You roll into the gym, water bottle and quick dry towel in hand. As you head to the weight room, clinging weights and music echo through the room. To the left of you, there’s a man beginning his dumbbell shoulder press set; to your right, a woman seated comfortably on a weight bench completing her final dumbbell curl.
As you make your way to your weights of choice, you ask yourself how many reps should I do to build muscle like the pros?
Generally, whether you’re strength training or toning with lighter weight, you should aim for somewhere between 3 and 20 reps per set. But, the number of reps you perform will greatly depend on your experience level and fitness goals. As such, we’ve put together this guide to help you make the most of your next weight training workout. After you read this guide, we guarantee you’ll be throwing your favorite playlist on and conquering the gym like a pro.
What Are Reps?
Whether you’re squeezing in a morning or evening workout or chugging a protein shake before your workout, it doesn’t make a difference unless your fitness goals are aligned with your exercises and reps. Before we explore how many reps to build muscle and strength, let’s first dive into what exactly a rep is. “Rep” is short for “repetition” and it refers to how many times you repeat an exercise.
For example, if you’re performing a seated shoulder press with free weights, raising both hands over your head and back again equals one rep. Reps then make up sets. You’ll perform a number of sets before taking a break to rest your muscles and take a gulp from your ice-cold water bottle.
So, if you perform 10 seated shoulder press reps, then take a break, then do 10 more, you’ve completed two sets of 10 reps.
Understanding a rep is pretty straightforward. However, understanding rep ranges is a bit more complex. For those new to weight lifting, it’s generally recommended that they follow the 3×10 rule—3 sets of 10 reps per exercise. However, as you advance and your muscles become stronger, you’ll want to expand or alter your rep ranges.
For example, if you’re looking to build strength with heavy-lifting exercises like deadlifts, back squats, or bench presses, reduce your output to 3 to 5 sets of 2 to 6 reps.1 But, if you’re looking to improve your endurance, you may want to repeat 12 to 20 reps for only 2 or 3 sets.
To that end, when planning your weight lifting routine, it’s important to take into account two factors:
- Load – This refers to the amount of weight you are moving. If one week you bench press 125 pounds and the next week you press 130 pounds, you have increased your load. As stated above, a lower rep output may suit a heavier load.
- Failure – Failure refers to when you can no longer do the exercise and maintain good form. You may still be able to move the weight by recruiting other muscles using bad form, but this raises your chance of injury and may make the exercise less effective. If you’re targeting specific muscle groups but don’t yet have a high level of muscular strength or endurance, you’ll want to reduce the number of reps you perform.
When you perform your rep ranges, you should be aiming to near failure in order to build muscular strength. For example, when someone talks about doing three reps, the implication is that they are lifting a heavy enough load in which three reps get them close to failure. For ten reps, the load would be lighter to accommodate the higher volume.
What Are the Best Rep Ranges?
So what’s the best rep range to build muscle? According to a scientific article in 2010 by Brad Schoenfeld, somewhere in the 6 to 12 rep range is probably best for muscle growth.2 Although it is worth noting that exercise selection, number of sets, and rest (at least a minute between sets) are also important factors to consider.
Dr. Mike Israetel of Renaissance Periodization mostly agrees with this assessment, although he breaks it down even further:3
Not everyone is simply looking for hypertrophy. If your goal is strength over hypertrophy, the recommendation changes accordingly:
- Strength – Increasing the amount of weight you lift will help to build your strength. That being said, since heavier weights can quickly lead to muscle fatigue, it’s recommended that you stick with 3 to 6 reps per set.
- Size – If you’re aiming for strength and endurance for shirt-tearing muscles, volume is key—aim for 6 to 20 reps.
But do you have to choose between size and strength? In part, the answer to this depends on how long you’ve been lifting, as it can be more difficult to gain muscle if you have more experience in the weight room. Most lifters fall into one of three categories:
- Beginners – If you’re just starting or have only been weight training for a year or two, there’s good news: By staying in a 5 to 12 rep range, you’re likely to advance in both strength and size.
- Intermediate – Once you’ve been lifting weights for a few years, your body won’t adapt as quickly as it did originally. However, by this time, you probably know what muscle strength and growth exercises work best for you and you can start adjusting your routine. For large, compound lifts (like bench press or squat) you may want to go in a lower rep range, whereas isolation exercises (like a biceps curl) may benefit from higher reps.
- Advanced – After many years of training, you’re probably approaching your genetic potential and any additional muscle gain will be hard-fought. To battle muscle monotony, incorporate variety. For one month, focus on strengthening exercises. Then switch to endurance training the next month to provide your muscles with a challenge.
Don’t forget that every fitness level and goal requires a different amount of reps. For example, if someone’s fitness goal is muscle growth or building muscle, they might use heavier weight and low reps. On the other hand, if a person’s fitness goal is fat loss, weight loss, or light toning, they might use lighter weight and higher reps. This is not always the case but just an example of how exercise repetition can vary. Generally, when it comes to fitness questions from how many reps to do to should you have protein before or after workout, it depends.
Hone Your Reps Routine at Chuze Fitness
When it comes to making gains at the gym, there are a few rules of the weight room that you must abide by: always wipe down the equipment, use a spotter, and know exactly how many reps you need to perform your best and walk out of the gym feeling like a champion.
Okay, the last one isn’t exactly set in stone. But it most certainly will help you monitor and meet your fitness goals. But there’s no shame in high or low rep training since everybody is different. If you’re looking to start your strength or endurance program, there’s no better place than Chuze Fitness. Whether you’re lifting our free weights or joining a team training session, you’ll find guidance and support every step of the way at any of our locations.
About the author:
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
- Men’s Health. Which Rep Range You Should Choose for Your Fitness Goals. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a38866422/best-rep-ranges-workouts/
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2010/10000/The_Mechanisms_of_Muscle_Hypertrophy_and_Their.40.aspx?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=099d7084ff33a3d4999555a69c173fa9fc35818f-1610020100-0-AYQLlf1UtwiZ2J6xql2n2jZSicx8IoF9bD95D3OImdLzcy55vz9YvMxxVYgCGGvYSDtE9Vbea7GBex9hGnxmYim4klwNAzaVcY6jlMTtK_Lc9WM8zinATGY8VIkN6JudsFhISESYoYXQNmIlcsVV0LAmgUigjqHP1RLie3dFUuaBTBNfUcIRBn1SZ3yJsj0X2zaPAeyLvZiTnV5frdav6Fh5v3_8y2riBJntUYlfvWwR_cH0rbZbTxaMSl1SnnE7UPnnnVlJbM00c0j76MSFsmHmGNaoWqmM2ilPqvI80mM1EbBKCaiaYwJoqd5EOF2xVnfuls0NmJHgb1sZCnOdnf-IaBka0S5rjFIvpO1-HUTEPl5zM7G0zQGRNGSnrxE6vC9PAPGn8fR7QtedDhHA1NSfr2APa5Y8d0jBwGVs0WqQox9dcVBGpee9V6bmBesR-gQCL_G_GyJV1gYDIWnHYSXqdKMUs8HiyNdvSVY6dqhD
- Renaissance Periodization. The Differences Between Training for Size Vs Strength. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3abdfR8M5XY
- National Library of Medicine. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777332/