Understand Hypertrophy: The Best Rep Range To Build Muscle
Effective reps, progressive overload and more.
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When I started fitness I was always looking for that magic number of reps that I needed to perform to build muscle. Most people think it's 8-12 reps, but what about the other rep ranges?
- 1-6 reps with heavy weight: the "strength" rep range, often used by powerlifters
- 6-12 reps with moderate to heavy weight: the "hypertrophy" rep range, often used by bodybuilders
- 12-15+ reps with light weight: the "endurance" rep range, often used by people doing sports
In this article we will explain why they all allow you to build muscle and we will talk about their pros and cons.
Here's a strength workout, which primarily focuses on the 1-6 rep range.
Effective reps are key for muscle growth
Most people think you need to lift heavy weights in order to build muscle. But what about people doing sports and other activities that don't require lifting weights? How are they building muscle? That's where effective reps play their part. Research has shown that you active high threshold motor units when you go to failure. It means that when you're struggling to do these last few reps, when the bar speed is slow, your muscle fibers have to exert maximal force in order to perform the movement and that's what triggers muscle growth.
Then your body will adapt for your next workout.
This adaptation will:
- Make your muscle fibers bigger
- Increase in tendon stiffness
- Increase the number of muscle fibers being activated for this movement
- Increase the force exerted by each muscle fiber for their size
Progressive overload is needed for hypertrophy
When your body adapts to this new training volume, that's when you get stronger and build muscle. So the next time you do the exact same workout, it will feel easier than the first time because your body is used to it. Therefore, you're performing less effective reps and getting less growth in return.
That's when progressive overload comes into the picture. The next time you are training this muscle group, you will have to increase your training volume if you want to keep performing effective reps and build muscle. Since training volume is sets x reps x weights, you can simply increase it by either changing the number of sets you're doing, increase the number of reps or simply increase the weight. It's a simple, but powerful principle.
Sometimes you will plateau with the same training volume for a couple of weeks. When that happens you might want to take a deload week or more rest days.
Here's a strength workout, which primarily focuses on the 6-12 rep range.
Rep ranges' pros and cons
After learning about the effective reps and progressive overload principles, you now understand that you can get to failures with all the different rep ranges. Thus, grow. However, every rep range has pros and cons that you should consider when using them:
- Strength: 1-6 rep range with heavy weight
- It's easier to reach failure since you're lifting heavy weight.
- You will get stronger.
- It's demanding for your CNS (central nervous system) and makes you more tired.
- Workouts take longer since you need more time to rest between each sets because the weight is heavy.
- You are more likely to experience joint pain.
- Hypertrophy: 6-12 rep range with moderate to heavy weight
- You will reach failure in a moderate amount of time.
- It's okay for your joints.
- Your workouts won't take too long.
- You will get bigger and stronger.
- It's demanding on your CNS, but not as bad as the strength's one
- You will still get stronger, but not as fast as the strength's one.
- Endurance: 12-15+ rep range with light weight
- It's a rep range that most people can do with good form.
- It's okay for your joints.
- You will get more muscle endurance.
- I will improve your overall cardiovascular system.
- It takes longer to get to failure.
- You won't get much stronger.
- It's demanding on your CNS.
Here's an endurance workout, which primarily focuses on the 12-15 rep range.
Which rep range to use in order to build muscle?
It all depends on your goal. As an athlete who likes to build muscle and perform in many different sports, I use them all.
My weekly rep range ratio looks like:
- 25% strength rep range (1-6 reps)
- 50% hypertrophy rep range (6-12 reps)
- 25% endurance rep range (12-15+ reps)
I like to start my workouts with a heavy compound exercise, then switch to hypertrophy for the second and third exercise then change to 12-15 reps for the last isolation exercises. We're all different, so do what works best for you.
Someone who's a powerlifter will primarily focus on the strength rep range. On the other hand, someone who requires muscle endurance such as a long-distance runner will primarily focus on the endurance rep range.
- We often categorize rep ranges in three categories: strength (1-6 reps), hypertrophy (6-12 reps) and endurance (12-15+ reps)
- Effective reps are the reps you do when the bar speed is slow, close to failure. That's when growth occurs.
- Progressive overload is the principle of trying to increase your training volume on a per session basis. It's key to get stronger and build muscle.
- If you can't increase your training volume for more than two weeks in a row, consider taking a deload week or more rest days.
- All the different rep ranges allow you to build muscle, but they have pros and cons.
- Try to include all the rep ranges into your workouts.
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