Optimal Rep Range For Muscle Mass
The number of reps to perform per set for optimal growth is a highly debatable in the bodybuilding community. A lot of people have different opinions about this from their own experiences and if you ask the “knowledgable” meatheads at your gym their answers will probably even vary. Some people believe in the low rep ranges even as low as 3 reps while other preach the 20+ rep range and going for the “pump”, feeling the muscle burn.
What rep range should you really focus on?
The answer to this question is that there is no answer. Seriously, there is no optimal rep range for muscle growth. Different rep ranges have different benefits. It has never been proven in a study that a certain rep range will give optimal muscle building results. However, there has been proven what causes the most muscle hypertrophy. This happens in the 8-12 rep range. Maximum protein synthesis occurs between 70-85% of your 1RM (one rep max) according to a study in 2009 conducted by Kumar et al. (Journal of Applied Physiology). This is why you should focus mainly on this rep range if you are training for muscle mass. Going for 20+ reps will work on your endurance mostly, and working in the 1-3 rep range will mainly put on strenght.
Does this mean you should only work in the 8-12 rep range?
No. If you are a natural lifter you should always focus on getting stronger. Getting stronger in your lifts will result in muscle mass and assure constant progress (progressive overload). This is why low reps do have it’s place in your training program aswell. With low reps I mean 1-6 reps. Not only will this give you greater strenght, it will make you feel like an animal too!
Lower reps focus on making your nervous system more efficient, which is very important. Low reps encourage the usage of heavier weights, leading to more stabilizers being involved in the lift. These lifts require more focus and thightness. More muscle fibers are recruited when lifting in the lower rep ranges and your body gets more efficient at turning off antagonists (opposing muscle groups). Making gains in strenght on your lower rep ranges will also help a great deal in using more weight on your higher rep range sets (8-12 reps). The weights will feel way lighter too, enabling you to lift more!
So what about the 15-20+ rep range? Should we completely ignore that?
No, they can have their place in programming, however you shouldn’t use it that often. I recommend a set of 15+ at the end of your workout, to pump more blood and oxygen and nutrients into the muscle.
How it will look like if you apply those rules together
Chest and Triceps workout
Bench press 4 sets of 3-5 reps
Incline DB press 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dips 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Flyes 4 sets of 12-20 reps
Another example is if you hit a certain bodypart 2-3 times a week (which you should according to this article I have written)
Upper Body workout
Bench press 4×3-5
Incline Bench 3×6
Barbell row 5×3-5
Overhead Press 3×5
Incline DB press 4×8-12
Decline Bench 3×8-12
T-bar row 3×8-12
Military press 3×10-12
DB curl 4×8-12