Why combine rep ranges in your training?
written by Philip Stefanov | JANUARY 24, 2023
Have you ever heard the popular advice to train in the 8 to 12-rep range for optimal hypertrophy? Or maybe you’ve asked the popular question: “What is the best rep range for x goal?”
These questions are not inherently wrong because there is a lot of contradicting information regarding optimal loading. Therefore, it can be difficult to know how much weight you should lift to optimize progression.
But as you will see in this week’s newsletter, there are solid reasons for combining rep ranges and using various loads in your training. Let’s review.
The Effects of Combining Rep Ranges In Your Training
1. More Varied Adaptations
One notable advantage of using a variety of loads and working your muscles in several intensity ranges is that you develop different adaptations simultaneously.
For example, high-rep sets, such as 15-20+, develop muscular endurance (strength endurance), which measures how many muscle contractions you can produce before reaching a point of exhaustion (1).
In contrast, heavy sets, where trainees do only a handful of reps, promote strength adaptation, which measures how much total weight a person can lift (1, 2). A common way to measure strength is through 1-rep-max (1RM) attempts.
Strength and endurance serve a purpose in everyday life, and the more varied your training is, the more equipped you will be to tackle different challenges. For instance, you might be able to lift a heavy object and carry it a few feet, but just as effectively carry out less intense tasks for minutes (or hours) before getting tired.
2. Engaging Workouts
Speaking of variety, combining several rep ranges makes for more engaging training. Sure, training in one rep range can be fun for a while, but that stops being true after a while. We need novelty and variety to enjoy our workouts, stay consistent, and push ourselves hard.
Still, that doesn’t mean you should change your workouts all the time to keep things fun. Doing so can make it impossible to track your progress and tell if you’re moving in the right direction.
3. More Suited For Various Exercises
Exercises are unique, and some are better suited for a specific rep range than others.
For example, I rarely advise people to do high-rep deadlifts (say, 8+ reps per set). Fatigue can significantly impact movement mechanics and lead to technique breakdown, raising the injury risk.
In contrast, heavy sets rarely work well for isolation activities that involve a single joint and muscle group. For example, would you do sets of 6 to 8 reps on dumbbell lateral raises?
Combining various repetition ranges allows you to make the most of the activities you perform at the gym, thus providing a more potent stimulus and making more progress.
4. Potentially Lower Injury Risk
Stressing your body in the same way for too long can cause structural damage, increasing the risk of chronic aches and overuse injuries.
In contrast, varying the stress by performing several exercises and training with different loads can reduce the risk of such effects, allowing you to stay pain and injury-free in the long run.
What Combining Rep Ranges Doesn’t Do
Before wrapping up this week’s newsletter, it’s vital to review a common misconception regarding rep ranges and how they impact your training.
Some sources suggest that high-intensity low-rep sets preferentially develop fast-twitch muscle fibers, whereas low-intensity high-rep sets grow slow-twitch fibers. A meta-analysis from 2020 examines existing research on the effects of low and high load on muscle fiber hypertrophy (3).
Data suggests the idea to be incorrect, as heavy and light sets promote similar fast and slow twitch fiber development, provided sets are taken to or close to failure.
Take Home Points
- Use several rep ranges (3-6; 6-12; 12-20; 20+) to enjoy various adaptations, keep your training more engaging, and possibly reduce your injury risk
- Experiment with multiple exercises for each muscle group to keep the stress varied and learn what exercises work best for you
- Resist the urge to change training variables (load, exercise selection, rest periods, etc.) too often; stick with choices you make for at least four weeks before making changes
- Push yourself close enough to failure because that seems to be one of the most critical factors for long-term progress (3, 4)
Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,
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