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Author Topic: The effects of different rep ranges  (Read 35130 times)
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« on: May 05, 2009, 09:24:26 AM »

What Happens within the muscles in response to different rep ranges?
By Tom Venuto

The primary difference between the effects of rep ranges on the adaptive response depends on whether the load affects neural factors (low reps) or metabolic factors (higher reps). When you train with low reps (1 – 5), the adaptations that make you stronger are mostly neurological: You develop an increased ability to recruit more muscle fibers, you stimulate the higher threshold fibers that are not activated with high rep, low weight sets, you decrease neuromuscular inhibition, and there is increased coordination between the muscle groups. However, with low reps, the hypertrophy (size increase) of the muscle fibers is minimal.

In other words, reps under 6 make you stronger, but they don’t necessarily make you bigger because the strength gains come from adaptations in the nervous system – the muscle fibers and other muscle cell structures do not hypertrophy (enlarge). This explains why certain athletes, powerlifters and Olympic lifters can be wicked strong but they don’t look as strong as they are.   

When you train with medium reps (6-12) the adaptations are more metabolic and cellular and only moderately neurological. This is why 6-12 reps is the range most often recommended for bodybuilding and hypertrophy. You get bigger and stronger in this rep range, but your strength gains are not maximal. This explains why some bodybuilders look stronger than they are (and why they are often the brunt of jokes made by powerlifters and weight lifters; i.e. “big, weak, slow, useless muscles”, ha ha).

When you train with higher reps (13-20+), the adaptations are mostly metabolic and cellular. This rep range produces local muscular endurance, a small degree of hypertrophy in certain cellular components such as the mitochondria and the capillaries, and very little strength.

There is not a distinct line where neural adaptations end and structural/metabolic adaptations begin; rather it is a continuum, like temperature or colors of a rainbow.

For example, when you train in the 6-8 rep range, the adaptations are still somewhat neural, but also metabolic/structural: In this rep range, you get excellent strength gains and also excellent hypertrophy. In the 8-12 rep range, there is still some neural adaptation, but less than the 6-8 range and much less than the 1-5 range. The advantage of the 8-12 rep range is that you get maximal hypertrophy (this is the best rep range for pure size increases when strength is not the number one concern). You will also get stronger, of course, but not nearly to the degree as you would training with lower reps. 

Rep range Percent of 1 rep max Training Effect  Goal desired
 
1-5 reps  85-100% Neural Strength & power little hypertrophy 
6-8 reps 75-85% Neural & metabolic Strength & Hypertrophy
9-12 reps 70-75% Metabolic & Neural  Hypertrophy & some strength
13-20+ reps 60-70% Metabolic local endurance some hypertrophy, little strength


Now, what exactly happens inside the muscle to make it get bigger and not necessarily stronger? Quite simply, ALL the structures inside the muscle cell grow when exposed to the appropriate training stimulus.

Remember back in high school when you had to memorize those diagrams of cellular anatomy (or you would get an F in the class)? There were all kinds of organelles and cell structures such as the endoplasmic reticulum, the mitochondria, the golgi complex, ribosomes, centrioles, Lysosomes, and cytoplasm. Remember all that stuff?

If you’re anything like me, you defied your biology teacher to explain the reason why you had to memorize all that crap and what good it would do you in the "real world." Well, now that you're in the "real world" and you want strength and muscles, here you go:

A muscle cell has all the same cell structures as other body cells, and they all take up space. When speaking of the muscle cell, you mostly hear about the mitochondria (the cellular powerhouse where energy production takes place), the myofibrils (the actual muscle fibers themselves) and the fluid inside the cell (called cytoplasm in other body cells, or in the case of the muscle cell, its called sarcoplasm).

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is caused most effectively in the 6-8 rep range. This contributes to the most visible increases in muscle mass and cross sectional width. However, that doesn’t mean you should only train in the 6-8 rep range. If you want to make the other "stuff" in the muscle cell grow as well, you should train in all rep ranges. The mitochondria and sarcoplasm also take up a substantial amount of space in the muscle cell and they are best stimulated with high reps. High rep training can also stimulate increased capillarization in the muscle (just ask former Mr. Universe and Mr. Legs himself, Tom Platz, about the effectiveness of high rep leg training done in addition to the low and medium rep training).

