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Want to Build Muscle? How many Reps Per Set for Hypertrophy?

how many reps to build  muscleHow 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 most ‘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.

I 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.

The Exception to the Rule

Yep, there’s one exception – abs. When I’m working my abs I usually stay within an 12-16 reps per set range. 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-added-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 reps, weighted-resistance sit-ups will grow those abdominal muscles more than anything else.

If you’re new here or just want to learn the truth about how to build muscle, grab your FREE copy of T.H.T. training now! Input your details below or into the box at the top-right of this page for instant download.









Many many thousands of people around the world will tell you it’s the best move they ever made. You WILL notice changes in the mirror in a few weeks, if not the first week. The scales, your clothes, and other people’s comments will also confirm this.

Thanks for stopping by.

Mark McManus

UPDATE: If you want to experience ongoing or “chronic” muscle growth, there is a time to use 2 other rep ranges. Please click this link to discover how and when to do this => REPS AND SETS

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tarik November 14, 2007, 6:26 pm

    when doing curls, at 45 lbs i can do 15 reps, but at 50 lbs i can almost do 8. would you recommend for peak performance i stick with the 50 lbs (assuming i make sure my form is good?)

  • admin November 14, 2007, 6:33 pm

    Hi Tarek, thanks for the question. You say you can almost get 8 reps. If it’s possible to get 47.5 lbs go for that. If that’s not an option then yes use 50 lbs. If you get 7 good reps that’ll give you a great opportunity for progressive overload the following week i.e. hitting 8 reps – see my post on progressive overload. Cheers, Mark.

  • David November 23, 2007, 5:36 am

    Hello,

    I am a pretty skinny guy and its pretty hard for me to gain weight. I guess some call me a “hard gainer”. Reading some other sites I should be doing less reps, around 4 or 5 with larger amounts of weight in order to see results. After reading your article I’m not totally sure which way I should go. Any advice would be great.

  • admin November 23, 2007, 6:15 am

    Hi David, thanks for stopping by. I’m well aware of this technique for ‘hard gainers’ but I don’t think it’s best. I always considered myself a hard gainer – couldn’t add the muscle I wanted even though I worked out like I was told and drank weight-gainers etc. Working consistently in the 8-12 range definitely improved my results. Couple this with full range of motion and consistent progressive overload and you’ll do great.

  • jake December 9, 2007, 5:38 pm

    hi im 16 and been training for about 9 months, i weigh about 14 and a half stone cut, ive got great genetics and train as hard as i can, ive been training all 20-25 reps but reasently lost 1 inch off my arms in about 3 weeks from over training they were 18inches 3 mil and now 17inches 3mil i made sure they were measured right can this be an effect of high reps? pleses reply jake

  • admin December 10, 2007, 10:41 pm

    Jake, I have to say that it’s highly unlikely that you could lose an inch off your arms in that space of time and certainly not from simply overtraining. Are you sure the measurement were correct? Did you lose a lot of water for some reason (still wouldn’t account for a whole inch though).
    Either way, yes I recommend you hit the 8-12 rep range to optimize your great genetics.

  • slick December 20, 2007, 2:19 pm

    hey. im 6’2″ and i am really skinny. i weigh 135 pounds. its really sad. i want to gain 50 pounds in 6 months and i want to no if thats possible and how. can someone please help me. im ready to do anything!

  • admin December 20, 2007, 4:53 pm

    Hi Slick.
    I’ll help you out buddy.
    I was always naturally skinny so I can sympathize with you on that.
    Adding 50 pounds of weight is possible, 50 pounds of just muscle is going to prove harder, although for a complete beginner on a frame as tall as yours it’s not out of the question.
    It’s around 8 pounds a month so you’d need to be adding about 2 pounds of muscle per week. It’s very ambitious but at least you have a goal, even if you don’t hit it, you will at a later date anyway.
    Please read my articles,’Build Muscle Workout Plan’ and the latest one ‘Ultimate Anabolic Nutrition…’. Coupling these strategies is the most effective way to build muscle on the planet!
    Let me you how you get on.
    Mark

  • Build Muscle January 22, 2008, 12:41 am

    I found your blog via Google while searching for build muscle and your post regarding ‘Build Muscle: How many Reps Per Set for Hypertrophy?’ looks very interesting to me. I just wanted to tell you that your site is really awesome and is of a fantastic quality. The content is great and I will be returning.

  • Heri March 21, 2008, 2:47 pm

    The muscle grow when the rest right ? If you do 8-12 reps every otherday, you rest your body half the time right?

  • Mark McManus March 21, 2008, 4:34 pm

    Heri, only if you are planning on working that same body part again.
    With the MuscleHack workout plan, you only work each body part once a week so there’s no need to rest 48 hours between workouts.
    Cheers,
    Mark

  • daniel April 1, 2008, 2:28 pm

    hi i just woundered if you can help me?
    im 16 im about 5ft6 and i want to build muscle but at my gym the gym dont like body building.. i want to get a built up body like something to turn someone head when ur walking down the street bu im totally confussed about the reps. some say i have to do between 4 and 6 to build mass bu others say 8 but not to sure if it ahcelly builds mass and also tone please help

  • Paul April 1, 2008, 8:48 pm

    You didn’t mention how many sets we should be doing. How many sets do you recommend doing with the 8-12 reps method?

