Have you ever had a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand the difference between “reps” and “sets”? They will tell you they just did “20 reps for chest today – and they kept their set range in the 6 to 8 area”. You’ll probably stand bewildered and perhaps frustrated that someone can make it this far in life, and somehow even manage to obtain a ride to the gym – yet they are so clueless on such simple gym vocabulary.
It’s okay – most likely the ECA you’ve been taking for way too long is just making you irritable. Unclench your fists, and put down the stunt chair you were about to break over a fellow gym member’s head. It’s a simple mistake that many people make upon their first entrance to the gym, and one that can quickly be corrected. A little prevention can spare a lot of pain when it comes to discussing training matters with someone who doesn’t quite have the vernacular nailed down. However, once you do explain to them the difference between a repetition (1 movement of an exercise) and a set (a collection of repetitions performed one after another), the truly tough part sets in. That is, of course, differentiating just how many reps are ideal for building muscle.
Human beings are creatures of habit. We discover things that work for us, then we like to stick with them. Perhaps we are most comfortable with a repetition range of 8 to 10. After all, ten is an easy number to aim for. Or, if we like to avoid a lot of painful burn, or we just prefer to lift heavier, then maybe we enjoy the attraction of training with 5 to 8 reps. Nothing beats being strong, right? Rarely, you will find someone in the gym who enjoys hitting 15 to 20 reps, and using a lot less weight to do it. We don’t always understand them, but we respect them. They are training, after all!
The truth of the matter is that ALL of these repetition ranges serve actual purposes, and very important ones at that. Let’s check out the most popular breakdown of repetition ranges so that we can – once and for all – answer the question how many reps to build muscle. Remember that at some point, ALL of them may be useful for you. So don’t pigeonhole yourself into any set number of repetitions.
Repetition ranges of 1 to 5 are terrific for building up strength. This is the range that powerlifters use. The “1RM’, or one repetition maximum, is ideal for proving just how strong (or crazy) you truly are. Powerlifters often train five sets of five reps on many lifts. They rarely go any higher. This kind of lifting requires explosiveness in order to activate the fast-twitch muscle fibers of your muscle groups. Therefore, even if you’re not a powerlifter and aren’t concerned about building up ungodly numbers on the lifting chart, it can be very beneficial for your bodybuilding goals to train with these heavier rep ranges now and then.
If you prefer to use rep ranges of 4 to 7, you will enter the “bulkbuilder” phase of lifter, and one that is very common with the chunkier fellas in your gym. They’re not quite powerlifters because they don’t have the discipline to count weights, lift really heavy, or compete. But they sure don’t want to pump and burn like a bodybuilder either. There “tweeners” are common and will usually be seen on the heavy compound movements. God bless them – they’ll be serious lifters soon enough!
Repetition ranges of 8 to 12 are most popular with bodybuilders. This allows for “the pump”, or complete engorgement of the targeted muscle groups with blood, while at the same time allowing for some seriously heavy weight to be moved for muscle building purposes. Most of the bigger guys in your gym will be using 8 to 12 reps for most sets, and it’ll be the most commonly recommended repetition range in the muscle magazines you read. You can train heavy, but not too heavy, and you’re able to stimulate the aforementioned fast-twitch muscle fibers, as well as many of the slower twitch muscle fibers that don’t “come to life” until you’ve past repetition number 11!
Training with 12 to 20 repetitions per set is the final method, and one that you, as a bodybuilder, will probably not subscribe to very often. Sure, it can be effective for abdominal or calf training when you’re really trying to burn some muscle fibers and etch some detail into a muscle group. But for the most part, lifting in this manner will involve such a light weight that you are unable to really stimulate any new muscle growth.
Now you understand the importance of scheduling your repetitions when lifting. Get off your tail and get to work – the weights (and counting your reps) await you!