With so much information out there, it can be difficult to determine how many reps you should be doing in your workouts. Like many other topics I have discussed, this one has a similar broad answer, it depends on what you want to accomplish. Below I have broken down the most common goals with rep ranges that are associated with it:
- Strength- 1-6 reps
- Muscle Hypertrophy (size) – 6-12 reps
- Muscular Endurance- 12+ reps
It is also important to remember that these rep ranges are not exclusive in that only that one thing can be accomplished in that rep range. For example, if you are doing a program where you are doing 4-6 reps to gain strength, that does not mean that you will not experience muscle hypertrophy. Likewise, just because you are doing a muscle hypertrophy focused program does not mean that you will not be able to increase your endurance or strength. These are broad categories but let me break it down a little more for you.
When you talk about strength gains in this context, you can think more like Powerlifting, Olympic lifting or Strongman training. When you are training to increase your strength, the most common movements that produce the best results are your Deadlifts, Squats, Cleans, Snatches, Bench Press, etc. Most people who train in this range range are likely training for a competition of some sort and can usually put up some serious weight. What you will also notice is that these Powerlifters or Olympic lifters come in all shapes and sizes. That is because big muscles do not always reflect strength! That may seem odd but it's true. You will see 300 pound bodybuilders that may squat 500 pounds but it is not unusual to see a 170 pound powerlifter squat that and even more. Why is that? Strength is actually more of a neurological adaptation as opposed to a muscular adaptation. Yes, in general, the more muscle a person has the stronger they will probably be, but depending on how they train and eat, strength will vary.
Muscle hypertrophy is the most common goal among people when they start working out. When you have muscular hypertrophy, you will see an increase in muscle size as well as some strength gains. The muscle hypertrophy range is what most bodybuilders and fitness models do to increase their muscle size. I personally have seen great results in muscle gains in this category with my clients and myself and is the “base” rep range for most people.
The muscular endurance rep range starts at around 12 reps and higher. This rep range is where I start most of my clients who are just starting out to build up their muscular endurance. You may put on some muscle mass in this stage but it will not be much because you are engaging your slow-twitch, type 1 muscle fibers that have limited hypertrophy ability. Nonetheless, I have found that this range can really accelerate muscle gains when someone transitions to a muscular hypertrophy program because their muscular endurance is high. People who are most likely to train in this rep range are endurance athletes such as runners, rowers, etc. This is also a great rep range for aging adults as well who may not have the strength to lift much weight.
What To Take Away From This
After reading all this information, you may be asking, what is the big take away from this? The big take away is that you want to match your training regimen with your fitness goals so that you have the best chance to succeed. People can often become frustrated with their results, or lack thereof, when improper training methods are used. If you feel you need assistance, contact a fitness professional to see what would work best for you!