In addition, there is more than one type of muscle fiber: you have slow twitch (type I) and fast twitch (type IIa and IIb). Slow twitch muscle fibers also hypertrophy from higher reps (although they have the least potential for size increases, which is why you should spend more time below 13 reps if it's muscle mass you're after).

So here’s the take home lesson: If you’re an athlete and your primary goal is strength and power for improved sports performance, then a good majority of your training is going to be in the 1-5 rep range. This will help make you stronger, faster and more powerful without adding muscle bulk. If you’re a bodybuilder and your primary goal is muscle mass, then the majority of your training should be done in the 6-12 rep range, but you should also do a little bit of training in the 3-5 rep range for power and strength, which will later facilitate hypertrophy (and prevent the powerlifters from making fun of you), and you should do a little bit of training in the 13-20+ rep range to facilitate the development of slow twitch muscle fiber, build mitochondrial density and increase capillarization.
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Montague
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« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2009, 09:42:28 AM »

Good read.
I especially like the recommendation of mixing a variety of rep schemes to hit Type I & II fibers.

Anatomy charts that break down the composition of slow & fast twitch fibers show that most muscle groups consist of a good percentage of both.

Training in the 8-12 range may be best for general hypertrophy, but if done exclusively, you could be neglecting up to half the fibers you could be developing in a muscle IMO.

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« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2009, 05:35:01 PM »

thanks, it was a nice read
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« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2009, 06:21:35 AM »

this is old news to a degree... most bodybuilders will naturally pyramid up the weight they are using and reduce the number of reps per set in their workouts...

eg

bench 135 x 15
         185 x 12
         225 x 10
         275 x 8

this style of lifting allows for optimal recruitment of both muscle fiber types IMO... direct targetting of one fiber group (using HITT or DC or whatever) seems short-sighted...

beyond any studies done by people who have never lifted a weight there are actual human studies, ie bodybuilders... look at how Jay, Ronnie or Dorian train(ed) and I think you'd agree that the prrof is in the protein pudding
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« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2009, 10:23:01 AM »

this is old news to a degree... most bodybuilders will naturally pyramid up the weight they are using and reduce the number of reps per set in their workouts...

eg

bench 135 x 15
         185 x 12
         225 x 10
         275 x 8

this style of lifting allows for optimal recruitment of both muscle fiber types IMO... direct targetting of one fiber group (using HITT or DC or whatever) seems short-sighted...

beyond any studies done by people who have never lifted a weight there are actual human studies, ie bodybuilders... look at how Jay, Ronnie or Dorian train(ed) and I think you'd agree that the prrof is in the protein pudding

If it was truly old news there wouldn't have been plenty of discussion about it here over the months.

As far as using BBs experiences instead, it's not that simple. This actually is old news-plenty of bigtime names have altered their training over the years, didn't train in the best way coming up and learned better over time, but a good work ethic and genetics got them part of the way. There are pros and cons to BB's knowledge, it varies by individual.

And pros and cons to using studies, so the real answer is to look at all sources and mix that with one's personal experiences in trying different approaches.

Which is the point of putting this stuff up and having a forum to discuss.
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« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2009, 10:42:01 AM »

Wouldn't rep range effects be genetically determined to some extent?
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« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2009, 12:47:29 PM »

Wouldn't rep range effects be genetically determined to some extent?

Apparently you can try a plan of different exercises and from the results find out how much of you is fast or slow twitch, as one example. That would effect one's efficiency for high or lower reps, though that's also a psychological preference not just physical.
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« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2009, 07:37:47 PM »

I asked for his references... and that post was deleted... why?

Where is his information taken from?
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« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2009, 09:43:21 AM »

I get nothing out of low reps.....ie 2,3,4,5, reps......nothing, zero, zilch......


I do get something out of 9,10,11,12 reps.

Hypertrophy happens in the middle rep range.


only powerlifters should shoot for low single reps.

If you are looking to develop your physique, you must hit slightly higher reps and if it means dropping your poundages, then so be it.
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« Reply #9 on: December 25, 2009, 09:32:36 AM »

I have always heard that the legs (quads and hams) can effectively grow in the 20+ range and that one should always train calves in the high rep range. Truth to these?
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« Reply #10 on: December 25, 2009, 10:26:48 AM »

muscles with a grewta percentage of slow twitch fibers respond better to workouts done in the slow twitch rep range. anything above 12 reps will work to hit the slow twitch fibers. for most people the quads are predominately slow twitch.. while most of the other muscles in the body are predominately fast twitch.



