Have you ever wondered how many reps
is best to build muscle?

This is a very common question with a lot of confusion! The trainers and strength coaches that know what they are doing always have a specific reason for the number of repetitions they prescribe for a given exercise.

After reading this post, YOU will understand the benefits of all the different rep ranges and answer the question of just how many reps are needed to build muscle.

Before I get into the number of reps,  let me take a brief moment to explain what parts of a muscle can grow (i.e. get bigger, more numerous and/or thicker):

What muscle parts get thicker, more numerous and/or bigger?

  • Muscle fibers, called myofibrils
  • Protein filaments called actin and myosin (they move the muscle fibers)
  • Sarcoplasm (not the slime from Ghost Busters!) is the gelatenous energy stores of carbohydrates (glycogen) and fat, enzymes, etc.
  • Connective tissue

Ok, so after looking at that list you can see that there are 4 general things that “build a muscle”.

There’s No Such Thing As A Bad Rep Range!
Many rep ranges can build muscle….
It just depends on your goals!

Now I will discuss the rep ranges from a single rep all the way up to 20 reps and the benefits of each range.

Low rep ranges (1 – 5 reps)

This rep range puts your muscle under the greatest amount of tension (although moving a moderate weight faster could achieve the same tension but that’s a different post!) since you are moving the heaviest weight.

This rep range increases the number of muscle fibers called myofibrils.The more of these you have, the more force you can produce and the stronger you are! This rep range is ideal for strength gains although some individuals will build massive muscle size as well using this range if they have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers.

High rep ranges (11 – 20 reps)

This type of training increases the muscle energy stores that I generally called sarcoplasm in the above list box. This type of muscle growth is called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. I call it the all show and no go muscle! Perhaps that’s a bit extreme… and If you are a body builder, you should spend some time in this rep range.

If you are an athlete then this range has a more limited value (although still very useful!). It does increase muscular endurance and has some fat burning benefits.

On a side note, the one mistake I see far too often is people switching exclusively to high rep training when trying to “get ripped”. This will not force your muscle to stay strong and you stand to lose more lean mass while dieting with this approach.

Medium rep ranges (6 – 10 reps)

As you might have guessed, this rep range is an optimal compromise between the low and high rep ranges and you will build muscle endurance and strength..

This is where most people spend their time but more in the 8 – 12 rep range. Over the long term that is certainly not optimal.