The Best Rep Range for Mass

"Everybody want to be a bodybuilder, but don't no one wanna lift no heavy ass weights!"

-Ronnie Coleman

Forget functional strength.

Forget speed work.

Forget about motions that mimic real-life movement patterns.

You want to gain mass, right?

Well to do that, you need the right rep range.

Problem is, everyone seems to be debating over the IDEAL rep range and what not.

So what's a guy or gal to do? Load up light weight on the bar and pump out 20+ reps for a pump? Grab a pair of dumbbells and curl for 3 heavy reps?

Personally, I've tried all sorts of crazy stuff concerning this topic.

I tried to maintain leg size by doing bodyweight squats (both legs, not single-leg variations) to failure.

I stuck to programs where one Upper Day and one Lower Day involved using loads of a 15RM or higher.

But none of that crap worked; it was too much light work and not enough heavy lifting.

Here's the truth: in theory, you could build a fair amount of muscle with ANY rep range. I actually maintained a fair bit of size while trying my bodyweight squat experiment (I guarantee you, however, that my barbell squat strength plummeted).

I'm sure you're busy. You probably have school, work, family or other obligations to attend to. So why waste more time in the gym than you have to?

Let's take a look at the truth.

Here It Is

The best rep range for muscle growth is anything from a 6RM to a 15RM. Generally, this constitutes of weights from 65% - 85% of your 1RM (one-rep-max).

Furthermore, your workouts should emphasize lifting in the 80-85% range of your 1RM. You can get A LOT out of higher reps, but heavy lifting needs to be your foundation. Now if you have a preexisting injury (torn shoulder, herniated disc, etc.), you probably shouldn't lift this heavy at all.

Weights beyond 85% of your 1RM aren't very conducive to building muscle. Instead, they prime your nervous system to utilize more of the muscle you ALREADY HAVE. Training in this range too often can lead to Central Nervous System fatigue, preventing you from recovering even if you don't feel sore.

Weights under 65% of your max are just too light. Calisthenics guys might hate me for this, but don't waste your time using loads that you can do for more than 15 reps.

Although you can get a lot out of light reps, your workouts should still emphasize 80-85% of your 1RM.

Now, why do I keep referring to these rep ranges as percentages and not whole numbers?

Well, I'm a big fan of reverse pyramid training and think it serves as the best way to build muscle. I start out heavy in every workout and gradually go lighter as the exercises go on.

Previous Training

The way you physically trained in the past influences what muscle fibers you have focused on. If you used to be an endurance athlete, you might find that you can achieve 7 or 8 reps with 85% of your 1RM. If you used to do powerlifting, it's possible you only achieve 3 or 4 reps with 85% but can achieve a much higher 1RM in relation to reps compared to endurance athletes.

Different Muscle Fiber Compositions

On average, people have roughly 50% Type 1 fibers and 50% Type 2 fibers. Type 1 fibers are slow-twitch, making them vital for people like marathon runners or triathletes. Type 2 fibers are fast-twitch, and are further broken down into Type 2a and Type 2b.

Now some people, such as Scott Herman, have far more Type 1 fibers than Type 2. For an exception such as him, it would be beneficial to use numerous pump techniques such as drop sets and go as light as 60% of your 1RM (generally 20 reps).

Applying the Range

Personally, I like to start out heavy and lighten the load over the course of a workout.

That being said, you don't have to go across the 65% to 85% rep range for EVERY exercise in a workout. That would just turn you neurotic. It's more convenient to use the same weight on the bar for couple of sets instead of constantly adjusting the plates.

For example, I start off with Flat Barbell Bench Press on one Upper Body Day:

  • Warm Up Sets
  • Work Set 1: 85% 1RM
  • Work Set 2: 75% 1RM
  • Work Set 2: 75% 1RM

Next I'll perform One Arm Dumbbell Rows,

  • Warm Up Sets
  • Work Set 1: 80% 1RM
  • Work Set 2: 80% 1RM
  • Work Set 3: 70% 1RM
  • Work Set 4: 70% 1RM

After the rows, I perform Weighted Dips as my second push exercise:

  • Work Set 1: 75%
  • Work Set 2: 75%
  • Work Set 3: 65%
  • Work Set 4: 65%

As you can see, you target your muscles at various rep ranges. Again, don't feel the need to load up every exercise at 85%, 80%, 75%, 70%, and 65% all in one workout! Being obsessive doesn't make you bigger.

As you can see, my emphasis is still on heavy lifting

Wrap Up

There it is: the truth on rep ranges and how to implement them.

But why do some people claim one form of lifting surpasses the other? Why do some hate heavy lifting while others love it?

Well, a lot of it is just marketing and sensationalism. Any honest trainer will tell you that both heavy AND light weightlifting have a place in any serious program for building size.

Stick to these principles and you'll find yourself getting bigger and stronger in no time.