Higher reps vs lower reps has been a debate for decades among those focused on hypertrophy, such as bodybuilders and casual lifters just looking to add some muscle mass. When people ask me what rep ranges are best for hypertrophy, my typical response is “all of them!”
There’s been a number of studies looking at higher rep ranges using lower loads that support the use of higher reps in programs focused on hypertrophy covered by Monica M HERE worth reading if you have not already. Anything by Monica is always worth reading, but I digress.
Recently, a large meta review of studies examining the topic and using a stringent inclusion and exclusion criteria for the review, that lower reps with higher % of 1RM and higher reps using lower % of 1RM have similar effects on hypertrophy. If the specific goal is improvements in 1RM in a given lift, than higher loads and lower reps is superior, although increases in 1RM strength does take place with higher rep/lower load training.
So should those focused strictly on hypertrophy drop the heavy lifting and just train in the 15-30 rep range? In my opinion, No. Is there a place for higher reps and lower loads in the program of people focused on hypertrophy? That’s a resounding yes! This section from the aforementioned review from summarizes nicely;
“The findings therefore indicate that both heavy and light loads can be equally effective in promoting muscle growth provided training is carried out with a high level of effort. Intriguingly, emerging research shows a potential fiber type-specific effect of loading zones, with heavier loads showing greater increases in type II muscle fiber cross sectional area and lighter loads showing greater increases in type I muscle fiber growth. If true, this implies a potential benefit to training across a spectrum of repetitions when to goal is maximize hypertrophic adaptations. That said, not all studies have found such an effect and further research is therefore needed to draw relevant practical inference…”
Schoenfeld., et al. Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low- versus high-load resistance training: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research · August 2017. Full Paper HERE
So does that put the debate to rest? Not even close as such a study raises as many questions as it gives answers, if not more so. What’s the optimal rep ranges, who should use them (e.g., newbies vs experienced lifters, etc) and when? Lots of Qs yet to be answered, and the paper does bring that up also, so worth a full read. I’ll also tell you this, if you think training at lower loads for higher reps is the “easy” way out, you have no idea the pain you’re about to experience during the training and the days that follow. Try three sets of squats to failure – close to it – in the 15-20 rep range and get back to me…
In conclusion, if hypertrophy is the goal, the inclusion of higher reps appears a viable and likely beneficial addition to a training program and worth some experimentation. My personal preference has been to do higher rep days or phases in a program vs in the same workout as lower reps and higher loads, say 10 reps and below.
In terms of a program to really help people dial in their program, see my rant HERE on how most bodybuilders are still stuck in the 70s, and my recommendation of an app people continue to give great feedback on. The developer of the app is constantly tweaking it as new data and feedback comes in, so like the science itself, and evolving app. See: Why Are So Many Bodybuilders Stuck in the 70s?
Will Brink is the owner of the Brinkzone Blog. Will has over 30 years experience as a respected author, columnist and consultant, to the supplement, fitness, bodybuilding, and weight loss industry and has been extensively published. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies.
His often ground breaking articles can be found in publications such as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women’s World and The Townsend Letter For Doctors.
He’s also been published in peer reviewed journals.
You can also buy Will’s other books on Amazon, Apple iBook, and Barnes and Noble.