How Many Reps Should You Do To Build Muscle?

High Reps / Light Weights OR Low Reps / Heavy Weights?


How Many Reps Should You Do To Build Muscle?

If you’ve been working out for any length of time than no doubt you’ve heard the debates over how many reps you should do per set in order to maximize your muscle growth…

– Some people say “high reps for cutting” and “low reps for bulking”.

– Some say “go heavy or go home” and recommend super heavy weights for low reps.

– Others like to train a bit lighter and “pump it up” and strive to keep the muscles under tension for longer periods of time.

But the question that’s on your mind right now is:
“Which rep range is the best one and which one should you use in your workouts?”

Well, there is no cut and dried answer to this, in fact you can literally make muscle gains training in all of the above rep ranges provided that you are putting enough demands on the muscle, training in a progressive fashion, and that your nutrition and recovery are adequate to support muscle growth.

But there are some general guidelines that you can follow to help you better structure your bodybuilding workouts and maximize your muscle growth. And that’s what I’m going to share with you here in this article.

Rather than randomly selecting some magic number as your rep range for all your workouts, you need to break things down and get more specific. There is really no such a thing as the one best rep range that works for all exercises. How many reps you do will vary greatly depending on the particular exercise you are doing.

For example, if you were doing deadlifts and then afterwards going to do abdominal crunches. Do you think that you would use the same set and rep pattern for both exercises? Of course NOT.

One is a heavy mass building power move, and the other is a small isolation exercise. They both work the muscles totally differently, so obviously you wouldn’t train these 2 exercises the same way and use the same set and rep patterns.

Certain exercises are classified as Heavy Mass Building Power Moves and they work better for heavy weights and low reps. These are the “meat and potatoes” exercises that should lay the foundation to your muscle building workouts.

Than you have Mid-Range Power Moves that are still basic compound lifts, but these exercises are better worked with higher reps compared to the Heavy Mass Builders.

And finally you have Isolation Moves that are used for targeting specific areas of the muscles. These exercises work better with higher repetitions, lighter weights, and very strict form.

Generally with the heavy power moves your main focus is on moving the weight. With these exercises you should strive to increase the weights you lift on a regular basis (provided you can maintain good form of course). Than as you get into the mid-range and isolation moves your main focus should be on feeling the muscles working and getting a good pump. Rather than simply trying to increase the weights you are lifting.





Examples of Heavy Power Moves are:
(Best Used With Heavy Weights & Low Reps)

Squats:
Tom Platz Squatting

Deadlifts:
Franco Columbo Deadlifting

Bench Press:
Arnold Doing The Bench Press

Shoulder Press:
Shoulder Press aka Military Press

These are big basic free weight exercises that allow heavy weights to be lifted for low reps. The classic 5 sets of 5 reps routine works really well for these exercises. And advanced powerlifters and strongman competitors will even work up to heavier weights by doing heavy triples, doubles, and even single rep sets for these basic powerlifts.





Examples of Mid-Range Power Moves are:
(Best Used With Moderate Weights & Moderate Reps)

Leg Press:
Leg Press

Barbell Rows:
Bent Over Barbell Rows

Dumbbell Bench Press:
Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press:
Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Barbell Curls:
Franco Doing Barbell Curls

Dips:
Arnold Doing Weighted Dips

Pull Ups:
Franco Columbu doing pull ups

These are mid-range compound exercises that still allow for heavy weights to be lifted, but work better with moderate repetition range of 6-10 reps per set. These mid-range exercises will make up the majority of your muscle building workout program.





Examples of Isolation Moves are:
(Best Used With Lighter Weights & Higher Reps)

Leg Extensions:
Leg Extensions

Leg Curls:
Hamstring Leg Curls

Dumbbell Flys:
Arnold Doing Dumbbell Chest Flyes

Side Lateral Raises:
Side Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Concentration Curls:
Arnold Doing Bicep Curls

Tricep Kick Backs:
Arnold Doing Tricep Kick Backs

Calve Raises:
Arnold training Calve Raises

Abdominal Crunches:
Adbominal Crunches

These are isolation exercises that work best when trained with light to moderate weights and high repetitions. Ideally you would use these exercises as finishing moves and do them at the end of your workouts. The idea here is to really pump up the muscles after you’ve already completed your heavier power moves. Keep your reps for these exercises to 10-15 per set, and in some cases you can even perform higher reps (i.e. 20+ reps per set) especially with abs and calves.





Repetition Guidelines…

These exercises and rep ranges are applicable to most weight training workout programs. However, there will always be exceptions to these rules depending on the particular training program. For example, the classic 20 rep squat routine is one such example of using a heavy mass building power move for high reps. And there will be other times when you may train isolation exercises with heavier weights and lower reps, especially if you are following a body part specialization program such as Blast Your Biceps.

