How many reps per exercise do I need to perform to develop muscle or muscle ‘tone’In the title of this post I decided to put develop muscle or muscle tone. Sometimes people seem to think that these are two different things, however in application they are not. Using the guidance throughout this post will as a male; add some considerable muscle mass and gain some strength in conjunction with a solid diet and good recovery and as a female; will add a bit of muscle, but unless you are an avid steroid user and spend your whole day feasting, you will have a very hard time adding ‘too much’ and becoming ‘bulky’.
Handy tip: Eat plenty of good quality protein and keep processed foods and sugars to an absolute minimum. If you’re really serious about changing your body, then minimising alcohol intake is going to help significantly also. But only if you’re really serious!
This post is aimed at both males and females that have progressed beyond the basics of working out and are looking to fine tune their training so if you are new to exercise this will be worth noting for future use but before applying, focus on getting exercise technique optimal with squatting, pushing, lifting/bending, pulling, lungeing, twisting and gait first. The below information will be relatively useless if you’re not performing exercises particularly well.
Now I have gotten that out of the way, in many a Personal training and Strength and Conditioning textbook, the general rule for rep ranges and qualities gained from said rep ranges and weights used goes as follows:
– 20-12 repetitions per set performed with a relative load of 50-65% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM) will elicit some muscle fibre growth (myofibrillar hypertrophy), greater calorie burn per set and connective tissue conditioning. Usually 2-3 sets would be applied per exercise with usually no more than 90 seconds rest between sets.
– 12-6 repetitions per set performed with a relative load of 65-85% of 1RM has been associated with being the rep range associated with optimal muscle fibre hypertrophy. Usually 3-5 sets will be performed with around 1-3 minutes rest between them.
– 6-1 repetitions per set performed with a relative load of 85+% of 1RM is generally associated with maximal strength development and some hypertrophy, depending on which end of the rep scale you use (nearer to 6 reps more growth – nearer to 1, more maximal strength). Usually 4 or more sets are performed with upward of 3 minutes rest between them.
These have been given as rough guides for gym goers and trainers alike for some time. I would say that it’s a very good starting place and if a person wanted any one of the above qualities then it would always be a good reference point to get going with. However….. the catch is, is that no matter what your goal may be, you will most likely want to dedicate some training phases to each of the above rep ranges if you want to optimise your chances of getting to your desired goal.
If you only ever used the same rep ranges over and over again then guess what, you will most likely get the same outcome. As Einstein once famously said, “the definition of insanity is the doing of the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.”
In order to make the body change it’s composition, you must from time to time provide it with a different stimulus to force it to adapt accordingly. This does not mean you have to every week or even every month do a completely different routine with shiny new exercises for the sake of it. I would recommend however not becoming too attached to any one type of training method and refusing to try a different approach as periodically, your body quite literally needs to experience something different to your norm if you wish to progress.
In application it could mean performing the same or a similar routine as you have done for the last couple of weeks or more but simply adjust your training variables such as; the amount of weight you use, the amount of reps, the amount of sets, how long your rest periods are, how many exercises per session or the frequency in which you work target muscle groups per week.
Here’s an example using one exercise, other exercises would be used in the session:
Monday week 1:
– Squats: 3 sets of 10 reps with 70 kilos used and 2 minutes rest between sets
could be followed by…..
– Squats the following Monday or Tuesday: 3 sets of 10 reps with 70 kilos and 1 minute and 30 seconds rest
– Squats the week after that: 3 sets of 10 reps with 75 kilos and 2 minutes rest
Hopefully you can start to see the pattern emerging there. That is just an example of a simple way of manipulating one of your training variables to provide the body with a greater challenge than the previous session.
Programmes can be performed in a similar manner to above for up to 8-12 weeks before it really would be time to look to have a complete change up. People will usually change their routines up sooner due to boredom, I am guilty of that myself. There isn’t really too much problem with either approach. What will count for a lot is the consistency in which you are training over a period of time and also other factors outside of the gym such as nutrition, recovery and sleep.
A handy thing to do to keep track of whether you are progressing or not can be to use a training log book (could be a simple notepad). In it you can track what you have done over previous weeks and write down what you would like to aim to do in the following sessions.
In summary: If you’re purely wanting muscle building and are not concerned with strength or any other fitness components, then you will want to spend most of a given training phase within the Hypertrophy range (6-12 reps…).
As an example, here’s how you could apply it to a 12 week training plan (mesocycle):
– 3 weeks of muscular endurance training
– 6 weeks of hypertrophy
– 3 weeks of maximal strength
The reasoning for applying a program like the above would be to alter the training stimulus around the time a plateau would likely set in anyway. So by moving from hypertrophy to maximal strength for example, a person would move onto testing their hopefully new found additional muscle size with some maximal strength training. Then, once completed the strength phase, a person should then enter their next training phase having more muscle mass and be physically stronger to enable them to work with heavier weights to continue progression.
This is not the only way of applying a program by any means but nonetheless it would be an effective way. A person can even undulate their rep ranges within one session equally or over the course of a week and those approaches have been found to be just as effective, if not more so in some individuals.