 
Quote
Muscles that are used for extended periods of activity, such as standing or walking, are made up of muscles with fibers that are called slow-twitch. Since these muscles are constantly being used, they need a consistent energy source. The protein myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle cells, which use oxygen to extract the energy needed for constant activity. The more myoglobin there is in the cells, the redder, or darker, the meat.

Muscles that are used for situations where quick bursts of activity are needed, such as fleeing from danger, are made up of fibers called fast-twitch. These muscles get energy from glycogen, which is also stored in the muscles.
 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

   Chickens spend a lot of time roaming around or standing. Their thigh and leg muscles are used constantly, and so the meat from these parts is dark. Since they rarely fly, and then only for very short distances, the meat that comes from the breast and wings is white. In contrast, wild birds such as ducks fly a lot; the meat from their breasts and wings is dark. 
     
   Cattle spend a lot of time standing, and so their muscles are constantly being used. Therefore, beef has a fairly high concentration of myoglobin and is dark red. 
     
   Pigs also can spend quite a bit of time standing and roaming around. The pink color of pork is due to myoglobin, but because the animals used for pork are young and small, their muscles are less developed and do less work. So pigs have a lower concentration of myoglobin in their muscles than do cows. 
     
   Fish float in water and don't need constant muscle energy to support their skeletons. Most fish meat is white, with some red meat around the fins and tail, which are used for swimming. The red color of some fish, such as salmon and trout, is due to astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment in the crustaceans they eat. 
     
   Humans have both types of fibers as well. However, unlike animals and fish, humans' fast- and slow-twitch fibers can't be delineated quite so neatly. Both types are interspersed throughout the body.

The average human has about 50% slow-twitch and 50% fast-twitch fibers. Professional athletes can have a higher percentage of one or the other type. For instance, Olympic sprinters may have as much as 80% fast-twitch fibers and long-distance runners may have as much as 80% slow-twitch. Weight-lifters need fast-twitch fibers for quick bursts of strength, and long-distance swimmers need the constant movement provided by slow-twitch fibers. When you roll over the diagram of the human at the top of the page, you get a very simple view of which muscles are more prevalent in sprinters and in long-distance runners. Research is ongoing, but it seems that there is a genetic predisposition for having more of one fiber than another, and that you can't drastically alter the ratio of fibers you are born with.

 
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« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2009, 02:15:01 PM »

muscles with a grewta percentage of slow twitch fibers respond better to workouts done in the slow twitch rep range. anything above 12 reps will work to hit the slow twitch fibers. for most people the quads are predominately slow twitch.. while most of the other muscles in the body are predominately fast twitch.



  
 



problem is slow twitch dont grow much so adapting your training around % of slow twitch you have is not so smart from a bodybuilding perspective,, train fast twitch as they should using mostly 5-12 rep range. sometimes you can go lower than 5 reps to push strength that you later can utitilize in 5-12 rep range.
 if you have smaller % of type II fibers it shouldnt cnahne things it just means growth potential is probably smaller
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« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2009, 02:48:59 PM »


problem is slow twitch dont grow much so adapting your training around % of slow twitch you have is not so smart from a bodybuilding perspective,, train fast twitch as they should using mostly 5-12 rep range. sometimes you can go lower than 5 reps to push strength that you later can utitilize in 5-12 rep range.
 if you have smaller % of type II fibers it shouldnt cnahne things it just means growth potential is probably smaller
slow twitch are still prone to hypertrophy, just not as much as fat twitch. when a musclke is dominated by slow tiwtch, it makes sense to train the slow twitch.
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« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2009, 03:10:39 PM »

slow twitch are still prone to hypertrophy, just not as much as fat twitch. when a musclke is dominated by slow tiwtch, it makes sense to train the slow twitch.

i dont agree with you  Wink.   first of all type 1 fibers grow minimally ...also doing sets of 20 is not gonna do much for them..you would haveto train them for minutes at a time. not much you do in the gym is gonna really challenge them.