However, the general training guidelines for most workout programs are:
- Heavy Powerlifting Exercises: 5 reps per set
- Mid-Range Compound Exercises: 6-10 reps per set
- Smaller Isolation Exercises: 10-15 reps per set





Putting It All Together…

Structuring an effective and well balanced weight training program with the proper exercises, sets, and reps is NOT an easy task. And to make things even more challenging, regardless of which program you follow (even if it’s a very good one) your body will eventually plateau to that program and your gains will come to a screeching halt.

The secret to building muscle is a non stop process of starting a “new workout program” and adapting, growing, and plateauing to that workout program – then repeating the process all over again. You adapt, grow, plateau, change your approach, and repeat. Every single successful bodybuilder on the planet has gone through their own unique variation of this process.

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Leave A Reply (41 comments so far)


  1. Simon
    4 years ago

    Dumbbell row should be in mid range exercises surely? Single arm rows are not an isolation exercise.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. Thanks Lee,
    This has cleared things up for me.
    I’ve always wondered at how I should set the reps and sets for those types of exercises.
    This will really help me develop my workouts.
    Raymond

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  3. leehayward
    4 years ago

    Simon:
    Dumbbell row should be in mid range exercises surely? Single arm rows are not an isolation exercise.

    There is some gray area as to what you can consider a mid-range or an isolation move. But I personally like to keep my dumbbell rows in the higher rep range (i.e. 10+ reps per set) so that’s why I included them in that category.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  4. pkhamidar2com
    4 years ago

    yeah im going to refrain from any provocative language. What im going to say to all of you is that it doesnt matter what rep range you choose. It doesnt matter what the number of sets are. As long as the rep range is lower than 13 (i.e 1- 12) you are fine.

    If you can reach a target of 25 – 30 reps, you will build muscle. I sometimes do 8 sets of 3 reps to get 24 which is fine. Or i might do 10 sets of 3 reps. But then again i might do 3 sets of 12 reps. 5 sets of 5 reps.

    It doesnt matter if its deadlift or bench press. IT should all be the same.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  5. Anders S. J.
    4 years ago

    Great article!
    I’ve gotten the impression that I’m using way too much time in the gym, app. 2 hrs. pr. session app. 4 days a week, Compared to what is healthy and beneficial. I’m guessing it’s partly because I do too many reps. with too litlle intensity.

    Lee, whats your weekly training routine – timewise?

    Anders

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  6. Potterdile
    4 years ago

    Great Article Lee, but in the pics you posted, there’s only a couple of guys that were not on steroids. :-(

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  7. guapo madeiros
    4 years ago

    love the work the likes of you and vinny do and thank you. my girlfriend would like to know if there are female equivelents she could get mail off. do you know any?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  8. Thor Falk
    4 years ago

    Lee, great post, thanks a lot. I do remember the pic of the guy squatting from one of your programs – isn’t he squatting high rep???

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  9. Nelson
    4 years ago

    Awesome informative e-mail Lee..and the pictures were an added bones for sure. I am 57 years old, 5’6″ 200 lbs. I look like 180 semi solid. I workout everyday for 1 hr or 1 1/2 hr.. I use 40lbs max on dumbles, 60lbs lbs max on straight bar and 25 lbs elastic bands. I do 3 sets of everything ( from head to calves) to fatigue. 30 secound rest inbetween. I also do drop down sets and just before my time is up I do runing in place for 10 min. to cool down. I feel doing something everyday will keep you toned and you will see a differenc. I stay away from heavy weights so I don’t tier anything and won’t tier for the next day. 1hr is all you need everyday. for those not in compition. Herc.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  10. Jose Frias
    4 years ago

    Thanks Lee,
    This has cleared things up for me.
    I’ve always wondered at how I should set the reps and sets for those types of exercises. Also thank you for be the one Exercise Coach.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  11. Brian
    4 years ago

    Great article Lee! I personally like to use all those rep ranges in each of my workout to really try and hit all the muscle fibers, for example for chest I’ll often do 5 x 5 on the bench press and then do Incline DB presses for 3 or 4 sets of 8-10 reps and then finish off by super setting dips with cable crossovers for 2-3 supersets of 15-20 reps each. My chest is fried after this. Awesome pictures by the way, I love Platz and how he uses massive weight and squats down really deep with perfect form-he’s the man! I notice you squat like that too bro and I’ve started doing my squats real deep too and notice a huge difference. Hey I know that this is a little off topic but i was wondering what your take is on supplementing with pure beta alanine? I personally have gotten great strength gains from it but no one seems to really promote it…just wondering if you’ve tried it and if it worked for you. Thanks Bro

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  12. Eric
    4 years ago

    Great insight from both articles and comments. I have to fix my ACL and so can not do leg work for a while. Is there a 3 times a week upper body work out that can be done during this period.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  13. leehayward
    4 years ago

    pkhamidar2com:
    yeah im going to refrain from any provocative language. What im going to say to all of you is that it doesnt matter what rep range you choose. It doesnt matter what the number of sets are. As long as the rep range is lower than 13 (i.e 1- 12) you are fine.

