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The best rep range to build muscle is 14 and a half……..

Okay, so the title of this is complete bull as firstly who ever does 14 and a half reps? And secondly, there really is no specific rep range that allows for greatest muscle building potential. 

You read it everywhere these days be it in Men’s Health, Flex or on the internet the classic lines of “to build muscle you must stay within 8-12 reps, to increase strength stick to 4-6 and for endurance it’s 15 reps +”. Are these rep ranges really set in stone? Will you grow muscle no question if you lift within the 8-12 range? The short answer to these questions is  no, but allow me to go into a little more detail……….

First of all, my clients regardless of their goal perform a huge variety of rep ranges. Anything from heavy singles and 5 sets of 5 to crazy death sets of 20-30 reps that burn like hell and static holds. Why such a variation in reps? Because I believe variety builds muscle more than any specific rep range. I am not just talking about reps here, I am talking about the volume of sets, rest between sets, supersets, triple sets and also the time the muscle is kept under tension on each rep. Nowadays people are so by the book, they never reach their full potential to build some serious muscle.

A great example is a story about a guy that used to train at our gym who was a power lifter. As you may know, a power lifter in competition will perform 1 rep on deadlifts, bench press and squats as heavy as possible to get a combined total. These dudes and dudettes train for pure strength so training with high reps would not benefit them surely? Not quite. Before I go into this story I want to give you a few stats on this guy’s lifts. At a bodyweight of 92kg this dude could deadlift 300kg, squat 265kg and bench 235kg (the deadlift and squat I witnessed however the bench is what he told me). Don’t get me wrong there are, of course, plenty more out there lifting heavier but none the less these are very impressive stats for someone who didn’t even compete, he just loved lifting heavy. Anyway, every now and again I would see this guy squatting for 10 mins straight with 140kg on his shoulders, of course he would stop here and there to compose himself but the bar never went down, his rest was in standing position with glutes, quads, las and abs braced to the max. He was dripping in sweat and squeezed out reps I had money on him not being able to manage. Once he had finally recovered I asked why he did such a high rep set when his goal were based on 1 rep max’s. His reply was awesome, he said “when I do this my body has no idea what the fuck is going on, nothing could prepare it for such intensity and pain so it has no choice but to get bigger and stronger. After such a tremendous set he told me he then takes a week off to fully recover and then resumes his usual training. He does the same for his deadlifts too. Watching it was awesome as his hands would not leave the bar on the deadlifts. He was adament that after this and a week off he always came back stronger and new found muscle. And with his stats I could not help but believe him. This guy was also pretty dam lean compared to most power lifters and his legs, chest, arms and lats were frickin huge.

Am I suggesting you do the same to grow? Why not, give it a try? But the point here is don’t get stuck in a rut of a set rep range because it won’t work. Mix up your rep ranges and make your body think ‘what the f**k are you doing to me you crazy mother f**ker’. Throw something at your body that it would never see coming. All within your capabilities of course but remember most of you are far more capable than you think. Equally though, don’t be afraid to ease off on the intensity to fine tune technique and to allow for optimal recovery as too hard too often will simply have a negative effect on your training and recovery.

To pack on serious muscle it’s important that whichever rep range you are performing,it’s your muscle that are doing the work. Sounds obvious right? Well it should be but how often do you see people using momentum to bounce the barbell off their chest or making some serious shapes to squeeze out their last few curls or better yet looking like they are doing the butterfly whilst doing pull ups? When it comes to working to failure to pack on mass, I sure as hell know your last rep will not look like your first but there should be an element of control and muscle intent. You need to visualize the muscle fibers firing up to move that weight, tiring out but still being in control of the movement and being put into a state that makes them have no choice but to grow. 

Recently my focus has been on strength however, when I am looking to pack on muscle I will perform anything from 8 reps to 15 reps with a 4 sec negative on every rep to throwing in some heavy 5×5 on other days and even doing sets of 3 reps with just 10 secs rest and performing 20 sets. All the above are in know way the norm for hypertrophy but they worked for me because I felt every rep, I was not scared to drop weight to move the weight with greater intent and control. 

I stick to the big lifts such as squats, stiff leg deadlifts, lunges, plyometrics and leg presses for my legs, bench press, incline bench, close grip bench and press up variations for my chest, Pull up variations, deadlifts, wide rows and dumbbell rows for my back, dumbbell shoulder press, barbell shoulder presses and KB presses for my shoulders and with the above my arms take care of themselves but I do throw the odd bicep curl and cable extension in every now and again. I am currently 6′ 2” and weigh 98kg with about 11-12% body fat so I am by no means the henchest guy you will ever meet but I just wanted to give my take on bulking up and how it’s stereotypical training approach of 8-12 is not always the way to go.

Your take home point from this post:

Don’t believe everything you read, including this blog. Go out there and try it for yourself and make your own decision. Don’t be too by-the-book. I can assure you that doing some sessions of a 20 rep range won’t have you burning your muscle away and looking like Mo Farah 🙂 Test your boundaries with varied reps, rest periods, number of sets and time under tension.

Yours in training,

Matt Whitmore

BOSH