The Best Rep Range to Build Muscle

Like most people interested in building muscle, you’ve probably asked others what the best repetition range is for the goal. You’ve probably gotten canned responses like:

“Lift in the 6 to 10 range.”

“Only do sets between 8 and 12 reps – the best range for growth.”

But, as with most fitness-related questions, the answer isn’t as straightforward. So, let’s dig into the topic and see where the truth lies.

What Makes Our Muscles Grow, Anyway?

Before answering the question of what the best repetition range is, we first have to understand what makes our muscles get bigger in the first place. Since this is a training-related article, we won’t go into detail surrounding the best practices related to nutrition or sleep. We will only look at how training influences hypertrophy.

1. Volume

According to research, the essential factor influencing muscle gain success is training volume–-the amount of work we do in a given workout or training week. Studies find that doing more sets leads to more growth up to a point. Doing too much can have the opposite effect: recovery issues and muscle loss.

While it’s difficult to say how much volume an individual needs, researchers recommend anywhere from 10 to 20 weekly sets per muscle group for optimal results.

Aside from set count, it’s important to note that rep count matters, too. You can do 20 sets of 1-3 reps and 20 sets of 10 reps, but guess which will help you grow more, given all else being equal.

2. Frequency

The second factor with a significant impact on muscle gain is training frequency––how often do you train a specific muscle & why is frequency important in gaining muscle?

While prevailing wisdom suggests that we should train our muscles once per week, research suggests that a frequency of two to three times per week might lead to better results. One reason for this effect is that training more frequently allows us to break up our weekly training volume into smaller and more manageable chunks. 

For example, let’s say that you have to do 16 weekly sets for your back to grow well. Doing all of them in a single workout might lead to excessive fatigue, prolonged muscle soreness, and declining performance toward the end of your session. But, if you break that up into two sessions of eight sets, you can maintain a higher training quality, manage soreness better, and possibly grow more.

How Many Days A Week Should You Train?

3. Various Movements

The third critical piece of the puzzle relates to your exercise selection. Performing multiple exercises for all large muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, back, and chest) and at least two for the smaller ones (biceps, triceps, shoulders, etc.) is vital for balanced development.

For example, if you want to develop a full chest, you should perform at least one movement for the middle and one of the upper pecs. Such would include the decline and classic push-up, flat and incline press, and flat and incline machine chest press. The same rule applies to every muscle group you can think of. Picking multiple exercises and tweaking your technique is essential for recruiting the most motor units possible and causing balanced growth.

4. Effort

How much effort you put into individual sets also plays a massive role in your ability to grow. Simply put, you might be doing the best possible workout, but if you’re not pushing yourself close to your limits, you won’t be able to cause an adequate growth response. So, it’s essential to work hard and leave anywhere from one to three repetitions in the tank on most sets. 

Training to failure is also beneficial, but you should do so sparingly because that can cause too much stress, making it more difficult to recover in time.

5. Rep Quality

Aside from training in the proper repetition range, we should also strive to make each rep as good as possible. Doing so would mean:

  • Training through a full range of motion
  • Feeling the correct muscles working from start to finish
  • Maintaining a consistent tempo between the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering)
  • Not using compensatory tactics like swinging the weight to get more repetitions

Just as the number of repetitions you do matters, how you perform each is also crucial. There is no point in striving to do as many reps as possible if doing so means performing each with poor technique.

So, Where Does Your Repetition Range Fit Into The Picture?

The previous points might seem unnecessary, but we’ve included them to illustrate how nuanced training for muscle growth is and how everything, including repetition ranges, is connected. To answer the question of the best repetition range, we have to look at the whole picture.

Let’s begin with training intensity, which refers to how heavy the weight is relative to your maximum strength. According to research, the best muscle growth occurs when training with loads between 60 and 75 percent of your 1RM. For example, if your best bench press is 225 lbs, 60 to 75 percent would be between 135 and 170 lbs. That would mean doing sets of 6 to 15 reps for most people.

But, aside from intensity, we have to look at how repetition ranges relate to the other factors discussed above.

Volume

The repetition ranges you use should allow you to accumulate enough training volume in a reasonable amount of time and without exhausting you.

For example, three sets of 10 reps would be an example of a good range for growth because you can accumulate plenty of volume in as little as 5-8 minutes with a moderate load. In contrast, 10 sets of three reps would mean you’re training with a much heavier load, it takes you longer to do your 30 total reps, and each set is more demanding, leading to more fatigue.

Frequency

As far as how often you train a muscle group, the rep ranges you use don’t play that big of a role.

Exercise Selection

As you’ve probably realized, most movements come with a recommended repetition range. For example, it wouldn’t be wise to pick up a heavy dumbbell and do sets of 5 to 8 reps on lateral raises. The rep ranges should fit the specific movements you’re doing and allow you to train safely and maintain proper technique from start to finish.

Effort

Repetition ranges don’t impact your ability to push yourself as hard as you would like during training.

Rep Quality

As briefly discussed above, it’s not just essential to hit an arbitrary repetition goal but also to ensure that each rep is of good quality. So, regardless of what movement you’re doing and what load you’re lifting, the number of reps you do should allow you to train with good technique and feel the correct muscles working.

So, What’s The Bottom Line?

There isn’t a single best rep range for muscle gain. You should leverage several intensity zones based on your overall training volume, the movements you’re doing, and such.

It’s best to take advantage of heavier and lighter loads to train in ranges between 5 to 30, always making sure to recover between sets, do each repetition with good form, and feel the correct muscles working.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the essential factor for muscle gain success?

A. The essential factor influencing muscle gain success is training volume–-the amount of work we do in a given workout or training week.

Q. Does high frequency increase muscle growth?

A. Research suggests that a frequency of two to three times per week might lead to better results. One reason for this effect is that training more frequently allows us to break up our weekly training volume into smaller and more manageable chunks.

Q. Why is rep quality important in muscle growth?

A. It’s not just essential to hit an arbitrary repetition goal but also to ensure that each rep is of good quality. So, regardless of what movement you’re doing and what load you’re lifting, the number of reps you do should allow you to train with good technique and feel the correct muscles working.

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