. The advantage of the 8-12 rep range is that you get maximal hypertrophy”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.