If you’re aiming to pack on some lean muscle mass, one thing that you must be thinking about is how many reps to build muscle it’s going to take. The very first thing that you need to get in place when deciding upon your workout program is the exercise selection you will be using.
Ideally you want to place the larger focus on compound movements when constructing your workout program because it’s these exercises that will stimulate the highest number of muscle fibers and therefore allow you to see the best benefits.
That isn’t to say some isolation exercises can’t be added to your plan – they can be but should be performed after the compound movements and done to a lower overall volume level.
Now, once these exercises have been placed in your workout program, the next step is to determine the best number of repetitions to build muscle. Understanding this element will help you get on the best track to packing on the lean mass.
Let’s look at some of the top factors to consider.
Size Or Strength – What’s Your Priority?
The very first thing to note is that the reps for size and reps for definition will be different. Likewise, if you’re someone who’s focused strictly on building muscle size versus someone who’s also concerned with muscle strength, that too will alter the rep range that you use.
If you care most about building muscle strength, your aim is to lift as heavy as you possibly can. For that reason, you’ll use a very low rep range, moving closer to the 3-6 reps per set.
Note that you should also be primarily doing compound exercises almost to the exclusion of isolation movements because for pure strength gains, isolation exercises provide very little benefits.
If you’re someone who is concerned with size though and not just strength, then you’ll want to be using slightly higher rep ranges, into the 5-8 rep range.
You can take these reps slightly higher up to around 10 reps or so especially for the isolation exercises performed, but there’s no real reason to go beyond that into the 12-15 range.
Once you move up to that level, you’ll have to start dropping the weight and that will really hinder your strength progress.
For muscle size, you want the best of both worlds. The 6-10 rep range will provide that.
The Influence Of Diet On Rep Range
Another important thing to consider is what type of diet you’re using. If you’re someone who is using a lower carbohydrate approach, this could influence how many reps you’re able to do.
While usually most guys who are on muscle building diets will be adding plenty of carbs to their protocol, there are a few who do choose to go at it using a lower carb approach simply because their body doesn’t tolerate carbohydrates very well at all.
If this describes you, use the range of lower reps for building muscle. You won’t have the muscle glycogen storage level necessary to take the rep range all that high and if you try, you’ll just quickly deplete yourself and your strength level will plummet.
One of the requirements of using a lower carb diet is that your total workout volume does have to come down, so if this is the approach you choose to use focus on 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps per set of compound movements.
Those who are taking in plenty of carbohydrates in their muscle building diet shouldn’t have any concern over depleted muscle glycogen so you should be able to move into the higher rep range without a problem.
Bringing Out Max Definition
If you’re someone who’s gotten to the point where you’re happy with your overall muscle size but now want to further define those muscles so that you look more ripped, then you’ll be interested in the reps for definition range.
One big mistake some people make is doing an all high-rep protocol when definition is the goal because they believe this will help them burn up fat faster.
While it is true that taking your rep range slightly higher can help increase the calorie burn of the workout as well as the post-workout calorie burn, you don’t want all sets to be using a high rep range.
If you do, you’ll start to lose strength and this could in fact cause you to lose lean muscle mass.
Instead, perform a few sets using the lower rep range with a heavy weight and then pair that with a few sets of a higher rep range of 8-12 reps using a slightly lighter weight.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the same workout – you could have one low rep workout and one high rep workout, or you could combine both into the same session. The choice is up to you but both rep ranges should be included if your goal is definition.
Your Best Set-Up
So what’s the verdict? How many reps to build muscle does it really take?
The best scenario is to use a combination of different rep ranges. Periodizing a workout program, which means transitioning through different rep ranges at different points in time tends to lead to the best results because the body never knows what’s coming so plateaus are avoided and secondly, because it works the muscle in a number of different manners.
As you progress through your workout you’ll also take notice of what rep range tends to produce you the best results, so make sure you pay attention to that as well. This will allow you to customize the workout so that it’s 100% best for your own individual body.
So make sure that you keep these points in mind regarding the reps for building muscle. It’s not a one size fits all approach but rather, you must take into account your primary focus, the specific exercise you’re doing and the nutritional strategy that you’re using to go along with your workouts.
To learn the specifics of all the other elements that go into program design, check out the No-Nonsense Muscle Building program.