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 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.
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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