Rep Ranges Explained

In this article, the difference’s between the principle rep ranges are explained.

Outlined below are the characteristics of the 3 main rep ranges used.

The 15+ rep range

  • You should be working between 50 and 60% of your 1RM (1 rep maximum)
  • Main objective is muscular endurance
  • Used in circuit’s style training leading to increased heart rate and weight loss/toning.
  • Little or no strength gains
  • Little or no muscular growth

Pros: As stated above, when your working within this rep range your mainly going to be working on muscular endurance and should be working with a low weight load. For beginners to the gym this rep range and weight load is good as they are able to practice good form while still feeling the effects of lifting weights while never loosing form and therefore preventing injury.

Con’s: If you are trying to build lean muscle and put on mass this rep range is not for you. (Unless you are doing a final set and looking to really burn the muscle group, but that’s for a whole other article!)
The reason is that if you are able to rep out 15 reps of an exercise you are only lifting about 60 – 65% of your 1RM , therefore you are not putting your muscles under enough stress to lead to muscle growth or muscular Hypertrophy.

The 8 to 12 rep range,

  • Muscular Growth or Muscular Hypertrophy (combined with progressive overload)
  • Slight strength increases
  • Little or no endurance benefit’s
  • Working between 70 to 80% of your 1RM

Pro’s: The real benefits you will see from completing this rep range is muscular growth. The reason for this is that you are lifting a more moderate load and reaching failure between the 8 to 12 mark and therefore stressing your muscles causing micro traumas within them. When a micro trauma occurs the body responds by overcompensating, replacing the damaged tissue and adding more, leading to muscular Hypertrophy.

Your probably reading this thinking,

“Slight strength increases! I have increased my squat by 20kg’s since i started the gym 3months ago!”

Con’s: The reasons for these dramatic increases as a newcomer is that the strength gains you see in the first 12 weeks of starting a gym program are usually whats called neutral adaption. This honeymoon stage will eventually end!
Neutral adaption basically means that your body and brain have learned how to “fire” to achieve the goal of moving the resistance.
These adoptions usually account for most of the strength gains you see in the first couple of months for beginning a  resistance program. Your true strength gains will become visible later and you will then have to move onto the next rep range which to work on your true strength.

The 3 to 6 Rep range,

  • Strength
  • Slight Muscular Hypertrophy
  • No endurance benefits
  • Working at 85 to 90+% of your 1RM

Pro’s: When working within this rep range the main gains you will see will be muscular strength. Your goal while working in this rep range is to lift a heavy enough weight so that you are failing at, or before the 6 rep mark. If you find that you are able to push out more reps, the weight is too light.
Con’s: This rep range is only suitable for your workouts when you have developed a good base and are confident in your form.
As you are working with maximum loads and to failure in this rep range it is very important that you have a “spotter” working with you and that you use correct form.

Your risk of injury is greatly increases if you do not follow these simple rules.

In summary:
Muscular Endurance 15+ reps

Muscular Hypertrophy 8 – 12 reps

Muscular Strength 4 to 6 reps

If you are new to weight training it is always good practice to start off in the higher rep ranges with relatively low weights, building up a good base and learning good lifting techniques and proper form. Once you have built up a base strength and knowledge on how to lift correctly, slowly increase your weights and lower rep ranges.

As an advanced lifter, if you are always looking to increase your weights it is always good to structure your workout program between both hypertrophy and strength work. By doing this you will notice much greater gains then just doing the “standard” 8 to 12 rep range.

Sample Structure:

Weeks 1 – 4 you should be lifting in the 8 – 12 rep range. If you find that you can not lift more than 8 reps the weight is too heavy and should be decreased. If you can lift more than 12 reps the weight is too light and should be increased.

Week 5: Rest week

Weeks 6 to 10 you should be lifting 4 – 6 reps. The same principal’s apply to this rep range. I.e, if you find that you cannot lift more than 4 reps the weight is too heavy and should be decreased. If you find you can lift more than 6 reps the weight is too light and should be increased.

Week 11: rest week

Week 12 Repeat weeks 1 to 4 and so on.

If you are a newcomer to the gym your first 4 weeks of your program should start with reps of 15 +. During these 4 weeks you should practice good form and technique using lighter weights. This will give you a good base and allow you to move onto heavier weights and lower reps.
So next time your in the gym, change your workout and challenge your body with different exercises and rep ranges to yield greater results.


Want to change up your workout?
Try the 300 workout  and challenge yourself to something new!

Bernard Smyth
Ultimate Conditioning
Qualified Personal Trainer

Want to get the best results out of your sessions?
Book a personal training session here. Or call 086 4056925

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