Are You Sabotaging Your Gains with the Wrong Rep Range?

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

Are You Sabotaging Your Gains with the Wrong Rep Range?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.

When you’re injured and rehabbing something you can also do higher reps. In fact, you’d be wise to do so.Jay-Join-Button-600

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.


18 Responses to Are You Sabotaging Your Gains with the Wrong Rep Range?

  1. Hannah May 10, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    As a woman, I fucking love low-rep lifts. I got lucky when I first wanted to learn to work out; I have a good friend who is a serious strength lifter and insisted I do low-rep, heavy weight sets of barbell exercises. I did, and I went from being unable to do a push-up to banging them out for warm-ups and doing multiple sets of dips and pull-ups unassisted. I can bench, squat, and deadlift well above my body weight and I look great doing it too.

    I may have never done high rep sets, but the personal trainers at my gym love to prescribe them to the other women at the gym. After a little more than a year of lifting I look better and can lift WAY more than those following the trainer’s advice.

  2. Niel Rishoi May 10, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I began doing lower reps when I had the good fortune to happen upon “Muscle Gaining Secrets”. I had spent the previous X number of years doing high reps. The longest plateau period ever.

    When I began doing low reps, working up to heavier weights, real results came. Strength, never my strongest point, finally arrived.

    Excepting arms and legs at certain intervals, everything else is low reps.

    It works.

  3. Robert May 10, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Great Post. I whole heartedly agree with the lower rep ranges for big barbell lifts of any kind. But, I think going strictly bodyweight is a bit safer to extend rep ranges due to the lack of external loading. Plus it’s fun and exciting to rep out push-ups or pull-ups from time to time and kind provide that competitive atmosphere that get’s everyone excited to train. But over all yeah, good philosophy.

  4. Scott Tousignant May 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Great point on the muscle recruitment. That’s a HUGE benefit to lifting heavy and in the lower rep range. This benefit carries over when I perform the higher rep ranges. That’s why I feel that all rep ranges can feed off of each other. The lower reps and heavier weight definitely creates a nice dense muscle.

    It’s nice that “drug free” was mentioned, but not everyone who trains in a higher rep range and not every bodybuilder is on “roids”. You could say the same for the big powerlifters who are training in the low rep range. They are incredible beasts, but many of them are taking pharmaceuticals as well. So are those people who are on roids and lifting heavy ass weight that I could never dream of lifting setting a better example than the bodybuilder lifting “lighter” weight and on roids?

    There’s drugs in all sports, but that doesn’t mean everyone is taking them.

  5. Jon Cooper May 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    I always used to train with sets of for hyper trophy but found I had better gains working to sets of 5. My progress stalled recently and was looking to drop some body fat without losing size. I started Jim stoppani’s 12 week shortcut to size last week which is sets of 15 for the first week. I was sore for 3 days after each workout, could barely walk for 2 days after the legs session. It distupted my sleep and felt as though i was on the verge of overtraining.The rep range has come down to 11 this week and still feels uncomfortable for a couple of days post workout. I’ve tweaked my diet and am feeling better this week. I’m going to stick it out now as I feel I’m over the worst of it as the rep’s continue to fall. I certainly won’t be making 15 rep sets part of my long term training plan!

  6. Ben May 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    I messed up my shoulders doing high reps and supersets with light weights. I also made almost zero size gains. I even trained as a personal trainer and still didn’t have a clue. Thanks to the advice on this site I’ve fixed up my shoulders and started to make the size and strength gains I was chasing in the past. Thanks for your help Jason and congratulations on your marriage.

  7. Hugh May 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Jason, your site is brilliant! This advice has convinced me to go back to heavy, low rep, compound moves, which is where my biggest gains have come in the past.

    Do you see any benefit from training say 1 week every 5 in the high rep range to keep your muscles guessing, or is that more magazine rubbish?

  8. Joe May 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Do you do 5 reps 3 sets? Or just one set?

  9. Michael M May 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    So does this also apply when targeting a specific muscle like bicep, tricep, trap, abs, etc???

  10. Joaquin May 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    i usually leave the work with a bar or difficult body weight stuff between 1-6 reps. then finish off with higher rep stuff. it’s working alright but i’ll try the lower reps heavier weights and get back to you on that. it worked wonders years ago when i was working with a USAW coach and perfecting the oly lifts. maybe i should go back to that :P

  11. John F. May 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I spent way too many years doing too many reps, and not getting much out of it in either strength or size. I started doing low reps, and my muscles started responding immediately. I don’t get nowhere near as sore, and I’m always ready for the next training session.

  12. thg May 10, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    coincidentally, last month my trainning was low reps…
    in 2 weeks, I got 2 kg of mass, streght, more pleasure to trainning

  13. Ricky May 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    Before starting MGS around 12 months ago i was training high reps, body building style splits with a friend who thought he knew what he was doing.(so did i)

    As mentioned we ‘looked’ like we were strong but when it came down to it.. we were wrong…

    I will never forget the day that i could not perform A SINGLE DIP after only 3 sets of flat bench press, and i was so fried i couldnt continue my workout! After 3 sets!!(and weeks of high rep splits which was clearly overtraining)…. way to make me feel like a weak bitch.

    After switching to Jays Muscle Gaining Secrets program for the last 12 months which follows basically what is mentioned in this article in terms of rep ranges; I never have a problem performing all my perscribed exercises with near perfect form. in fact my current friday session consists of Squats, Overhead presses, chins AND deadlifts!

    Low rep = Love it.

  14. Chris May 11, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    I only started getting strong when I increased the weights and sets, and lowered the reps. I’d been training without much focus for a long time before I developed the confidence to increase the weight – mostly thanks to reading your stuff, and feeling capable of experimenting on myself!

  15. Ahmad Al-Sawad May 13, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    I tried the low reps first time in 2009 following a program called: Waterbury Method, by Chad Waterbury! it is (10*3) and (4*6)! After 1 month, I became like a beast?! then I sworn that, I will not use the high rep again! (except for calves and forearms)

    Thanks for the article homie!

  16. Oswaldo sanchez August 10, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Really good avice I like it.

  17. zeeshan September 3, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    Nice article.

  18. Billy Boy September 29, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Finally someone with some common sense.