  • Mark McManus April 2, 2008, 3:27 pm
  • Mark McManus April 3, 2008, 10:15 pm

    Daniel,
    8-12 reps for hypertrophy, no doubt.
    Mark

  • jimmy April 23, 2008, 12:17 am

    people people people! the facts are if you want to become bulky you lift more weight with less reps….for example, doing lifting exercises with alot of weight that you can only do about 2 sets of 10 reps is what gets you bulky if you do ALL of the exercises right! Now if you want good, lean muscle (muscular) doing more reps like 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps (equals from 24 to 36 reps) of lighter weight such as 20 pounds or more for people who are looking for lean muscle and in tone.

  • JGL April 23, 2008, 7:52 pm

    Love the site! One quick question…do you not reccomend any type of cardio at all? Like not even a little a few times a week? If you were going to reccomend a cardio routine, what do you think is the most efficient for burning fat and retaining muscle? Thanks!

  • Chris April 24, 2008, 2:20 pm

    Hey Mark,

    Have to say I have been training for quite a while and what you say in your book relating to what I call the balloon effect is something I have experienced alot, bulking up and then cutting down and losing your hard earned gains, year after year!. I have been following your diet plan for nearly 2 weeks now the M.A.N.S one that is and find it strange that after the first week on your diet my energy levels have returned back to normal as if ,I was carbing, which is great and really dont need to eat many carbs at all for energy, even though I am a carb lover and still crave them. I’ve also kept my size but lost fat which is great, i guess time will tell if i start to shrink, but for now all good . A couple of questions for you if you could answer would be great,the 8-12 rep range you talk about, are we lifting weights in a pyramid formation? like my first set i do 12 then 10 then 8 or is it going for gold picking a weight I cant do no less than 8 and no more than 12 for every set? should i start with a heavier weight first and do 8 or a lighter weight and do 12? also do you include the warm up sets in the 9 sets maximum per body part? and finally I train abs every training session at the end, should I be stopping that since I train 2 body parts in general per training session, and just train them with one body part?

    Thanks heaps, keep up the good work

  • Mark McManus May 12, 2008, 1:56 pm

    Chris,
    It’s as you say – “going for gold picking a weight I cant do no less than 8 and no more than 12 for every set”.
    Yes, you’ll most likely have to decrease the weight at each set to achieve this.
    No, there is 1 warm-up set before the 9 real sets.
    Yes, stop that and train your abs on their own day.
    Mark

  • Matt May 12, 2008, 3:26 pm

    Sorry Mark, can’t get my head round this;

    So for example flat bench;

    8 x 37.5kg then decrease weight to 35kg but increase reps to say 10 and then 32.5kg and maybe hitting 12 reps as long as form is good. Or is it keeping to one fixed weight of say 35kg
    but decreasing reps.

    Sorry for all the questions recently.

    Thanks mate

    matt

  • Mr Emman? June 25, 2008, 12:31 am

    Had to post this here as there was no room in the Workout Plan to build Muscle section!!
    I box to stay in shape and so train in the gym sparring, bags, skipping etc. for approx 2 hours per session between 1-3 times per week. It was because I re-started training and noticed that I seemed to be losing weight, that I started looking into the bodybuilding, despite being virtually the Big Four-oh.
    I’m about 5’7″ approx 180lbs and my electronic scales say 27% b-f, although I look in good shape.
    What I want to know is how to adapt your muscle gain plan to give me good size gains, whilst still maintaining and improving my boxing needs e.g. strength, speed, flexibility, fitness, endurance etc.
    Must add, this is REALLY great site, you seem very knowledgable and I can’t wait to see what results following your regime brings.
    p.s. will it work as well for a woman?

  • Mark McManus June 27, 2008, 4:50 am

    Hi there,
    You won’t have to change anything to adapt the workout plan to your lifestyle.
    I would recommend that you separate your weight training from your boxing training. Leave at least a few hours and a good meal between them.
    Yes, it works great for women with no changes required.
    Mark

  • Derek June 29, 2008, 4:38 pm

    I am still confused. Could you tell me wich reps build more muscle mass. Is it the 12 reps of hypertrophy or is it the 5 reps of maximum weight explosion. please reply to me soon. thanks!

  • Gary August 19, 2008, 5:29 am

    Hey Mark,
    No question here, just wanted to say big thanks for all the good info. It has really been helpful.

  • slickstar August 19, 2008, 9:58 am

    hey mark man. i got a question.
    im trying to gain weight and muscle. anything actually.

    im 6’2 and 65 kilos. around 144lbs. i want to gain 15 kilos. ive started my program and its working. ive gone bigger from the chest by around 2inches (is that big? im new to the gym) but nothing on my arms. my bicepts are 8.5 inches. i want then to go bigger aswell.

