Whether you’re in a gym or exercising in your garage, one of the most basic and important questions is also the most misunderstood.
How many reps should you do?
The answer depends on your goals. Your behavior and exercise regimen dictates specific results. If your goal is to increase speed and endurance you would need to be in a different rep range compared to a powerlifter or bodybuilder.
A Common Goal
Trying to improve speed, endurance, strength, and muscularity all share the common goal of reaching a state of muscle fatigue. This is the end of the rep range where your muscles can’t move weight another inch.
If your goal requires you to do 12 reps that means you hit muscle fatigue at or near 12 reps. If you reach the end of the rep range and you haven’t reached muscle failure, you need more weight.
The last one or two reps are the most important, making it imperative to constantly adjust the weight you’re using to reach total fatigue at the end of the rep range.
If you hit muscle fatigue to early, and can’t reach the required reps you’ll need to lower the weight you’re using.
Reps For Increasing Muscle Size
Increasing muscle size is all about hypertrophy. Reaching a state of fatigue that creates microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. This is the soreness you feel after a workout. As you rest and recover the tears are repaired, and new tissue is added to prevent subsequent damage on your next workout.
That’s the muscle building cycle.
– Lift weight
– Create muscle damage
– Allow the muscle to repair and grow
– Repeat the cycle
With bodybuilding, and increasing muscularity, you want to constantly change exercises to incorporate and damage as many muscle fibers as possible. This forces your body to constantly repair muscle tissue without adapting to your behavior.
This is also why many hit a “plateau”. Your body becomes adjusted to a specific routine, and has repaired and added enough muscle mass to prevent further damage. No muscle damage, means no tears. Which means limited growth.
Recommended rep range to add muscle size is 10-12 reps
Related: How to get stronger
Reps For Improving Strength Gain
Over time, bodybuilders gain strength but at a slower rate compared to powerlifters. That’s because powerlifters aren’t focused on reaching hypertrophy and instead focus on adding pure strength.
The goals and routines are different.
A powerlifter needs constant stress over time, meaning they’ll work with the same heavy weight for several sets. The choice of exercise is also narrowed.
A bodybuilder wants to use and tear as many muscle fibers as possible, making it necessary to incorporate 4-6 different chest exercises. They’ll use barbells, dumbells, change the bench incline, etc.
It’s not uncommon for a powerlifter to spend an entire chest workout on flat bench barbell press, and that’s it.
They don’t need to reach hypertrophy, and they aren’t trying to tear every fiber from every angle. If you’ve ever watched an Olympic weight lifting event you’ve, no doubt, noticed the lack of muscle size relative to their strength.
They look smallish, compared to the massive weight they’re able to move. They aren’t bodybuilders, and they’re very proud of the powerlifting distinction. Bodybuilding is about hypertrophy, powerlifting is about constant stress over time.
The recommended rep range to increase muscle strength is 4-6 reps
Reps For Improving Endurance
While powerlifting is a test of short burst strength, many sports and activities are better suited for sustained strength over longer periods of time. To improve muscle endurance you would want to reach muscle fatigue in the 15-20 range.
There’s a fine line, however, between using weight lifting to improve endurance and causing damage to your joints and tendons. Your joints will wear down if you consistently train with heavy weight and high reps.
Using body weight exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, burpees, and dips can help improve muscle endurance while reducing risk of injury.
It’s never a good idea to use 40-50 reps with weights on a regular basis, it’s just too hard on your joints and tendons.
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