Choosing the Best Rep Range

by Chris on January 29, 2013

Today’s blog post marks the return (kinda) of Q&A Tuesday. I received an email recently asking what the best rep range was for developing power, but instead of just answering that question and moving on I figured I’d expand on it a little and address selecting rep ranges in general.

When it comes down to getting results using the right rep range is one of the most important things you can do in your training, along with using the best movements. Let’s start off by saying this: Unless otherwise noted your rep range should dictate the weight you use. That means that you should always be using as much weight as possible that allows you to get all of your reps in without a significant breakdown in your lifting. So that means maintaining bar speed, technique and tension. If your ass is coming off the bench to get that last 2 reps the weight is too heavy. Leave the ego at the door and you’ll be much better off.

“You should always be using as much weight as possible that allows you to get all of your reps in without a significant breakdown in your lifting.”

There is an exception to this rule when it comes to training for speed or explosiveness but more on that later.

There are a number of different attributes you can develop with weight training and each one is best developed by certain rep ranges. Most people stick to 3 sets of about 10 reps and rarely do anything more. That’s a mistake that’s going to cost them progress. For brevity’s sake here’s a basic breakdown of the optimal rep ranges for different traits.

  • Maximum Strength
    • 1-4 reps per set
  • Functional (Myofibrillar) Hypertrophy
    • 6-8 reps per set
  • Sarcoplasmic Hyperophy
    • 8-15 reps per set
  • Strength Endurance
    • 15+ reps per set
  • Explosive power/Speed
    • 1-6 reps per set with light weight

Simple enough right? You may have noticed that there are two different types of hypertrophy (muscle building) listed above. Without getting too elaborate here’s the difference: Functional hypertrophy focuses on making the actual muscle fiber bigger whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy predominantly increases muscle size by increasing the fluid surrounding the muscle fiber. This is the traditional “bodybuilding” style of muscle building.

Now you’ve got a basic handle on the best rep ranges for each goal. I’ve discussed at length before the importance of training different rep ranges throughout your program for the best results, so I won’t stress that too much here.

But there’s another piece of the puzzle you should know about: the amount of sets you should be doing. Yes, this varies with the rep range. You don’t want to always do 3 sets because when you’re using lower rep ranges you’ll end up getting no significant volume in. Here’s a quick breakdown of the number of sets you should be shooting for.

  • Maximum Strength
    • Approx. 3-7 sets
  • Functional (Myofibrillar) Hypertrophy
    • 4-5 sets
  • Sarcoplasmic Hyperophy
    • 3-5 sets
  • Strength Endurance
    • 2-4 sets
  • Explosive power/speed
    • 4-8 sets

You’ll notice that the number of sets goes up as the reps go down. That’s because you want to make sure you’re getting sufficient volume to stimulate a result.

Now as for training for explosive power and speed (I told you it was the exception): This is best trained with light weights (i.e. 30-60% of 1 rep max) for the rep ranges shown above. You don’t want to actually get fatigued while doing speed training. The goal there is to stimulate a neurological response, preferentially recruit the high-threshold muscle fibers and make sure every rep is as explosive as possible. So keep that in mind when programming.

Train harder. Train smarter. Train Better.

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