Which Rep Range is Best?

How many reps produce optimal gains? Depends on your goals. Here’s what every weightlifter needs to know.
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There are some beliefs that are often mistaken as hard-and-fast rules when it comes to what rep ranges do what for your body. Some of the Broscience out there says that going heavy for low reps is the way to get big, while high reps with low weight is what gets you shredded. Though this statement is considered true there is more to progressing in the gym that the simple regurgitated rhetoric that keeps finding its way into the ears of those eager to push their body to new levels.

Because you’re reading this, I have to believe that you are truly committed to training education and intent on learning the truth to build your best body. This is great because I can get right to sharing with you the knowledge you really want to know.

What’s Your Rep?

There are a few rep ranges that are particularly good for producing results depending on your goals. For example, if your primary goal is to increase your power, then the number of reps you should do for a particular exercise is different than if your main objective is strength. The same holds true if you’re going for hypertrophy (muscle growth) versus muscular endurance. If you do some research on your own you will find that the suggested reps for power, strength, hypertrophy and endurance differ slightly, depending upon the source.

Through 20-plus years of training I have discovered that for my clients as well as myself, typically choosing rep ranges on the higher side for a desired result is most beneficial. Here’s a basic breakdown of rep ranges I use personally, depending upon what I’m trying to achieve.

Rep Ranges / Training Zones

Power: 1–5 (popularly suggested 1–5 reps)

Strength: 5–10 (popularly suggested 6–8 reps)

Hypertrophy: 10–15 (popularly suggested 8–12 reps)

Endurance: 15+ (popularly suggested 12+ reps)

Get In the Zone

Before going further, it’s important to explain the basic differences between these different training zones. Improved power can best be described as increasing your explosiveness or your ability to move more weight with more speed.

Strength is not so much about the speed at which you move weight; rather it’s about trudging through a resistance challenge no matter the time it takes.

While power and strength are closely related by the movement of heavy weight, hypertrophy’s relationship is not as evident. Hypertrophy is increased muscle size, and although you’ll experience muscle growth from working in the power or strength zone it’s not as effective for gaining size as focusing on the hypertrophy rep range. That said, there is some crossover from each of these rep ranges to the others.

Last, but not least, there is endurance, which is essentially your muscle’s ability to keep on keeping on for lack of a better explanation. So how does endurance fit in? The more endurance you have the more work you can do, which in theory, should result in improved outcome in each of the other three zones. You may find that improved endurance helps you eke out an extra rep or two on occasion in the other zones.

Repping It Out

As you can see there is actually a substantial amount of crossover of the benefits from one rep range to another. So, what does this mean in terms of your workout?

Consistently working in one rep range is nearsighted because it overlooks the fact that training zones are interrelated. Periodization is one method for continuous improvement. In case you don’t know, periodization is basically a strategy where a trainee pics a rep range for a set number of weeks and then after those weeks pass moves on to another rep range in another training zone and then yet another before returning back to the beginning training rep range. For example, for four weeks a gym goer would be working in the 10-15 hypertrophy zone. Then for the next four weeks they would switch to the strength zone of 5-10 reps followed by four weeks of power zone training with 1-5 reps per set. After the three-month cycle they would then again start back over with hypertrophy-focused training.

This is effective, but why wait to gain benefits across all of the training zones? This is the question I asked myself years ago. Though I do work through periodization-style programing, I also occasionally work through all zones simultaneously. I have a couple set/rep ranges I do on a regular basis that work across all of the zones.

I have what I call the Power 5 (5 x 25, 5, 10, 15, 20) and the Big 5 (5 x 25, 20, 15, 10, 5) set/rep ranges. In each of these, the first set of 25 is a warm-up and pump-priming set. Then in the next four working sets each training zone is accounted for. If power or strength are the top priorities the using the Power 5 makes the most sense so you can give it your all on the 5- and 10-rep sets while you’re fresh. If hypertrophy or endurance are your goal, then the Big 5 gets you there because you hit the sets of 20 and 15 while you’re raring to go.

You can work through these in multiple ways, but the main thing is to work to failure on the set or sets that contain the number of reps that falls in your desired training zone. If you do this and push hard on the other sets, you can get the immediate benefits of training in the ideal training zone as well as the long-term benefits of training across multiple rep ranges.