What is the best rep range for muscle growth? That is the million-dollar question that many people wanting to build muscle seem to debate endlessly with no satisfying resolution. Some swear by low volume training, while others believe high volume training is the ideal workout philosophy bar none.
In this article, we’re going to dig into what the best rep range is for maximum muscle growth and why, so you know everything you need to start making the gains you want.
If you have been keeping up with Kinobody, then you know it generally falls into the low volume training camp, ideally utilizing Reverse Pyramid Training as the main training strategy. This doesn’t mean, though, that going heavy with fewer reps should be the only way you train.
We’ll explain the principles of training heavy and how lighter reps with higher repetitions can supplement your program for overall body development.
The Benefits of Low Volume Training
To make muscle grow, you have to place it under stress and tension. “Muscle tension” is the keyword phrase here, so expect to hear it a lot at the expense of sounding like a broken record.
All rep ranges produce muscle tension to some degree. For maximum tension, though, stick with low volume lifting, preferably within the 5-6 rep range.
When you go heavy, tension is placed on the muscle from the first rep onward. The first rep feels almost as strenuous as the last. When you go light by going 10 reps or over, the muscle tension doesn’t really kick in until the last two or three reps. All the earlier reps are pretty much wasted movement.
Don’t Go Too Low
If training heavy is ideal, does that mean using even heavier weights (4 reps or below) is even better? No. While muscle tension is important, there still needs to be ample volume to sustain the tension. Going extremely heavy for one to three reps is good for the ego and strength development, but is insufficient for muscle growth.
Low Volume Training Hits the Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers
Some of you may be familiar with slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. For a brief recap, fast twitch muscles are used in explosive movements, such as heavy squatting, doing a burpee, or shooting for a takedown in wrestling.
Slow twitch muscles, on the other hand, come into play for endurance activities, such as high volume lifting or a brisk jog.
Fast twitch muscle fibers are more important for muscle development. If you need proof of this, just compare the physiques of sprinters and marathon runners. Sprinters run at a blazing speed for a short duration, recruiting their fast twitch muscles. Marathoners go slow and steady, using their slow twitch fibers.
Most sprinters look like He-Man, while marathon runners look like they emerged from a concentration camp.
Low Volume Exercise Stimulates Myofibrillar Hypertrophy
We’re going to dive into some science and anatomy here. Muscle is made up of two components: myofibrils and sarcoplasm. The former composes of interwoven strands that make up around 75% to 80% of muscle fiber. Sarcoplasm is a fluid that fills in the spaces between the microfibrils.
Low volume training stimulates the actual myofibrils for a denser and fuller muscle development. This is known as myofibrillar hypertrophy. High volume work stimulates the sarcoplasm; this is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sarcoplasm fluid partially accounts for the muscle pump that you feel when lifting for higher reps. Sure, the pump feels good, but doesn’t it make more sense to stimulate the myofibrillar that makes up the majority of muscle fiber?
This isn’t to say that training for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy or for the muscle pump is a wrong approach. Sarcoplasm, after all, still makes up part of the muscle.
There is debate whether sarcoplasmic hypertrophy actually stimulates muscle growth at all. There really isn’t scientific consensus leaning one way or another. While some people believe sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is a myth, sarcoplasm is still a part of the muscle, albeit a lesser part. Stimulating the fluid may support myofibrillar function.
When to Train High Volume
It’s obvious we have a heavy bias for low volume training. Going for higher repetition – around the 8-10 rep range – however, does have its place.
For starters, we recommend high volume training for beginners. Why? Students new to the lifting game aren’t accustomed to heavy lifting and will get in the reps by using improper form, such as excessive body heaving. When you cheat, not only do you risk injury but you also fail to stimulate enough muscle tension.
By starting out with higher volume, this also gives beginners a chance to develop a strong mind-muscle connection. This is a vital element as you make the transition to a low volume regimen.
High Volume Is Better for Some Exercises
Some lifters also report better muscle tension using higher volume when targeting certain muscle groups. This is especially common with the triceps. Some lifters just don’t feel tension in the muscle when doing low volume with exercises like pull-downs or skull crushers. They tend to feel it more in their joints. In such instances, a higher volume may be appropriate.
High Volume Training for Advanced Lifters
We also advocate throwing in the occasional high-volume exercise. This introduces some variety; plus, it also induces the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy discussed earlier. If you’ve been dieting for a while and introduce higher volume pump-based training, it’s going to create that full, shrink-wrap appearance I’ve talked about in the past that looks incredible.
For advanced lifters, you can also utilize a combination of lower-volume lifting and a strategic higher-rep protocol called Rest Pause training. This is one of the main concepts in my programs that can produce amazing results… I detail exactly how it works in this post (along with what it looks like in a workout program).
Low Volume Work Ideal for Natural Lifters
Even though low volume is best, you still want to take advantage of the full spectrum of rep ranges. Make heavy volume the meat and potatoes of your routine. This will target the bulk of your muscles for maximum tension. The high-volume work is icing on top of the cake for achieving optimal muscular development the natural way.