Muscular hypertrophy, or simply getting bigger, is one of the most commonly shared goals of people who train. Whether that is to become stronger or just for aesthetic purposes will depend on the individual, but that doesn’t massively change the process. By that I mean, the idea of getting bigger requires a similar technique to getting stronger.
So you have all these people who want to get bigger and stronger and, naturally, they want to know what is the best way to get there. That means that as trainers we have to be able to correctly determine certain specific things. One of those is the right rep range. Effectively, should you be focusing on workouts that contain a high rep range, a low rep range or a combination of the two?
Firstly we need to decide what we consider to be high and low ranges. This will depend on who you consult but with a high rep range you are probably looking at somewhere over 12-15 reps, whereas a low rep range will be somewhere below about 5.
Let’s start with high reps. Anyone who has attempted these will know straight away that one major benefit is that each rep is harder than the last. So a weight that was easy for the first 5 reps probably won’t leave you feeling quite as comfortable after 15. This has a flip-side though. When we think of building muscle most of us immediately think of fast-twitch muscle fibres. For these to respond you need to be repping close to at least 75% of your one-rep max. And the simple fact is that just won’t be happening if you are able to do 15 reps.
So what about low reps? Well, the low rep argument comes from that link between size and strength that I mentioned at the beginning. If you want to be strong, you are probably going to have to get big too. And there are no stronger people than power lifters who train with very low rep ranges of very heavy weights. Unsurprisingly, this has a flip-side as well. Time under tension is something that you have probably heard about in regards to this too. Stimulation of muscle fibres, which leads to growth, requires time under tension and the simple fact is that a low reps don’t provide the same amount of time under tension as high reps.
That leaves us with the option of aiming for somewhere in the middle. In theory it makes sense. You are getting more time under tension that with a low rep range but you are able to work with more weight than if you were focusing on a higher rep range.
The consensus on this that you should probably be looking towards that middle bracket. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment with lower and higher ranges. Higher rep ranges can be effective if you are looking to add a bit of endurance to your muscles and lower ranges should help to increase strength. Carefully tailoring all that around a mid-range should allow you to achieve the hypertrophy that is perfect for you.