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muscle building workouts

by Jason Stallworth

September 11, 2020

Can you mix high and low rep ranges in the same same workout?

Yes, you absolutely can. In fact, you’ll build more muscle by combining high and low reps. And I’m going to show you a specific way to do this in this post.

In fact, you’re going to get a complete workout routine in this guide that will have you combining high and low reps in the same workout, every workout.

And I’ll cover some interesting facts about how both rep ranges can impact how much muscle mass you can build.

High VS Low Reps Controversy

heavy incline dumbbell press

Rep ranges are an area that many get stuck on. And it’s known to be a controversial topic in the gym.

Society tells us we have to choose one side or the other. And we often subconsciously carry that over into the gym. You see the same arguments over things like high volume vs low volume training, and the many types of conflicting nutrition plans.

And we also get caught up in the outdated mindset of low reps for mass and high reps for definition.

There may be some truth to that but it’s a flawed concept when taken to the extreme, and I will explain more below.

Alright, let’s dig into the meat and potatoes here…

Benefits of High and Low Reps

I’m going to give you a complete workout routine using both high and low reps (for each body part) towards the end of this post. But first, let’s talk about the benefits of both rep ranges.

And I also want to cover the limitations of just sticking to one rep range philosophy.

Like you, I know people who believe in only training heavy with low reps for mass gains. They feel like doing high reps is a waste of time.

I also know people who only do high reps for building muscle. They feel like doing low reps cause injury and make your physique look blocky rather than defined.

So, why do you need high reps?
And why do you need low reps?

Here’s why…

Why You Need High Reps

cable flyes crossovers for shredded chest

High reps work your slow-twitch muscle fibers, according to Anastasia Zinchenko’s ‘The Lifting Guide – Part 1: Choose the rep range that makes your muscle grow the most’ on sciencestrength.com.

Since slow-twitch muscle fibers (type I muscle fibers) take longer to react, they can sustain energy longer. For this reason, high reps are associated with gaining muscle definition and bringing out striations.

There are two parts to this:

  1. Higher reps increase the time under tension, which is a known fact for building muscle size
  2. Higher reps can also increase your endurance and conditioning, helping you burn more calories, which is needed to get ripped

So, what exactly are high reps as it relates to building muscle? Certainly, you don’t want to look like a runner!

High reps are typically anything over 8 reps. But I personally consider high reps to be between 12-15.

Once you get beyond 15 reps, you’re really not training for muscle size anymore you’re doing more of a cardio workout.

**There is an exception for legs as many experience substantial development in their quads with extreme-high reps.

Why You Need Low Reps

Dumbbell rack - heavy dumbbells

Low reps work your fast-twitch muscle fibers, according to Shane Giese’s article ‘Slow & Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers’ on bodybuildling.com.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers (type II muscle fibers) are recruited for power when lifting heavy. These fibers are actually more important for hypertrophy and building mass.

Here’s how slow-twitch muscle fibers work:

  • Low reps will make you stronger and this will allow you to overload your muscles, which results in mass gains
  • Low reps will give you that dense size and deep muscle separation

**Going heavy with low reps is also known to increase your natural testosterone and growth hormone levels, albeit temporarily.

If you would like to learn more about keeping these hormones elevated naturally, be sure to read about my recommended testosterone booster here.

So, what exactly are low reps, and how do they relate to bodybuilding workouts? After all, your goal is to increase muscle size and shape, not to become a powerlifter.

Low reps are typically anything under 8 reps. Many bodybuilders will start out with heavy compound movements of 4-6 reps.

However, anything lower than 4 reps is not going to build as much muscle because of the limited time under tension.

Limitations of Just Using One Training Style (Only High Reps or Only Low Reps)

This goes beyond just rep ranges. If you’re only using one style of training you’re limiting your potential muscle growth.

Over time, your muscles will get used to the same workouts. What happens? They stop responding.

Have you ever noticed how sore you are when you change your workout routine? It doesn’t necessarily mean that your new workout program is better than your old routine.

But it is better for that specific time. Your old routine was effective for a while until your muscles got used to the same routines. The new workout you started shocked your muscles, causing them to respond.

Changing your routine can be a combination of many elements from the exercises you’re doing, training volume, and yes, your rep ranges. Even switching the days around for your body parts can make a difference.
**Try switching your le day to Monday, for example!

