Rep range : What is it and how to utilise it

Rep ranges are quite easy to understand but often misused, ignored or unheard of. Basically these are the amount of reps you do within a given set on a particular exercise. The range comes in to play as there are theorised and generally proven sets of ranges that target different goals. The main 3 goals are to improve : strength, muscle size and muscular endurance. Lets look at these in a bit more detail.


Rep range : 2-4

It is also in our opinion that actually 1 is a perfectly good indicator and improvement for strength as your 1RM is indicative of the largest amount of output your body can produce on that given exercise. 1RM training can be overdone however when used too frequently as your body will be so physically exhausted from exerting that pressure that often doing 2-3 sets of 1RM can lead to a decrease in performance there further along the sets you get. Therefore, we find it best to follow this method of sets :

1st set : Warm up (50% or lower of perceived 1RM) with around 10 reps just to prepare your body for the movement and ensure all muscles and joints are ready to go.

2nd set : Building (70% of 1RM with 1-2 reps)

3rd set : The Big Dog set (100% 1RM or the new PB you are attempting)

4th set : Either choose to do another 1RM at the same or slightly more if it felt easy) OR perform a back-off set with a lower weight around 80% 1RM and perform 4 reps

Some lifting icons such as Eddie Hall will go off the basis that you should leave the exercise if you feel you need to drop weight down after a 1RM. This is off of the basis that muscle memory will serve better if the last thing it remembers performing was the heaviest you can go. And we can’t disagree as this can be a good formula for athletes chasing strength. However, if you massively struggled at the 1RM and lack a spotter then maybe decide whether to talk away or do the back-off set.

Hypertrophy aka Muscle Growth

Hypertrophy is the fancy name for growth if you hadn’t already figured out by the subheading. This is when you are chasing the growth of a muscle more than overall strength. Not that strength doesn’t induce muscle growth but it is more generally agreed that doing a rep range of 8-12. There is some disagreement over whether it is 8-15 or so on but we feel beyond 12 is too much for this. Unless you hit a plateau and find reps are the only stimulus to change then by all means be our guest! But in the mean time then stick to this. There is also some discussion over ‘functional hypertrophy’. This is being stronger in everyday life and allowing for additional muscle growth, which is around the 6-8 rep range that you will generally see people use in the gym. However, if it makes more sense to rule this out and focus on the mainstream 3 then feel free to do so. The reason it is ‘functional’ is that it is thought that regular hypertrophy just looks to create a bigger aesthetic look rather than focusing on just strength. Don’t get us wrong, bodybuilders who chase mainly just hypertrophy are very strong but they wouldn’t necessarily outlift, for example, Adam Bishop (Britain’s Strongest Man 2020) who in appearance looks to have less defined and smaller muscles than say Phil Heath. Sorry Phil.

Muscular Endurance

This is the rep range that will most often be associated with ‘The Burn’. You know that feeling you get after you 14th rep and your legs feel like they’re on fire. Yeah that. That’s the burn. For muscular endurance goals you want to be aiming for a rep range of around 12-20 reps. This again can be pushed higher if you need to use that stimulus for improvement but it’s just a general guideline. This rep range is good to use for the girl gym goers out there who fear the ‘bulk’ when doing upper body workouts. Improving muscular endurance will help to improve the aesthetic of a muscle but will focus more on burning extra calories through more movement and contraction and help you to get fitter in the long term. So this rep range is useful when looking to fat loss for your fitness goal.

There may have been some jargon here you may not have understood. So why not check out our Gym Dictionary for any translation.

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