The Irrelevance of Rep Range

I should have called this ‘Myths of Rep Ranges’ rather than the ‘Irrelevance of Rep Range.’ But my point is this: If you ask people their opinion on what the best rep range is for gaining muscle mass and what is the best for leaning out, I would be willing to bet that over 90 percent of the answers you receive would be: low reps for mass and high reps for cutting.

If you’ve been in the gym mix for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the same. The problem is that this philosophy of rep range isn’t necessarily accurate.

Let’s first tackle gaining muscle mass. If you were to lift heavy weights and perform low reps, you will indeed increase strength. And although strength and muscle mass seem to go hand in hand, stronger doesn’t always mean bigger and vice versa.

Competitive bodybuilders are extremely strong and have an overwhelmingly amount of muscle mass, however, powerlifters are typically much stronger but will not have as much true muscle mass as a bodybuilder. This is mainly due to their difference in training techniques and diet to support their ultimate goal.

Strength vs Muscle Mass

Since we’re talking about gaining muscle mass and not necessarily gaining strength (though strength will increase with having larger muscles), just doing low reps will not deliver absolute gains in size. What produces gains is overloading the muscle which is triggered by training intensity.

You could do three sets of five reps with heavy weight and still not gain a substantial amount of muscle mass. However, if you performed three sets of five reps with a heavy enough weight that it was a struggle to get five reps each time and you reached muscle failure, you would grow.

So they key principle here isn’t so much rep range but rather overloading the muscle and intensity. There’s also the extremely important factor of getting enough protein and calories in your diet to grow.

Purpose of Rep Ranges

Now let’s talk about rep ranges when going for lean muscle mass (leaning out or cutting up). Many believe that doing a lot of high rep sets is the key to this, but that isn’t necessarily true. You could do three sets of 20 reps and notice no difference at all in body composition.

The purpose of leaning out is to shed body fat and retain (or perhaps gain) muscle at the same time so that the muscles are well defined and visible. Like training for muscle mass, the same principles apply. The intensity of your workout and overloading the muscle is not only going to force your muscles into growth, but will also burn more calories enabling you to shed unwanted body fat.

Again, as stated with gaining mass, your calorie intake is going to play a huge role in shaping your body more so than rep range. If you really want to lean out and get shredded then you’re going to have to get serious with your nutrition plan.

Training Intensity

So rep range isn’t completely irrelevant, but it is if you’re not training with intensity and reaching the point of muscle overload. Everyone’s body is different and will respond differently to rep ranges, so it comes down to experimenting and finding what works best for you.

For me personally, I get the most desired effects from heavy weights and low to moderate reps. Either way I must train with all out intensity to get bigger, stronger and leaner.

Whether you’re trying to gain mass or lean out, or perhaps do both at the same time (obviously at a slower pace) the amounts and types of calories are going to be the driving factor in attaining the results you want as far as your physique is concerned. But for either, training intensity is a must regardless of rep range.

Train with Passion,

Jason Stallworth