    If you can reach a target of 25 – 30 reps, you will build muscle. I sometimes do 8 sets of 3 reps to get 24 which is fine. Or i might do 10 sets of 3 reps. But then again i might do 3 sets of 12 reps. 5 sets of 5 reps.

    It doesnt matter if its deadlift or bench press. IT should all be the same.

    You obviously never read the article clearly because I did say that you can make gains using all rep ranges, and that there would be exceptions to these guidelines based on the particular workout routine you are following.

    But I think even you would agree that you should NOT train all exercises the same. For example, would you train deadlifts the same as you would abdominal crunches? Or would you train concentration curls the same as you would train squats? Probably not…

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  14. leehayward
    4 years ago

    Anders S. J.:
    Great article!
    I’ve gotten the impression that I’m using way too much time in the gym, app. 2 hrs. pr. session app. 4 days a week, Compared to what is healthy and beneficial. I’m guessing it’s partly because I do too many reps. with too litlle intensity.

    Lee, whats your weekly training routine – timewise?

    Anders

    I’m usually in the gym for about 90 minutes at a time. That includes my warm up (10 minutes on the cardio rowing machine), my weight training workout, and my post workout stretching. But I probably average about 1 hour of actual weight training during each workout.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  15. leehayward
    4 years ago

    guapo madeiros:
    love the work the likes of you and vinny do and thank you. my girlfriend would like to know if there are female equivelents she could get mail off. do you know any?

    Actually all the information with regards to training, nutrition, etc. that I share here also applies to women as well. If you’ve seen some of my training videos you’ll notice that both my girlfriend Patricia and I work out together as training partners doing everything set for set in the gym.

    Both men and women have the same major muscle groups and those muscles need to be trained with the same types of exercises. There is really no such a thing as a “mans” workout or a “womans” workout.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  16. leehayward
    4 years ago

    Eric:
    Great insight from both articles and comments.I have to fix my ACL and so can not do leg work for a while.Is there a 3 times a week upper body work out that can be done during this period.

    Sure, you can limit yourself to just upper body workouts while you are working around your ACL injury. Probably do pushing exercises one day (i.e. chest, shoulders, and tricpes) and pulling exercises the next day (i.e. back and biceps). Workout every second day.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  17. TinyTim
    4 years ago

    Good article Lee. Nice pictures of some of the mass monsters!

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  18. Dan
    4 years ago

    Hey Lee i have a question but it’s not related to this article.if you can answer it that’ll be great! I am currently on a fat loss stage and i was wondering if incorporating a cleansing supplement would be necessary?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  19. Sam Yassin
    4 years ago

    pkhamidar2com,

    HAHAHA you are going to refrain from any provocative language? WHAT provoked you?

    from what I read you are really new to the bodybuilding scene, it might even be your first week.
    You cannot do the same reps for DIFFERENT exercises. It works your muscles in a different way.

    So if you do 6 reps of deadlift, you are going to do 6 reps of crunches?

    But hey, if you don’t listen to Lee, for sur you won’t listen to me. Have fun in you “I know it all” journey

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  20. Kevin
    4 years ago

    Are you sure one arm dumbell rows are isolation? They go across the shoulder and elbow, working the bicep, lats, and middle back.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  21. leehayward
    4 years ago

    Dan:
    Hey Lee i have a question but it’s not related to this article.if you can answer it that’ll be great! I am currently on a fat loss stage and i was wondering if incorporating a cleansing supplement would be necessary?

    If you consume a natural wholesome diet with lots of green vegetables that will cleanse your system. There is really no need for cleansing supplements.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  22. leehayward
    4 years ago

    Kevin:
    Are you sure one arm dumbell rows are isolation?They go across the shoulder and elbow, working the bicep, lats, and middle back.

    Technically there are no true “isolation” exercises, every single move you do will bring other body parts into play as secondary and supporting muscle groups. The main purpose of this article is to classify exercises according to the ideal repetition ranges that work best for each exercise.

    So a 1 arm dumbbell row is more of an isolation exercise and works best when used for higher reps, than say a bent over barbell row (which I classify as a mid-range exercise), which is different again from a deadlift (which I classify as a power lift).

    Does that make sense?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  23. Kevin
    4 years ago

    leehayward,

    yes, thank you

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  24. sabree
    4 years ago

    hey lee, i would like to know. My workout at gym is around 1.5hrs per session.My question is ,what is the better work out for make a size. I mean , should i lift the heavy with a little reps or a light one with a high reps?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  25. leehayward
    4 years ago

    sabree:
    hey lee, i would like to know. My workout at gym is around 1.5hrs per session.My question is ,what is the better work out for make a size. I mean , should i lift the heavy with a little reps or a light one with a high reps?

