Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Many people ask about the perfect number of reps that they should be doing when they exercise.
It's such a fundamental part of weightlifting, yet so many people become confused and aren't sure about it. Should you lift heavy weight and low reps? Light weight and high reps to tone? What about the in between?
These are all common questions that people ask, and we're here to answer them in this post. We'll be looking at what the most common rep ranges are, what they're good for and helping you pick the right one depending on your goals.
What Are the Most Common Rep Ranges and What Do They Build?
If you go to the gym, most of the time you'll see people doing pretty similar rep ranges. Most sets are going to be done with 3-30 reps consecutively.
You'll probably never see anyone doing a crazy high number of reps like 80 or 100 in a single set. Due to science and research, most people now know that there are rough rep guidelines they should be staying within.
And even then, this can be broken down further into smaller rep ranges. Within the 3-30 rep range for the majority of sets performed, there are 3 general rep ranges that you'll see people performing.
Before we begin though, you need to understand that there is an inverse or negative relationship between the amount of weight you're lifting and the number of reps you'll be able to perform during the set.
By this, we mean, if you use a heavier weight, your number of reps will decrease. And if you want to achieve a higher number of reps, you'll have to decrease the weight. As one value goes up, the other must come down to compensate. That's what a negative or inverse relationship means.
This is because your muscles can only tolerate so much stress and tension before they lose their ability to keep producing force. The more weight you use, the less reps it will take for your muscles to lose their capacity to keep producing force to move the weight.
Hopefully that makes sense.
Now we'll get into the most common rep ranges and what they're good for developing.
The 1-5 Rep Range
This is your heaviest rep range. You can't go below 1 rep in a set. We're sure you knew that.
Knowing that there is an inverse relationship between the weight we use and the number of reps, it should be pretty clear that you'd generally only train in this rep range if you're looking to lift relatively heavy.
Since the loads are the heaviest here, you're lifting at the highest intensity when you lift in this rep range. Consequently most people will lift in this rep range towards the beginning of their workouts when they've got the most energy.
They want to lift as heavy as possible for their chosen number of reps, and they need all the energy they can get in order to do this.
The 1-5 rep range is usually used by powerlifters, or those that specifically want to get stronger at their compound lifting.
Lifting heavy and strength is a skill. And as with any skill in life, the only way to get better at it is to practice. In order to get comfortable lifting heavy, you have to lift heavy. That's why sometimes you'll see people programming heavy squats, bench pressing and deadlifting into their routines.
They don't just do it to shake things up. They want to specifically build strength in those core exercises.
The 1-5 rep range will still help you build muscle, but is generally less optimal than slightly higher rep ranges. Lifting in this rep range is mostly focused on building strength.
The lower you go in this rep range, the more you'll focus on building strength and the more you'll stray away from muscle growth, and vice versa.
The 6-15 Rep Range
For most people. this is the rep range that is most conducive to muscular hypertrophy. You're not lifting too heavy to the point where you can't fit in many reps, but you're still lifting heavy enough that you place stress on your muscles and are still able to tear some muscle fibers.
Pretty much everybody is going to lift in this rep range. Whether you're a powerlifter, an Olympic weightlifter, an endurance athlete or whatever else, you're likely going to end up programming this rep range into your training.
A great rough guideline by lifting coach Eugene Teo is the 15-30 guideline.
If you haven't heard of this before, it's actually quite simple. His rule is that the total number of repetitions you end up doing across all your sets on a given exercise should fall between 15 and 30 reps.
For example, let's say that you wanted to build muscle in your chest, shoulders and triceps by utilizing the barbell bench press. To ensure that you're doing an optimal number of reps, you'd want to look to pick a set and rep scheme that allows you to finish the exercise after having done 15-30 reps.
We've given you a list of some examples below. As you can see, they all fall within 15 and 30 total repetitions formed.
3 sets of 6 reps
4 sets of 6 reps
3 sets of 8 reps
3 sets of 10 reps
2 sets of 12 reps
Generally, 6-15 reps per set is going to get you there if you do a reasonable number of sets for a given exercise.
The lower you go inside this rep range, the more you'll focus on building strength and stray away from developing muscular endurance. The higher you go, the lighter the loads you'll be lifting.
This is going to reduce the strength component to your sets, and instead develop more of your muscular endurance and your ability to sustain physical efforts for extended periods of time.
The key takeaway is that lifting in the 6-15 rep range per set is (generally) going to be optimal for building muscle.
The 15-30 Rep Range
This is the highest rep range that most people will ever lift in, and is also the rep range where you'll be lifting the lightest weight.
Intensity here is the lowest of all the three rep ranges that we outlined in this video, and the 15-30 rep range is usually done towards the end of a workout as a result of this.
Many lifters will actually very rarely go into this rep range. They simply have no reason to do so. This rep range will mostly be used by endurance athletes, and those that need to get good at sustaining physical efforts for very long periods of time (such as rowers, boxers, marathon runners, etc.).
If you're not an endurance athlete and you just care about getting stronger/building more muscle and looking better, you don't have much of a reason to go this high in your reps.
You'll still build a some muscle, but it won't be at an optimal rate. And you won't build too much strength either. You'll more so be developing your endurance.
Picking the Right Rep Range for You
When you come to pick the rep ranges that you're going to be lifting in, it's important for you to be able to define your goals and know exactly what they are.
