If you’re a genetically average, steroid-free dude who’s new to strength training and are struggling to gain muscle you should forget about doing anything above eight reps for a while.
All the magic, for newbies like you, occurs in the 6-8 range.
That’s far superior to the typical 12-15 prescription you get from pro bodybuilders. Especially when you have less than two years of proper training experience.
Heavy training targets the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for growth and builds size and strength more effectively than light training will for the typical so called “hardgainer” or skinny guy.
Shocking info, I know.
When you’re a skinny, weak maggot you need some serious overload to kick your body into an anabolic state.
Simply pumping out sets of 12-15 on a pulldown or dumbbell press won’t cut it. You need to load up the bar for a heavy set of 6-8.
Why Lower Rep Training is Actually Safer For Newbies
Lower reps come with a lower injury risk when training the big lifts. I don’t believe in doing any of the traditional powerlifting or Olympic lifting exercises for more than 6-8 reps unless you have really solid technique and at least a year of experience.
When you go higher than that on the big lifts the injury risk increases exponentially with each rep as form starts to deteriorate. You’d be far safer doing triples with a weight you could handle five or six times.
Remember that one of the keys to developing strength, while remaining injury free, is the ability to maximize tension. You can only maximize tension for about six reps, maybe eight, tops.
Can Newbies Ever Go Above 8 Reps?
Absolutely. On exercises like kettlebell swings, lunges and dips I wouldn’t advise going under eight reps.
If you’re doing direct neck work you’d want to stay above eight as well, just purely for safety. Things like sledgehammer swings will be done for higher reps and any type of drag or carry can be done for a longer duration than it would take you to complete eight reps.
What About Guys Who Are Past the Newbie Stage?
At that point this rule no longer applies.
Once you’ve trained properly for a year or two you can really start to bump up the reps and overall training volume. Doing so will help you get better results. It will also be easier on your joints.
And after you’ve gotten strong and have been training for several years you may actually never go LOWER than eight reps. Or at least never above a true 6-8RM, regardless of the reps used.
If you’re over 35 and pretty well experienced you may find that sticking with the 8-15 range works best for you.
I remember once hearing Dante Trudel (a massive and insanely strong dude) say that guys over 35 would be best served by never going heavier than a 12RM on any big lift. I think that’s pretty good advice for guys who are really strong and closer to 40 than 20.
If you’re not quite at that level of strength I still think you should stick with six reps and above after a few years of proper training and strength development.
Train smart. Stay safe. Kick ass.