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dumbbells heavy light high reps low reps

by Jason Stallworth

June 30, 2019

Do you want to know what the best rep range is for building muscle size

In this post, you and I are going to compare high reps vs low reps, and we’re going to find out which one is more effective for mass gains. 

You’ll also get a full workout program for both high and low reps. Even better, I’m going to show you exactly how to use both to build more size (there’s also a ‘secret muscle building workout’ I’m going to give as well!). 

The Truth About Rep Ranges

How many times have you heard ‘high reps for getting ripped and low reps for building mass’? There may be some truth to that statement. But here’s more to it, and we’re going to dive deeper into how different rep ranges impact muscle growth.

There’s no doubt that you need to lift heavy weights to build dense muscle size and mass. Part of the equation for growth is muscle overload.  And that’s what heavyweights do.  

Your muscles will grow larger as you get stronger as a means to support the weight you’re lifting. And naturally, as you work out more to make your muscles grow, you’re going to get stronger. One if a byproduct of the other, and a good ‘side-effect’ of lifting heavyweights.

On the flip side, high reps will pump more blood into your muscles. As a result, your muscles will expand and grow. 

There’s also the need for more training volume when your goal is to gain size. Training volume is the key to hypertrophy, which in essence is muscle growth. 

Confused yet? Don’t worry, I’m going to break everything down even further and show you how to tie it all together for the best results. 

And remember, there’s a secret workout style for building mega muscle size that I’m going to show you at the end. So kick back, sip on your BCAA drink, and let’s learn! 

What is High Reps?

what is high reps

A common question I get is what constitutes high reps? How do you define that?

High reps are anywhere from 12-20 reps.

Anything below 12 is considered low to medium. Now you may ask ‘Bro, what about 25, 30, or even 50 reps?’

Once you get beyond 20 reps you’re out of the muscle-building zone and basically doing a form of cardio. Some may even argue that limit to be 15.  And for upper body, I will almost agree.

20-rep sets pertain to leg day. Your legs, especially quads, have more slow-twitch muscle fibers which typically respond better to higher reps. So that’s why my personal high rep range goes up to 20. 

It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to do even more reps for legs on exercises like leg press and leg extensions. Building leg size often requires a different approach than upper body muscles. 

If you want to learn more about how to make your legs grow, read my post: Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Big Legs

High Rep Workout Routine

Below is a high rep bodybuilding workout plan you can try. The rep ranges are all 12-20 (as we discussed, you’ll notice most of the 20 reps are on leg day). 

This is a 4-day workout plan. An example is:

  • Monday: Workout 1
  • Tuesday: Workout 2
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Workout 3
  • Friday: Workout 4
  • Saturday & Sunday: Rest
high rep leg extensions

High Rep Workout 1: Back

Exercise Sets X Reps
Barbell Rows 4 x 12
Dumbbell Rows 4 x 12
Lat Pulldowns 4 x 15
Seated Rows 4 x 15-20

High Rep Workout 2: Chest and Biceps

Exercise Sets x Reps
Bench Press 4 x 12
Incline Dumbbell Press 4 x 12
Dumbbell Flyes 3 x 15
Dumbbell Curls 3 x 12
Preacher Curls 3 x 15

High Rep Workout 3: Legs

Exercise Sets x Rep
Squats 4 x 12
Leg Press 5 x 20
Leg Extensions 5 x 20
Leg Curls 5 x 15
Calve Raises 7 x 15-20

High Rep Workout 4: Shoulders and Triceps

Exercise Sets x Reps
Seated Overhead Press 4 x 12
Lateral Raises 3 x 15
Bent-over Raises 3 x 15
Skull Crushers 3 x 12
Rope Pressdowns 3 x 15-20

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What is Low Reps?

what is low reps

Now that you know more about high reps, what’s the rep range for low reps 

Low reps are anywhere from 3-6 reps.

If you’re doing anything less than 3 reps, you’re practically maxing out and that’s not conducive to building muscle size. 

There is one exercise that’s common (and extremely beneficial) to do less than 3 reps with. Deadlifts.

Heavy deadlifts, even 1-2 rep sets, will help you build a solid foundation of muscle size and power. And this will help you gain strength in all of your lifts.

Here’s more bodybuilding workouts for mass gains using deadlifts: 9 Bodybuilding Workouts for Mass Gains

Low Rep Workout Routine

Now it’s time for the low rep strength-building workout. This type of workout is great for strength gains, and to build a solid foundation of muscle using compound exercises. 

