If you have been hitting the weights for a while you would have noticed different rep ranges trigger muscle growth in different ways.
It is common knowledge in gym circles that low reps of between 4 to 6 reps are ideal for strength, moderate reps of 8 to 12 are the best for building muscle and rep ranges of 12 and higher are ideal for those interested in developing endurance.
Exercise research scientists have validated that lower reps and high weight build more strength and higher reps performed with lighter weights improve strength endurance. That is not to say that you cannot gain strength by using higher reps with light weight or moderate reps with moderate weight but studies indicate strength gains are generally better with heavy, low-rep training similar to what powerlifters and weightlifters do.
Is lifting weights in the middle zone, the so-called hypertrophy range, the best for bodybuilders?
This is the zone generally referred to as the moderate rep/moderate weight where you train with loads of between 60-85% of your 1 rep max (RM) for sets of between 8 and 12 reps. Heavy or low rep training is lifting weight in excess of 85% of your 1RM for sets of 6 and fewer reps and the endurance zone falls in the higher rep/lighter weight category of lifting loads less than 60% of your 1RM for 12 reps or more.
The hypertrophy range may produce slightly better results than low or high rep work but it is not necessarily the ideal rep range for everyone. Training is highly individualistic and people react differently to different rep ranges.
Some athletes recover best from heavy lifting while others prefer to train with lighter poundages and higher reps.Maximizing sets within a training week depends what a lifter can best recover from between sessions and how training is structured around recovery and food consumption.
Bodybuilders do the majority of their work in the hypertrophy zone because they tend to get the best results from sticking to that intensity range.
Use the following as a general guideline to experiment with the different rep ranges when you train:
- Squats, deadlifts and bench presses: Sets of between 4 and 8 reps.
- Pull-ups/chins and dips: Sets of between 8 and 12 reps. If you do more your form will suffer.
- Rows: Sets of 8-15. Don’t go too heavy and too low on rows because the injury risk is high.
- Dumbbell presses of all variations: Sets of 8-15. Don’t go too heavy because balance can become problematic.
- Unilateral lower body work: Sets of 8-15.
- Isolation lifts and machine work: Sets of 8 and higher to maximize the pump.
It is also important to use rep ranges across a wide spectrum. The majority of your work sets should be in the rep range that you find works best for you. If you have been training in the hypertrophy zone, adjust your training to include lower and higher rep work.