Are you looking to gain more muscle, size and strength? Here's how many reps you need to be doing! I’m going to explain three methods of various rep ranges that can be used depending on your objectives and how to combine everything for the best possible results.
1. Are you Training for Muscle Size?
Training to increase the size of your muscles is also known as hypertrophy training. The rep range for hypertrophy is around 8-12 reps. After you’ve gotten the warm up sets out of the way (which should be light weights to get the blood flowing) you should select a load of weight with which you can perform a minimum of 6-8 reps but not more than 12. If you are able to do more than 12 reps – the weight is probably too light. If you can only perform 3-4 reps then weight is probably too heavy. Adjust the load of the weight according to the rep range.
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2. Training for Strength?
If your goal is to only increase your strength then you should opt for heavier weights with which you can perform 1-6 reps. Lifting heavy weights within a low rep range will make you stronger. This is why you may see powerlifters focus on their 1 rep max or only perform a few reps with a very heavy weight. Lifting heavy weights of this nature can pose a risk in terms of injury and recovery which is why it’s important to cycle heavy weight training with lighter weight training. Remember, the body only grows when we rest.
3. I Want Strength and Size
This has always been my goal. Life is not black and white and neither is training. I approach my reps and sets with a hybrid combination of both strength and hypertrophy training. This is done through a technique called “pyramids” where I arrange my sets and reps for particular exercises. For example, I’ll start out with a light weight and perform 15 reps, followed by a heavier weight and perform 12 reps, followed by an even heavier weight where I’ll perform 10 reps and then 8 reps and so on. I will eventually reach a weight heavy enough with which I can only perform 3-4 reps. I'll do as many sets on the heaviest weight as possible. This method allows you to lift heavy weight while still doing enough volume to stimulate muscle size and strength. Sure, it’s a lot more exhausting but that’s where the challenge becomes fun.
Take it a Step Further!
The method described above illustrates an ascending pyramid where we go from lighter weights to heavier weights. You can switch this arrangement around and start with heavier weights coupled with low reps and work your way down to lighter weights with high reps. This is called a descending or reverse pyramid. This of course means you have to do an ample amount of warm up sets with light weights before you start the first heavy working set so that the muscle is warmed up and we prevent the risk of injury.
I was able to improve my weaker and smaller body parts by performing descending pyramids. This happens because I have more energy to perform the heavier sets first which is where most of the growth actually occurs. I’m still able to get in the added volume as I pyramid down and move to lighter weights with higher reps. I highly suggest experimenting with ascending and descending pyramids to break out of plateaus and continually progress in terms of strength and size. You could do a few weeks where you focused on ascending pyramids followed by a week of descending pyramids. Another option is to do ascending pyramids for a given body part and try descending pyramids with an alternative body part. As I’ve said before, the body adapts quickly and it’s important to keep changing things up to keep the body guessing and growing.
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