This is a 3-day workout plan. You can use the below workout schedule:

  • Monday: Workout 1
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • WednesdayWorkout 2
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout 3
  • Saturday & SundayRest
deadlifts low reps

This program is based on the push > pull > legs workout style. I have a full 6-day program in this post: Push Pull Legs Workout: 6-Day Routine for Mass and Strength

Low Rep Workout 1: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

Exercise Sets
Bench Press 5 x 3-6
Incline Bench Press 4 x 3-6
Seated Dumbbell Press 4 x 6
Close-Grip Bench Press 3 x 6

Low Rep Workout 2: Back and Biceps

Exercise Sets
Deadlifts 5 x 3
Barbell Rows 4 x 3-6
Dumbbell Rows 4 x 5
Lat Pulldowns 3 x 6
Barbell Curls 3 x 6

Low Rep Workout 3: Legs

Exercise Sets
Squats 5 x 5
Hack Squats 4 x 3-6
Romanian Deadlifts 4 x 3-6
Front Squats 3 x 6
Good Mornings 3 x 6

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Training with heavy weights and lower rep ranges is a sure way to make massive gains.

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How to Mix High and Low Reps

Here’s the real truth about rep ranges:

You need to incorporate both high and low reps into your workouts to build muscle size.

High reps are necessary for 2 reasons:

  1. High reps pump more blood into your muscle
  2. They also add more training volume to your workouts

You may think that high reps are just for muscle definition and getting ripped, but you also need these 2 attributes to build size and mass. 

Low reps are necessary for building size for the 2 reasons below:

  1. Low reps help you get stronger so that you can lift more weight
  2. They also build your core foundation for having dense muscle mass

Many believe that low reps are just for powerlifters. They’re wrong. The benefits of lifting heavy weights for low rep ranges are necessary to overall size and mass. 

What About Medium Rep Ranges?

Now that you understand the combined benefits of high and low reps for building size, you may be asking…

“Dude, what about medium reps??? You completely missed that!”

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. In fact, this is considered by many to be the ideal bodybuilding rep range: 8-12 reps (I still say once you hit 12, that’s considered high). 

And this leads me to the perfect workout plan for building size and muscle mass

Perfect Workout Routine for Size

In my opinion, this is the absolute perfect bodybuilding workout routine if your goal is to gain mass and quality size. 

It’s a 4-day workout plan, and you’ll be doing:

  • Low reps
  • Medium reps
  • High reps

Your goal is to build strength and dense muscle mass at the beginning of your workout using heavy weights and low reps with compound exercises.

From there, you’ll gradually perform more reps, going from medium rep ranges to ending with higher reps. 

The workout structure and schedule is similar to the high rep workout routine you read about earlier, and here it is again…

  • Monday: Workout 1
  • Tuesday: Workout 2
  • WednesdayRest
  • Thursday: Workout 3
  • Friday: Workout 4
  • Saturday & SundayRest

Perfect Workout 1: Back

Exercise Sets X Reps
Deadlifts 3 x 3
Barbel Rows 4 x 6
Dumbbell Rows 4 x 8
Seated Rows 3 x 10-12
Lat Pulldowns 3 x 12-15

Perfect Workout 2: Chest and Biceps

Exercise Sets x Reps
Bench Press 4 x 3-5
Incline Bench Press 4 x 6
Dumbbell Flyes 3 x 8-10
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 12-15
Barbell Curls 3 x 6-8
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 x 10-12

Perfect Workout 3: Legs

Exercise Sets x Rep
Squats 4 x 3-6
Romanian Deadlifts 4 x 6-8
Leg Press 4 x 10-12
Leg Extensions 4 x 12-15
Leg Curls 4 x 12-15
Calve Raises 7 x 15-20

Perfect Workout 4: Shoulders and Triceps

Exercise Sets x Reps
Standing Overhead Press 4 x 3-6
Seated Dumbbell Press 3 x 8-10
Bent-over Raises 3 x 10-2
Lateral Raises 3 x 12-15
Skul Crushers 3 x 10-12
Rope Pressdowns 3 x 12-15

How to Cycle Rep Ranges

Another tactic you can use is cycling your rep ranges. Here’s an example of a workout schedule using this technique:

  • Weeks 1-4: Low reps
  • Weeks 5-8: Medium Reps
  • Weeks 9-12: High Reps

You could even extend this to have weeks 13-16 doing the ‘perfect workout’ using all rep ranges I just gave you. Then follow that up with a couple weeks of deload workouts

This is a great way to stay motivated and also continuously shock your muscles into growth. 

Final thoughts on Best Rep Ranges for Size

The take away from this is there’s 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 your 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.). I have a full workout plan using supersets on this post: Lean Muscle Building Program

So where there is no best rep range long term, the most effective way to build mass is by combining both high, medium, and low rep ranges. 

Train with Passion,

Jason