Our insights on this essential aspect of training is inspired by the stalwarts in the field.
13 Feb 2018
If you’re looking to build as much muscle as possible, you need to focus on getting as strong as possible across a wide variety of rep ranges.
In my article, ‘The Best Rep Range’, I discussed the benefits of applying the 80/20 rule to your training, and staying focused on being progressive in the 5 to 8 rep range.
This still applies. If you’re a beginner and/or an early intermediate, the majority of your work should be in this rep range.
It’s the rep range you’ll be able to maximise muscle recruitment and elicit the fatigue necessary to spark muscle growth.
Once you start to get stronger and your ability to recruit muscle mass increases, there is benefit to implementing a wider variety of rep ranges.
Sets of 8-12 have been done for decades by bodybuilders looking to build muscle. They work tremendously well if you implement them correctly.
A great example of a bodybuilding great that knew the benefits of this was Reg Park, who was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biggest influences.Way back in the 1950s, Reg Park popularised the 5×5 method and he developed a strong, thick foundation in his physique from predominantly low to moderate rep ranges.
However, once the foundation was set, Reg Park began to incorporate sets of 10, and this is where his physique really took off. He now not only had that raw thickness you can only get from heavy training, but also the ‘pumped’ look that completes the physique.
This is how I love to train.
I love having a mix of heavy work in the 4-8 rep range, and lighter work in the 8-15 rep range.
There’s two ways I like to set it out.
The first method is where you include a variety of rep ranges in each workout.
You’ll typically start with something heavy, and then use back off sets to get a pump. For example, if you’re doing dips, you may do 1 or 2 sets of 5-7 reps, and then follow it up with a back off set of 8-12.
This style of training is real fun, and allows you to get the best of both worlds each time you train.
A full upper body workout may look something like this:
Floor Press 2 sets of 5-7, 1 set of 8-12
Bent Over Row 2 sets of 5-7, 1 set of 8-12
Shoulder Press 2 sets of 5-7, 1 set of 8-12
Pulldown 2 sets of 5-7, 1 set of 8-12
Dip 1 set 5-7, 1 set of 8-12
Face Pull 3 sets of 12-15
The second upper body day of the week will be similar in structure, but with a different set of exercises.
The other method I love to use is the heavy/light split, where you focus half your week in the 4-8 rep range, and the other half in the 8-15 rep range.
An example of one my favourite 4-day splits for intermediate muscle building clients is:
Day 1: Chest/Back/Delts – 5-6 exercises in the 4-8 rep range
Day 2: Legs/Arms – 5-6 exercises in the 4-8 rep range
Day 3: Chest/Back/Delts – 5-6 exercises in the 8-12 rep range
Day 4: Legs/Arms – 5-6 exercises in the 8-20 rep range (higher reps for legs)
If you’re someone who gets beat up by regular heavy lifting, this works well in giving your body a break. You can think of it as having one strength day and one size day. Approaching the days with this mentality can also help remove the ego from your training.
Both methods of training work exceptionally well. I personally go through periods where I’m using heavy and light days in the week, and other periods where I’ll lift something heavy each day, but use more back off sets in higher rep ranges.
The key principle to takeaway from this is that if you want to build the maximum amount of muscle mass possible, you need be progressive in a wide variety of rep ranges. Always keep the core focus of your training in the 5-8 rep range, but to maximise your potential, make sure you’re including the higher rep pump stuff in the 8-15 rep range.
That’s the combination for more size and strength to ultimately build a killer physique.