How many repetitions for Strength and Hypertrophy?

How much Volume? Part 2.

The Layout ⬇️

  • Rep Range recommendations for Hypertrophy

  • Rep Range recommendations for Strength

  • Combining both rep ranges

  • Key Takeaways

  • Practical Applications

For as long as I have been lifting (and gotten nowhere with it 🌚) the recommendation you will often hear is, 1-5 repetitions for strength and 8-12 for hypertrophy.

So then what happens if you end up doing only 6-7 reps in the middle of these ranges? No strength or muscle gains? Or you go beyond 12 reps?Your body doesn’t just stop getting results.

Below we are going to look at relevant and interesting studies on repetition ranges for strength and hypertrophy and bring you evidence based guidelines for you to implement.

This is the recent interesting study I mentioned above ⬇️

A Recent study out of Japan published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning by (Kubo et al., 2020) examined the strength and hypertrophy response (in the pectoral major) to 4,8 and 12 repetition sets. What I like about this study was the volume was equal, only the load changed to ensure the same total volume load across groups & close proximity to failure. So the 4 repetition group performed 7 sets @ 90% of their 1RM , 8 repetition group 4 sets @ 80% and the 12 repetition group 3 sets @ 70%. They recruited 42 physically active, but not resistance-trained men.

Note: Total Volume Load = Sets x Repetitions x Weight

  • All subjects rested 3 minutes between sets.

  • All groups performed the bench press twice a week for 10 weeks.

  • In the first 2 weeks, all groups trained the same and pretty easy, I like that they done this as it will acustom the untrained subjects to lifting at the same intensity before the study.

  • Participants were not always able to match required reps, say 12 reps on set 1, 10 on set 2 etc… once they got all sets at 12 reps, they increased the load by 2.5kg for the next session. Great design of the study to ensure subjects were training at load they are supposed to be.

The results?

Hypertrophy response to the training was similar across all three groups when total training volume was equated (all groups performed same total volume load). 1RM strength was similar between the 4 rep and 8 rep group but much lower in the 12 rep group.

More Studies 🤓

A systematic review and meta analysis by (Lopez et al., 2020) involved 28 studies with a total of 747 participants and only included studies that performed sets to volitional failure. They reviewed the effects of Strength and Hypertrophy outcomes on performing less than 8 repetitions, 9-15 and over 15. The authors of the review state that there was no difference in hypertrophy outcomes between any rep range. Strength was superior in the under 8 repetition group and 9-15 group than the over 15 group, with the 8 repetition group only slightly greater than the 9-15 group.

Below is a Forest Plot from the systematic review for Strength ⬇️

A study by (Schoenfeld, Ratamess, et al., 2014) took 17 young men on an 8 week study and split them into two groups. Group 1 - on a hypertrophy type programme, 3 sets of 10RM with 90 seconds rest. Group 2 - strength-type programme that performed 7 sets of 3RM with a 3 minute rest. The results showed hypertrophy reponses between the groups were similar, but the higher load strength group achieved greater maximal strength gains.

Another study by Brad Schoenfeld, (Schoenfeld, Peterson, et al., 2015) looked at the strength and hypertrophy outcome when using 8-12 reps vs 25-35 reps when taken to failure. 18 young men with resistance training experienced were split into two groups, both done 3 sets, with 7 exercises per session, 3 times per week. Both groups experienced good muscle thickness improvements, biceps (5.3% vs 8.6% in favour of the 25-35 rep range), tricep and quad thickness with only a 1% difference between groups. The lower rep group seen significantly greater back squat 1RM increase with 19.6% vs 8.8%. Authors state the findings show both lower rep/ heavier load & higher rep / lower load when taken to failure produce good hypertrophy responses. However heavier load training also produces greater maximal strength adaptations.

Combining lower and higher rep ranges? 🤔

A 9 month long study out of USA by (Kraemer et al., 2003) took 30 collegiate tennis players, all woman aged ~19, compared a periodised programme vs non-periodised. The non periodised group performed 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps for the entire duration where as the periodized group performed different rep ranges. Monday - 4-6 reps / Wednesday - 8-10 reps and Friday - 12-15 reps. Results? Both groups seen an increase in fat free mass. The periodised group outperformed the non periodised group, 1RM leg press 9% vs 4.5%, 1RM Bench 22% vs 11%, Shoulder Press 24% vs 18%. Authors note vertical jump height was also greater in the periodised group over the non periodised group 50% vs 37%.

Note: The 1RM increases in the periodised group will likely be caused by the fact they also trained in a lower rep range during the programme (4-6)

Key Takeaways 💭

  • Hypertrophy - From all the evidence above it seems muscle size can be improved between the 4-35 rep range, when total volume load is equated

  • Strength - Maximal strength adaptations favour the lower rep ranges. 1-5 reps seems to be best for maximal strength gains

  • Strength - Seems to follow a dose response relationship where the heavier load that’s trained with, results in greater strength gains. The groups in the moderate rep range (8RM) still gained strength, with the study out of Japan showing similar 1RM strength increases to the 4RM group but both higher that 12RM.

Practical Applications ✍️

You can train for strength and size at the same time, and for most of us, that’s the goal. Who actually wants to get bigger and not stronger!? Wanting strength and not size however may be due to maxing out a weight class in a strength sport.

What you need to consider in your programme.

  • Although hypertrophy can be achieved in the 4-35 range, heavy load training in the lower rep ranges (1-5) requires more sets to achieve comparable hypertrophy to higher reps and moderate loads. This is inefficient from a time standpoint and the combination of heavy loads with high training volumes can increase joint-related stress. So it would be best to reserve reps of 1-5 for strength.

  • Moderate rep ranges (8-15) seem to be the ideal spot for hypertrophy as it means less time training vs higher rep ranges and less rest that training with heavier loads. On the lower end of this rep range it has also been shown to stimulate a good strength response.

  • Consider overall volume, when training at high volumes for hypertrophy, the fatigue may start to interfere with strength progression. We discuss this in our last issue.

Concurrently training for size and strength is possible, after all the bigger a muscle the more strength potential you have. There is a reason why there are weight classes in powerlifting and weightlifting.

However, there is also a reason you see powerlifters much smaller than bodybuilders, outlifting them and sometimes by quite a bit. That’s because training for size and strength at a high level (think competitive powerlifter vs pro bodybuilder) begin to diverge. This is due to the training style and rep ranges used, lower vs higher loads. There is always a trade off if you want to be the best at something.

It’s better to think of strength and size as a spectrum, if you want to maximise strength you can’t maximise hypertrophy and vise versa, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be pretty close to both!

Training with different rep ranges can be effective for concurrently developing different fitness attributes (strength & hypertrophy) something beneficial for overall health and longevity.

Below is two routes you can use to implement this 👇

  • You could split your days into higher load / lower rep days and lower load / higher rep days.

  • Begin your training with heavier load / low reps then as your progress through your session switch to lighter loads / higher reps.

Please don’t pass out after a heavy set 🌚

Until next week, Happy Lifting!


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