Lifting Rep Range Rules for Building Muscle


This article originally appeared on Bach Performance here.


“Man, this pump is insane,’” said Alex. “I think my muscles are already growing from that last set.”


I looked at him, doing my best Dwayne Johnson people’s eyebrow impression.


“What?” Said Alex, sipping his coffee while looking puzzled by my facial expression.

I offered my two cents: “Did you hit heavier lifts early in your training, or just chase the pump all day?”

“No, why would I bother lifting heavy?” replied Alex.

I sighed. Not wanting to sounds like a condescending meathead, but not quite succeeding, I smirked and said, “You know that’s not the best way, right?”

Deflated, Alex rolled his eyes and flipped me off.

“Sorry bro, ” I replied. I explained that high rep ranges and chasing the pump are important, but they aren’t the only thing you should chase to build muscle.

Alex said he thought he should just do sets of 10-15, with drop sets, timed sets, and high volume because “that’s what all the muscle magazines and bodybuilders say .”

Alex was wrong. I let him down gently. And I told him the same thing I’m about to tell you.

If you’re trying to build muscle, you need a variety of rep ranges to improve strength to get stronger and improve your ability to build muscle. That means you need to get strong so you can lift heavier weights for a higher number of reps, then add volume.

High rep ranges and chasing the pump are important, but they aren’t the only thing you should chase to build muscle. That means you need to get strong so you can lift heavier weights for a higher number of reps, then add volume.

You should spent the majority of their time using big lifts like squats, for 4-6 sets of 5-8 reps per set, building both strength and muscle.


To start you training, low rep sets (1-5 reps) should make up 20-25% of your total training for maximum muscle building.

Sets of 1-4 are important for skinny guys looking to build muscle. By loading up a heavy barbell and executing big lifts like squats, you’ll improve the function of the central nervous system (CNS). Skinny guys aren’t sufficiently strong to really benefit from tons of high-rep, pump training.

Instead, it’s better to focus on building strength for a while. And that’s true even if you are more interested in building muscle than strength.

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I can’t make it more clear: For most guys,the fastest way to get bigger is to get stronger.

If you want to build muscle, you must force your body to adapt and grow. Consistently adding weight to the bar is essential.

Over time, more strength lets you use heavier weights with more volume, which then gets your bigger.

That’s not it, either…

“Intensity builds immensity” – Kevin Levrone


Lift with explosive intent on every rep of your big exercises.  Meaning, once you start reversing the motion on your squat, do it with as much acceleration as position.

Pick 2-3 compound exercises per week like squats, deadlifts, presses, or rows and increase strength. Control the eccentric (negative of the lift), and explode on the concentric (the way up) portion.  Use heavier weights each week, and track your progress. 


Hammer the Moderate Rep Sets

Five to eight reps per set is the sweet spot for skinny dudes, and you should spend at least 50% of your training here.

Yes, the lower rep sets I mentioned before are great for building strength. But, the moderate rep sets let you to train compound exercises for strength and provide enough time under tension (TUT) to stimulate muscle growth.

In the case of moderate rep sets, you’ll more specifically target myofibrilar hypertrophy while getting stronger in big lifts.

Myofibril hypertrophy, sometimes dubbed “ functional hypertrophy,” is muscle growth that relates directly to the breakdown and re-growth of muscle fibers.

This should make up the majority of your training. Pick 2 compound exercises during each workout for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps on multi-joint lifts. Squats, lunges, pull-ups, dips, bench presses, deadlifts, and rows are all awesome.

crossfit deadlift

Mix in some High Reps 

This rep range (10-15 reps per set) should be used to finish off your training, and make up a very small part of your training.

Training with more reps per set gives you the sleeve-stretching pump that makes you feel huge after lifting, bro.

The higher reps that create metabolic stress and muscular damage that makes you feel huge is important, but it really works best after you’ve gotten pretty damn strong.

Those high rep, long duration sets, create muscular damage and metabolic stress.  The metabolic stress is basically bunch of metabolites that float around from repeated muscular contractions that tell your body to stimulate growth.Michael Johnson Jacked

But, it’s a little different than the myofibrillar hypertrophy we talked about before.

Instead, we call it sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy deals with storing more glycogen in your muscles, making them look bigger. If you really want to get yoked, add high rep work isolation work in 10 minute blocks at the end of your training. Consider this icing on the cake for any lagging muscles.



Sparingly Use Ultra High Reps

 Ultra high-rep sets build on the same principles as the high rep sets mentioned before.
Greater time under tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress to build muscle.
These come in the form of “sexy” methods like drop sets, timed sets, and finishing exercises. While the muscle damage and feeling of accomplishment is pretty high after these sets, so is soreness.


Don’t we want soreness?

 Not necessarily.
While some soreness is okay, too much may limit training intensity and frequency in future workouts. If you lift so hard with drop-sets at the end of a workout Monday, and can hardly move on Wednesday, you’re wasting your time. Seriously. Use ultra-high rep sets very sparingly, as to not conflict with training frequency, and building strength.

Wrap Up

Most of us know someone like the Alex mentioned at the banning of this article.

Maybe you even see him in the mirror when you get up in the morning.

Or maybe you were in his shoes 5-10 years ago.

I know I was.

Either way, it’s important to understand rep ranges and how they help you optimize your muscle building.

More often than not, you probably need to spend more time building strength, then the majority of your time lifting with 6-10 reps per set.

Do Less, Do it Better, and Achieve More.


About the author:

Eric Eric BachBach is a Denver based strength coach and fitness author who owns and operates Bach Performance, He is a passionate ex-athlete turned performance coach to athletes, ex-athletes, and busy professionals everywhere to increase their strength and athleticism. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter for more from Eric.