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More Reps Or Heavier Weights: What's Best For Building Muscle?

“How many reps should I do?” “What is the best rep range for gaining muscle?” “Shouldn’t I do more reps if I want to get toned?” All of these questions are commonly asked in most gym settings.

And like most questions in fitness and science the answer isn’t black and white. But depending on an individual goals there are some guidelines that can be followed to maximize progress.

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What is the best rep range for building muscle?

The term building muscle could mean many different things to different people. The thing that everyone should understand that although related building muscle and gaining strength are two different entities.

In terms of gaining muscle aka hypertrophy (Increasing muscular cross sectional area) the best rep range for each individual will vary. The best rep range is one that allows for the safest most efficient way to produce the largest amount of mechanical tension on the muscle to a point in which the muscle is close to 100% fatigue.

Changing things such as load, range of motion, tension and lever arms can manipulate mechanical tension during an exercise. For example, two people bench press 100lbs for 10 reps. One person using a full range of motion and one using a half range of motion. The person using the full range of motion would create more mechanical tension and produce more of a hypertrophic stimulus (gain more muscle).

Coming back to how may reps should be done to maximize muscle gain. The answer is simple; the load and reps don’t matter as long as the set is taken close to muscular failure.

For example, if you do high reps with a lighter load or less reps with a heavier load the muscle gain will be similar if the sets are taken close to failure; Failure meaning doing as many reps as possible with proper technique and in a full range of motion.

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For individuals with strict hypertrophy goals I always recommend sticking in the 6-20 rep range. Any less than 6 and the risk of injury and improper technique will be higher as the loads will have to be greater. Any more than 20 and the sets will be very long and will prolong workout time.

As well as with very high rep sets the body’s cardiovascular system may be the limiting factor and may fatigue before adequately stimulated the desired muscle. Although similar gains can be produced in other rep ranges the 6-20 rep range provides a safe place for most lifters to make the majority of their gains.

For most normal gym goers the name of the game isn’t always gain as much muscle as possible. Gaining strength, improving posture, improving body function and just improving overall quality of life are all byproducts of lifting and may be the focus of ones training program.

Regardless of individuals goals here are some general guidelines to follow when lifting weights:

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  • Lift in a variety of rep ranges with a variety of loads and tempos.
  • Always make sure to use proper technique.
  • Make sure that range of motion matches your individual capabilities and goals
  • Begin with the end in mind; always have a goal/purpose for everything you do
  • When in doubt, ask. If you’re unsure about how to perform an exercise or the best things to do to help you reach your goals don’t be afraid to seek help. Better safe than injured.

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