Rep Ranges for Specific Training Goals
We will split this article into beginners and Advanced. The beginners Model on how to choose an appropriate rep range for your specific training goals works quite well for 90% of the population. The Advanced Model has a lot more detail, will probably bore most people and is really only useful for those trying to push their potential to the limits.
|Reps per Set
|Intensity Range %
|Hypertrophy (muscle growth)
|Less than 60%
Like I mentioned, this model works just fine for most people and is what is taught to most Personal trainers and University students. Basically the more intensity you use the higher is the strength component. The middle rep ranges are considered best for muscle growth and the higher the rep range (lower intensity) the more we start to switch over to endurance training. Pretty simple and very effective.
Now for the More advanced version (put you geek pants on)
We are going to stick with the basic skeleton of the beginner’s model and flesh it out a little in order to achieve the most muscle mass or sporting performance. Here are a few factors we need to consider and incorporate into our advanced model. In no particular order
- If you perform rep ranges between 1-6 you will still grow (hypertrophy). Similarly if you get stronger in the 20 rep range you will grow also. Obviously there is some over-lap going on here
- The time under tension has a huge influence on muscle fiber recruitment and the energy pathways utilized by the muscles. Eg. 8 reps performed in 20 seconds is not the same as 8 reps performed in 60 seconds. Energy pathways need to be considered and matched to the specific outcome for best results.
- Following on from above, Lactic acid upregulates growth factors inside the muscle. Utilizing a rep range in the lactic acid energy pathway range has to be incorporated into a maximal muscle growth plan.
- Muscular failure (even in the 25 rep + range) produces a hormonal response conducive to maximal muscle growth.
- Is 13+ reps really endurance? For a powerlifter it may be but for a cyclist or runner it may be of almost no use in their training. The duration of each working set needs to be matched to the needs of the sport/athlete.
- Rest time between sets will influence how much recovery occurs and which energy pathway is used. Eg. if rest periods are too short lactic acid may not clear sufficiently for strength based training.
- There are two different types of hypertrophy—sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar . Myofibrillar hypertrophy increases the size of the muscle fibres, while Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy involves increases in cell size due to fluid, carbohydrate/ amino stores and increased mitocondria. While sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is responsible for the biggest improvements in size (bodybuilding), Myofibrillar hypertrophy contributes more to strength gains (weight lifting).
We will add all these factors in to create our advanced model table
|Average Rep range
|90 sec – 5 min
|ATP/Creatine + Lactic acid
|45 sec– 2 min
|below 45 sec
|2 min – 5min
|Lactic Acid + Aerobic
|Longer Distance Endurance
|5 min +
The key thing to notice about our new model is the overlap between the various categories. Previous models have had distinct boundaries; however the body does not work this way. The changes in Energy pathway and training goal fit on to a spectrum. As time under tension increases pure strength gradually blends into Hypertrophy then continues on until we begin to incorporate some endurance, and at the other extreme of our Rep range spectrum we get Pure Endurance.
Take home Note: Once you are clear about what your objective is you can apply the appropriate Rep range/ Set time (Time under tension) along with the appropriate Rest interval to achieve your goal. All columns in the table above are interconnected and all impact on your final outcome. A classic example to highlight this would be a Maximum strength session where rest intervals are too short. The consequence of this is set 2 through completion would shift into the Lactic acid energy pathway (insufficient recovery time to go back to pure ATP/Creatine) thus the training effect would shift from pure strength into more Myofibrillar Hypertrophy. In this example it would be most disadvantageous for athletes trying to increase strength but stay in a lighter weight category
Most training plans will need to incorporate a variety of rep ranges to maximize muscle growth or sports performance optimally. An example of this would be football or wrestling, both sports have explosive strength phase along with short term and long term endurance. A well-constructed training plan will reflect the needs of each specific sport/athlete. Don't have a routine tailored to your body and goals, click the link below to get started