  • billy October 9, 2008, 4:41 pm

    hi, there
    i am 15 and im a skinny person. my body is ripped with muscles but i need to get bigger in size. People say you need to pick up weights and do reps but they also say that i need to be 18 to do weights. im also confused because i use the internet to search but i dont trust some websites. i need alot of help from any nice person who can help me.
    SEND ME THE REPLY TO MY EMAIL ADDRESS IF U WANT TO.

  • Mark McManus October 9, 2008, 5:16 pm

    You don’t need to be 18 Billy – that’s nonsense.
    Download the book, it’s free.
    Mark

  • Greg K October 13, 2008, 5:45 pm

    Mark,

    I found it interesting that you mentioned MAX-OT and told how you saw little results. I have been on the MAX-OT program for…well…probably a few years now. Since starting it I have made enormous gains, huge….I don’t even see any of the large fellows at the gym throwing up the 115 lb. dumbells and pounding 6 reps, and you have to understand I am 5 foot 11 175-180 lbs. I have not, however, seen large gains in my muscle size, and it’s always been a problem I have had. It has to be my genes, or I am not exercising to promote elite hypertrophy (of which I know all about hypertrophy, especially from classes I am taking). Could I expect to see better physical results switching it up and adding a few more reps into my normal MAX-OT routine?

    On a side note: I have had many conversations with Jeff Willett via personal email about many topics and he seems to think im doing fine, but easy for him to say, he’s a pro BB, I am not, but I train like one and see little results!

  • Jock November 9, 2008, 8:28 pm

    Hey Mark,
    I was just wondering, what are the best foods to eat to gain muscle, like to take in a lot of protein for example. I eat chicken every day and drink a lot of milk but it don’t seem to make no difference. I have been at the gym for a month and a half and I’ve lost 6 pounds on the running machine. How long should I wait before I can see results? I am looking to get some great abs and build my arms.

  • aaron December 2, 2008, 1:13 pm

    hi, i’ve been following this 8-12 rep range for a while, its given me some decent results.

    120lbs-170lbs, it took a few years though.

    i just wanted to know if i was still failing at 8-12 reps could i do high numbers of sets like 5 or 6 sets?

    what are the consequences of high set numbers?

  • Mark McManus December 2, 2008, 4:18 pm

    Well I recommend 6-9 sets per body part and a 4 or 5 day split Aaron

  • Tim December 9, 2008, 5:42 pm

    A good article, but not a great one. Could have been better by talking about the two basic types of hypertrophy and how to best achieve them. You nailed one (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy), but did not mention the other (myofibrillar hypertrophy).

  • Chris February 11, 2009, 7:24 pm

    Hi there,
    About 8 months ago I was in peak form. I weighted 192 pounds, and I am only 5’9. So you can image how big I was. Since then I have hit hard times. Money is a big issue now; and I just don’t have money for a gym. I now weigh about 165, I should be back in the gym, at the end of March. Is there anything I can do ahead of time for muscles, so I don’t waste those first couple of workouts in the gym, so I can start growing right away.

  • jose February 18, 2009, 2:42 am

    Just curiosity. So for muscle growth the recommended reps are between 8 & 12? and for strength is 4 – 6??? but hwo much weight? Do i use the same amount of weight for all these repetitions???

  • Mark McManus February 18, 2009, 4:37 pm
  • Andrew February 23, 2009, 11:04 am

    Hi Mark,

    Do you think good gains in muscle size can be made from just performing 1 set per exercise to failure in the 8 to 12 rep range as long as the load is progressive just wanting your opinion as I have been following mike mentzer’s consolidation routine & got alot stronger but also alot fatter partly I think because I’m a endo mesomorph when it comes to my body type.

    Awesome site.

    Cheers,
    Andrew.

  • Karan April 2, 2009, 4:48 pm

    Hey Mark,

    I have the book by sean nalywanyj on how to build muscle and it hasnt worked out too well for me…not sure if you have heard of the book..

    The workouts themselves I find my weight regressing rather than progressing…I do 5-7 reps and 6 sets per large muscle (chest).

    However, my weights don’t increase..

  • Cito April 30, 2009, 10:15 pm

    Hi Mark, I know I’m a little late to the party but hopefully I’ll get answered. I’m currently trying to add more muscle mass to my body. I stand at 5’11 and weigh about 195 lbs. Some of it is muscle, as I’ve been weight training for some time now. I still have a long way to go and I am currently jogging in the mornings and weight traning in the evenings. I read somewhere on this site that I shouldn’t run and weight train as that would be hindering the effects of the weight traning. This means I need a workout optimal for cutting fat and building muscle. What should I do to cut fat now? I mostly have fat on my lower backspare tire…sorta, not too bad but its there), upper thighs and stomach. Also I’m having a hard time with my triceps any suggestions?

  • Michael May 3, 2009, 4:48 am

    This Article talks about reps, but how many sets should be done to trigger maximum hypertrophy? I
    have tried to put on muscle for 3 years with NO success. I still have 12″ arms and legs that resemble those of a 12 y/o boy. VERY frustrating!

    Apparently I’ve over-trained/made too many mistakes:(

    Are there any articles or links that would give me the information I need to FINALLY get on the right track???

  • Mark McManus May 3, 2009, 12:13 pm

    @Michael. Download my free book, it’s all there.
    @Cito. You can weight train and lose f