    Just like I said in the above article, the number of reps you do depends on the category of exercises you are doing:

    The general training guidelines for most workout programs are:
    – Heavy Powerlifting Exercises: 5 reps per set
    – Mid-Range Compound Exercises: 6-10 reps per set
    – Smaller Isolation Exercises: 10-15 reps per set

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  26. denis
    3 years ago

    acuarely i my self i do three reps , I i just think that can be able to build up thats what i do every day when i went to gym i donno why u ask me that why i don’t become bigger as if u show me yes am small as u said just becouse i don’t want to become bigger i just wanna make muscle and my body shape as well acually i know u have gain weight when u use body muscle bouilding surpliment but i use some but i also do run to cut my weight and to keep my .

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  27. kennis abhilash
    3 years ago

    thanks for this article lee.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  28. gabriel
    3 years ago

    On the subject of reps…Nobody ever makes it clear quite what they mean. Like they will say “3 sets of 10″. Well, after one set of ten, I’ll be lucky to see 8 on the next set. I think a lot of people may be confused by this but people still never make the distinction between getting every rep of every set and training to failure on every set. I’m assuming, in this article you are referring to the former though. (By the way, for over a year, I thought I was lazy or something because I’d be down to like four reps by the fourth set. I expected to eventually be able to train to failure, then get the same reps on the next set. MAYBE…with 10 minutes rest)

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  29. desi
    3 years ago

    Great stuff, Lee! I’ll keep this in mind. Thanks!

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  30. Blessing
    3 years ago

    Hi Lee.i have a question. How many days a week can work on my chest to achive maximum mass and defination.great article by the way

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  31. Patrick
    3 years ago

    Great info as always Lee. Big fan of your 21 Day Fast Mass. A question not related to this post but arose after reading Vince’s “Last Minute Confidence”: What is the best way to consume a herbal diuretic on the final week before your event or trip? Is there any value to consuming one if your body is not below a certain body fat level?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  32. George Phillips
    3 years ago

    lee
    Great stuff, I am 62 and pretty much do the reps as you have set forth.
    Bench 5X5 at 225. I do break up the bench with alternate Db lift flat bench. I have found for my workout I do 2 sets of 5 reps on the bench , then I flat bench 70lb Db at 2×5 and back to bench for final lift. I lift on bench Mondays and Fridays
    One thing I need to do is work out with lighter sets for the final pump. Mainly just do i! it all works at any age, what the hell, at may age its going for the grit, be healthy, live right and enjoy every damn minute , its all worth the time.
    love this stuff!

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  33. leehayward
    3 years ago

    Blessing:
    Hi Lee.i have a question. How many days a week can work on my chest to achive maximum mass and defination.great article by the way

    ================

    There is a lot of variables that come into play. Most traditional bodybuilding workout programs will have you working chest 1 or 2 times per week at most. But some specialization programs, such as the “Blast Your Bench” program you literally train chest 5 days per week with a mini abbreviated workout program.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  34. leehayward
    3 years ago

    Patrick:
    Great info as always Lee. Big fan of your 21 Day Fast Mass. A question not related to this post but arose after reading Vince’s “Last Minute Confidence”: What is the best way to consume a herbal diuretic on the final week before your event or trip? Is there any value to consuming one if your body is not below a certain body fat level?

    =============

    Before water manipulation even becomes a factor you need to be down to about 5% bodyfat. If you are fatter than this don’t even worry about diuretics.

    Generally the best way to take them is 2-3 days before you want to “peak”. But it will vary depending on the type of diuretic you are using, so make sure to follow the label directions.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  35. nischay
    2 years ago

    hello, i am begineer to gym and have no coach to train me,
    would please somebody help me to get the routine of exercices to do in my workout

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  36. Dan
    2 years ago

    I don’t know if it will make a difference in your muscle growth, but how many sets should be done with the isolation and mid-power range movements?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  37. Jhnny
    1 year ago

    Mr. Lee, I’m only 15, i weigh 215pounds, and i was wondering if doing 25pound HAMMERS with 15 reps.. Will it tone my arms or bulk my arms?

    -I dont know much about workingout-

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  38. Sam
    11 months ago

    Hi Lee, very informative article
    I do the bench press: 20 sets of 5 reps up to 7, then increase the weight. I’ll do this for 2 months, accompanied with low rep squats.
    Do you think I maybe going too far?

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  39. Garage Gyms
    10 months ago

    I dig all these black and whites. Great job

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  40. Rep Fitness
    5 months ago

    I love the old Arnold pics. Also, that 20 rep squat routine is killer. Thanks for the article.

      (Quote)  (Reply)


  41. freddie
    5 months ago

    how about dumbell squat?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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