High and Low Rep Ranges


For a while I’ve been mixing up my rep ranges for my workouts going from low reps, such as 4-6 reps for an exercise then doing another exercise with 15-20 reps. I feel that there’s a place for both types of training, and while most everything works, nothing works for long. In this article I’ll cover high reps vs low reps, and why there is no ‘best rep range.’

I’ve always been a believer that it takes lifting heavy ways to truly build dense muscle mass over time. However, muscle growth is also triggered by time under tension as well as attaining that pump when training.

That being said, I feel like it’s equally important to include higher rep sets for some exercises in your workout. With this philosophy you get the best of both worlds in regards to strength and building muscle (I like to call this method ‘powerbuilding.’).

Best Rep Range - high and low reps

Misconceptions of Rep Ranges

How many times have you heard ‘high reps for getting ripped and low reps for building mass’? Though there may be some truth to that statement there’s much more to rep ranges. There’s no doubt that you need heavy weights to build dense muscle mass; this is called muscle overload. But lower reps actually promote more strength gains than making your muscles bigger.

You indeed get bigger as you get stronger and vice versa, but one is a byproduct of the other depending on how you train. High reps are said to enhance muscle definition. One reason this makes sense is that you’re sets take longer and you’re more apt to take shorter rest periods when doing high reps. You’re sort of getting a high intensity interval training type of workout which helps burn fat.

The second reason high reps are good for getting ripped is because they have the capability to do just that; enhance muscle definition. You’re working different muscle fibers with higher rep ranges and bringing out more muscle detail.

On a side note, it’s important to remember that body composition has much more to do with your nutrition plan than anything. This goes for both bulking and cutting phases.

What’s the Best Rep Range?

The truth about rep ranges is neither high reps nor low reps alone are going to grant you the muscle gains you desire. Regardless of your personal goals, both have their place in building both muscle and strength.

Even powerlifters, who typically lift heavy weights with lower rep ranges, will sometimes incorporate higher reps and speed reps to develop more power. For bodybuilding-style training, you need a mixture of high and low reps to pack on lean, developed muscle.

This is why I feel there’s no best rep range. Depending on your personal goals you may train with one rep range more than the other but you should still find a way to mix them both in your workout routine.

You’ll find that using a variety of rep ranges will make your muscles look fuller giving you that bodybuilder shape to them. Heavy weights with low reps will grant you strength and solid muscle mass while the higher reps will ensure that you’re exhausting all muscle fibers leading to maximum muscle growth.

How to Incorporate Both High and Low Rep Ranges

Some weightlifters will cycle their rep ranges such as going a period of 3-4 weeks of low to moderate rep training followed by a week or 2 of high rep training. I prefer to mix in both high and low rep ranges within the same workout.

For example, I usually start out with a compound movement with heavy weights and low reps (such as incline barbell press for chest or barbell rows for back). After that I’ll gradually increase my reps each exercise ending with 12-15 reps on my final exercise (usually an isolation movement).

There’s also the pyramid weightlifting technique where you increase the weight each set while decreasing the number of reps then doing the reverse (a typical rep range would look something like this: 12, 8, 5, 8, 12).

♦ Here’s a sample chest workout using low and high reps:

Bench Press: 4 sets x 4-6 reps

Incline Barbell Press: 4 sets x 8-10 reps

Flat Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 12-15 reps

Cable Flyes: 3 sets x 15-20 reps

The take away from this is there’s really no best rep range. Even though mixing both high and low reps within the same workout is an effective way to build both strength and muscle mass, your body will eventually adapt to that.

Every now and then we have to modify our workout program to shock our muscles into growth. You may go through a few weeks of low rep training followed by a few weeks of high rep training. After that you may want to mix high reps and low reps in the same workout as discussed above.

There are also various weight training techniques you can use to shock your muscles (drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, etc.). So where there is no best rep range long term, using both high and low reps, whether together or in different phases, seems to be the most effective.

Train with Passion,

Jason Stallworth