If you don't know your goals, picking the right rep ranges for you is going to be incredibly difficult. As you already know, your goals will determine which rep range is best for you to be lifting in.
We all want to achieve different things, and it's important for us not to fall into the trap of thinking that we need to adjust our goals and dreams to satisfy those around us, especially the ones that we care about the most.
So pick your own goals. You need to be the one to do this.
Some common goals include:
Bulking and gaining weight
Training/programming for a specific activity (running a marathon, playing competitive sport, etc.)
Now there are loads of other possible goals out there, but what we've given you are probably the most commonly shared goals out there.
Like we said, it's important that you know what your goals are and why you're doing this. Otherwise, when you start to struggle, you'll find it hard to keep pushing on as you've got nothing to work towards.
Also, it's completely normal to have more than one goal! Many people have several that they are working towards all at the same time.
Now that you know your goals, you can begin to look at each rep range and pick the one(s) that you should be lifting in to get there.
We'll help you pick out your ideal rep ranges for each of the most common goals out there. And then, if you've got a goal that's not on that list or still have a couple of questions regarding this, you can simply flick us a message or an email via our contact us page and we can help you out!
For Building Muscle
If you want to build muscle, you have to understand the main mechanisms of muscle growth. There are three, but the primary one is mechanical tension. This basically means the amount of weight that you're lifting and placing onto your muscles.
To build muscle over time, you have to get stronger over time. Yes, there is a positive relationship between muscle strength and muscle size.
If you go into the gym, you'll notice that the majority of the time, the biggest and most muscular guys and girls in the gym are also the strongest people there.
Basically put, if you were to double the weight that you could bench press for 12 reps in a set, your chest, shoulders and triceps would also have grown noticeably.
You can get stronger in the 6-15 rep range over time and build muscle. We know that that's the rep which is most conducive to hypertrophy.
However, you also likely want to be lifting heavy.
To continue to get stronger and increase the amount of mechanical tension that you can place onto your muscles, you want to lift heavy in the 1-5 rep range. We don't recommend going below 3 without a very specific reason, but that's up to you. Remember, the lower you go, the more you'll stray away from hypertrophy.
For Weight Loss
If you're lifting weights in order to lose fat, we assume that it's because you want to build muscle and increase your metabolic rate. And if you're lifting to burn some calories, as long as you train hard enough all rep ranges are fine.
Your body needs to expend energy (calories) in order to produce force. As long as you take your sets close enough to failure, it doesn't really matter which rep range you pick if you're just looking to burn some extra calories.
Click here to read more about how building muscle helps you burn more fat.
In this case, you'd want to do the exact same as you would if you were looking to build muscle.
You would want to do a combination of both heavy and moderate lifting, to ensure that you get stronger and can place sufficient mechanical tension onto your muscles to cause them to grow.
This would then increase the speed of your metabolism, which is the rate at which your body naturally burns calories. If you want long term gains and progress with weight loss, this is one of the best ways to go about it.
Gaining mass is about eating in a caloric surplus and putting on as much muscle as possible. Again, this means that the rep ranges you pick will be the same as the ones you'd pick for muscle building.
Look to do a combination of both heavy and moderate lifting. This is going to allow you to make long term progress and keep allowing you to progressively overload your workouts, resulting in more gains as time goes on.
However, remember that you absolutely have to be eating in a caloric surplus if you want to gain weight. There's no way around it. It doesn't matter how much weightlifting you do, if you don't eat in a caloric surplus, you won't gain any weight.
If you want to gain strength, the best way to go about this is to simply lift heavy more often. So most of the time, you'll want to be lifting in the 1-5 rep range.
However, you also don't want to burn yourself out by lifting too intensely too often either. So you'll also want to incorporate some moderate lifting in the 6-10 rep range to accompany this and to further develop your muscle size.
Remember to keep applying your processive overload and keep increasing the weight that you're lifting over time to make long term progress!
Training for a Specific Sport/Competition
Depending on the nature of your sport, the rep ranges that you pick will differ. For example, if your sport is something like rugby, then you'd likely want to incorporate all three rep ranges into your training.
You'd likely want to lift heavy and fast to gain strength and power, light to build endurance, and somewhere in between to gain a bit of both.
However if you were training for something like a marathon, you wouldn't benefit too much from lifting in the 1-5 rep range. Instead, you'd want to focus most of your time lifting in higher rep ranges of 15-30 to train for the most endurance.
It's impossible for us to tell you which rep ranges to do for your chosen sport. You'll simply have to look at the nature of your sport/activity, determine whether you need to train for strength, endurance or somewhere in between. Then you can pick your rep ranges from there.
Many people think that lifting light weights is the way to get 'toned'.
However, this simply is not the case. Getting toned means to have a little bit of muscle and a lower body fat percentage. Not shredded, but low enough so that you can see some muscle definition without too much muscle mass.
To get there, you would have to build muscle up to a point and then burn fat. Getting toned is no different to the other processes. You'd need to lift with a combination of heavy and moderate weights to build muscle, and then eat in a caloric deficit to burn some fat off.
Training for a Specific Sport/Activity
Hopefully we've covered your goals in fitness and have been able to help you out in picking the right rep range for you.
All in all, rep ranges don't have to be a confusing part of fitness. Much of working out simply comes down to understanding the basics of how everything works, and rep ranges are the same.
If you've got any questions or are still unsure about anything, let us know and we'll see how we can help you out!
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