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Deciphering Rep Ranges

While there are a many different types of workout splits you can do – full body, upper/lower, push/pull, or body part splints with your workout design, one aspect that needs some extra consideration is the rep range you’re going to use with the lifts you choose to include.

Different rep ranges are going to target different goals, so it’s critical you understand the differences.

Max Strength Training

If your primary goal at the moment is to develop as much strength as possible and you aren’t as concerned with the size, then you’re going to want to be focusing on compound exercise movements done in the lower rep range.

The compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, rows, bench press, and shoulder press.  Each of these movements are going to work a large number of muscle fibers at once, and are also the lifts you’ll be able to generate as much force as possible with (which is important for building maximum strength).
 
As far as rep range is concerned, since you’re going to be lifting as heavy of a weight as possible, you will have to reduce the reps to compensate.

While you can lift using your one rep max, I’d only recommend doing so every few weeks, more as a strength measurement to use as a guide for progress than anything.
A rep range of between three and five total reps is where you should be for the majority of your exercises.

One of the more popular strength workouts out there, the 5 X 5 program, produces terrific results as far as strength gains go and incorporates this lower rep range into the protocol.
It is also important to note that when using this lower rep range, your rest periods will also be slightly longer, usually around the ninety seconds to two minutes range.

Hypertrophy Training

Now, if your goal is hypertrophy training on the other hand – focusing more on muscular size than pure muscular strength, you’ll want to bring those rep ranges slightly higher.
It is important to realize the difference between true muscular size gains however and temporary muscular size gains.
 
If you’ve ever come out of the gym after a good workout using a slightly higher rep range and really feel ‘pumped’ up, you’ve just experienced temporary muscular size gains.

Essentially, this pump is caused by the byproducts that occur in the muscle sarcoplasm as a result of the exercise in the muscles.  As these byproducts build up throughout the workout, they will increase the size of the muscles and often add a more vascular appearance.

As you’ve also likely noticed is that this size doesn’t tend to stick.  Within a couple of hours, your pump is gone and you’re looking more like you were initially.

True muscular size gains will occur when the actual muscle tissue structure starts changing and you actually build bigger muscles (rather than just the sarcoplasm growing in size).  This is usually also more indicative of strength gains as well, so doing some training in the lower rep range in addition to a higher rep range is a smart idea.

Therefore, if your goal is to gain size, you should do some sessions using a 8-12 rep range to help ‘pump’ your muscles up and increase glycogen depletion (which occurs with higher rep ranges and should be coupled with high carb eating afterwards), while also doing some sessions using a 4-8 rep range for greater strength and true size gains.

Mixing it up like this will also help to prevent a plateau in progress, which often happens when someone sticks to one workout program for a longer period of time.

When it comes to rest between sets using a 8-12 rep range, typically since you’ll be lifting a slightly lighter weight, you can utilize a shorter rest as well.  Most people will choose to use between thirty and ninety seconds.
 

Endurance Training

Finally, some people feel the need to bring their rep ranges even higher than 12, moving closer to 15 reps. 
The common thought here is that it will help train the muscles more for endurance and keep them ‘long and lean’ in appearance.

While this rep range can prove to be beneficial if you were doing a glycogen depletion workout (as often done when utilizing a keto diet), for most other cases, it really isn’t all that beneficial.
 
If you’re someone who is training for endurance, you’d be better off training for endurance in the activity that you’re performing (runners would run, cyclists would cycle, etc), and then focus on the 8-12 rep range to see moderate increases in strength.

So, next time you’re putting together your workout program, keep this information in mind.  Many people choose to cycle their training throughout the year; focusing on strength, then size, and then backing off slightly to prevent overtraining.

This is usually a good approach because not only does it allow you to build a good, all around level of fitness, but it also helps prevent injuries and keeps boredom levels down.
Taking your goals into consideration though and how your body responds to certain types of training will be the driving factors in determining which rep range you should use the most.

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