Focus on Type II fibers which actually have growth potential
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« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2010, 06:17:48 PM »

Very informative thanks Smiley
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« Reply #15 on: April 15, 2010, 12:39:45 AM »

Nice article.  Fred Hatfield wrote about this sort of holistic rep range back in the '80's.  He recommended doing sets of 4-6, 12-15, and even a couple of 40+ rep sets all done with different cadences.  Seemed pretty radical at the time compared to the typical brain-dead bodybuilder routines being printed in the muscle rags, e.g. 4 sets of 8-12 reps for 3 or 4 exercises per bodypart/muscle group. 

IMO training at 90% or higher of your max for an extended time invites over-training, (seems to happen to me after a few months, anyway...).
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« Reply #16 on: May 14, 2010, 03:46:30 AM »

Is it the actual number of reps in a set that determine muscle mass increases, or the time that it takes to complete the set? For example, I can complete roughly 12 reps til failure in the DB row in about 20 secs, but I if I train BB curls til failure, then I can only complete about 6 reps in this same 20 sec time frame, due to the longer distance that the bar has to move in regards to rows vs. curls.
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« Reply #17 on: May 14, 2010, 04:00:03 AM »

My body responds better to higher reps in the 10-15 rep range.

Unfortunately, it's only taken me about 15 years to figure this out because I was obsessed with the notion that low-rep heavy duty one set max training a la Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates was the way to go.

Good article though.
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« Reply #18 on: October 17, 2010, 11:51:14 AM »

Apparently you can try a plan of different exercises and from the results find out how much of you is fast or slow twitch, as one example. That would effect one's efficiency for high or lower reps, though that's also a psychological preference not just physical.

Another option is after a 8-10 rep warm up set of 60%RM, 1 low rep set in the 85-90%RM range, and remaining sets at 60-80%RM. Try several different rep schemes to see what works for you.
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« Reply #19 on: December 04, 2010, 11:34:05 AM »

Thanks, that was a great read.
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« Reply #20 on: January 31, 2011, 10:19:38 PM »

I agree,everyone's body is different so you have to be careful not to overwork your fav.most responsive group and end up breaking down the tissue you worked so hard to build.Fantastic read,thanks.
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« Reply #21 on: December 10, 2011, 02:47:05 PM »

 For pushing muscles like chest,shoulders,triceps and quads I can get good gains doing 1-5 reps. Sets of 3  is actually my favorite rep range for bench press strength increase, with sets of 5 reps probably second. Now pulling exercises are a different story back,biceps,hamstrings I get nothing from low reps. The one exception would be deadlifts cause triples will get you strong.
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« Reply #22 on: December 23, 2011, 04:43:18 AM »

Very good read. Thank you!
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« Reply #23 on: December 23, 2011, 09:00:35 AM »

Ive been trying a new approach. Each bodypart i do 3 sets of 5, 3 sets of 12 and 3 sets of 20. Now that i read this maybe its a good idea. Well see
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« Reply #24 on: April 27, 2012, 05:13:11 AM »

Building Muscle Without Heavy Weights

ScienceDaily (Apr. 26, 2012) — Weight training at a lower intensity but with more repetitions may be as effective for building muscle as lifting heavy weights says a new opinion piece in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

"The perspective provided in this review highlights that other resistance protocols, beyond the often discussed high-intensity training, can be effective in stimulating a muscle building response that may translate into bigger muscles after resistance training," says lead author Nicholas Burd. "These findings have important implications from a public health standpoint because skeletal muscle mass is a large contributor to daily energy expenditure and it assists in weight management. Additionally, skeletal muscle mass, because of its overall size, is the primary site of blood sugar disposal and thus will likely play a role in reducing the risk for development of type II diabetes."

The authors from McMaster University conducted a series of experiments that manipulated various resistance exercise variables (e.g., intensity, volume, and muscle time under tension). They found that high-intensity muscle contractions derived from lifting heavy loads were not the only drivers of exercise-induced muscle development. In resistance-trained young men a lower workout intensity and a higher volume of repetitions of resistance exercise, performed until failure, was equally effective in stimulating muscle proteins as a heavy workout intensity at lower repetition rates. An additional benefit of the low-intensity workout is that the higher repetitions required to achieve fatigue will also be beneficial for sustaining the muscle building response for days.
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