What we learn from this diversity can play a ‘huge’ role in gaining muscle mass. And this, along with the benefits we talked about earlier, are why combining both high and low reps in your workouts is essential for maximum gains.

**You can dive deeper into using both high and low rep ranges in my post: Low vs High Reps

Bodybuilding Workout Routine Using High and Low Reps

plate loaded rows for a massive back

Are you ready for the good stuff? Below is a complete workout routine that implements both high and low reps.

Here are a few notes about the routine:

  • You’ll typically start your workouts with low reps
  • You’ll gradually increase the reps with each exercise during your workouts
  • For low-rep exercises, 4-6 reps, rest 2 minutes between sets
  • For mid-rep range exercises, 8-10 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
  • For high-rep exercises, 12+ reps, only rest about 40 seconds between sets
  • You’ll see a range of reps (ex: 4-6, 8-10, 12-15) for each exercise rather than a specific number – this allows some flexibility to go up in weight a little each set while still maintaining the rep range called for
  • Be sure to stretch your muscles worked after each workout

**You will not be doing low reps for smaller muscles, like biceps, triceps, and calves. The heavy work you do for back, chest, and legs will suffice for these muscles as they are recruited in those exercises…

Triceps are worked during chest exercises
Biceps are worked during back exercises
Calves are worked during leg exercises

Your High-Low Rep Training Split

The below training split has you training 5 days a week, hitting each body part once a week except for legs, which will be twice a week (and I’ll share why it’s important to train legs more after you read through the workouts).

  • Monday: Chest and biceps
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Back
  • Thursday: Shoulders and triceps
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Legs (2nd time)
  • Sunday: Rest

**You can rearrange this to fit your personal schedule. Let’s get to your workouts…

Chest and Biceps Workout with Low and High Reps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press4 x 4-6
Incline Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10
Dumbbell Pullovers4 x 10-12
Cable Flyes4 x 12-15
Dumbbell Hammer Curls3 x 8-10
Preacher Curls3 x 12-15

Leg Workout with Low and High Reps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Leg Extensions (warm-up)3 x 15
Squats5 x 6-8
Leg Press5 x 12-15
Lying Leg Curls4 x 12-15
Single-leg Extensions4 x 12-15
Seated Calve Raises6 x 12-15

**You’ll notice the reps are slightly different for legs than upper body. Legs are a different beast and for most people, they require a difference approach of training with higher reps, in general, and more volume.

Back Workout with Low and High Reps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Deadlifts4 x 4-6
Barbell Rows4 x 8-10
Dumbbell Rows4 x 8-10
Seated Rows4 x 12-15
Lat Pulldowns4 x 12-15

Shoulders and Triceps Workout with Low and High Reps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Standing Overhead Press4 x 4-6
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10
Lateral Raises4 x 10-12
Bent-over Raises4 x 12-15
Reverse Overhead Rope Extensions3 x 8-10
Single-cable Pressdowns3 x 12-15

Leg (2nd) Workout with Low and High Reps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Leg Extensions (warm-up)3 x 15
Leg Press5 x 20
Stiff-leg Deadlifts4 x 12-15
Single-leg Extensions4 x 12-15
Seated or Standing Leg Curls4 x 12-15
Standing Calve Raises6 x 12-15

**This 2nd leg workout is a little different than your first just to spice things up!

Why You Should Train Legs Twice a Week

Legs are the most neglected muscle by bodybuilders, especially beginners. Or if you’re like me and you just love training but have no desire to compete in bodybuilding.

If you think about it, most train their upper body 3-4x a week but only train legs once. That makes no sense as your legs are the largest muscle in your body!

I learned many years ago that legs require more volume and frequency to grow and keep up with your upper body.

To get more workout ideas for training legs more frequently, be sure to read my post: Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Bigger Legs

Perform High and Low Reps Every Workout for Huge Gains

Now you see why you need to use both high and low reps to pack on more muscle mass. And you have a complete training routine that uses both.

To help motivate you, even more, be sure to check out what supplements I’m taking here (I keep this page updated!):

Jason’s Current Supplements for Building Size

And if you’re ready to start a complete 12-week full-blown training program for packing on mass, be sure to check out my elite program below (you can download this now and start today!):

Hardcore Muscle Building Program

Train with Passion,

Jason