Low Reps = No Muscle Growth?

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Like a lot of us Chris was struggling to gain muscle when he contacted me.

He trained for years but barely looked like he’d ever touched a weight. He’d gotten stronger but was still skinny-fat. And was achy all the time. Shoulders were clicky, knees were creaky and his lower back was always tight.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that.

I wasn’t surprised to hear he was doing one of those “hardgainer” programs with 5 reps or less on everything across the board.

I don’t have any problem with lifting heavy. And for beginners who need to learn technique on compound lifts I like low reps. Just not on everything. And definitely not as a long term plan.

Fitness writers get it twisted. They think of a “hardgainer” as someone who struggles to build muscle. But that’s just the half of it.

One of our biggest problems is how injury prone we are. We’re not just skinny guys with crappy genetics for muscle growth. We’re guys with small joints who always get hurt. So lifting heavy with low reps all the time is a terrible idea. Our bodies aren’t built for that. We have thin joints that can’t stand up to that kind of pounding.

I made this mistake earlier in my career. I did nothing but heavy sets of 5. It wasn’t until I embraced higher reps that I (and all my clients) gained real size. In fact, I’ve never made any progress on a program consisting solely of low reps. All I ever got from that way of training was fat and hurt.

Strongman competitors are bigger than powerlifters simply because they do more reps in training. Powerlifting competitions involve lifting a weight once so powerlifters favor lower rep sets. In strongman contests you lift a weight for multiple reps, or a long time or distance. So strongman do higher reps and longer duration sets.

Low rep training definitely has its place. But if you want to stay healthy and build muscle you’ve gotta add in some higher rep work. In contrast to most hardgainer programs, I often prescribe sets of 12-15 for the upper body, and 15-20 for the lower body.

And finally, I’ll share a little secret most people don’t know. One of (if not the #1) best ways to get strong is by increasing muscle size. As I just explained, muscles grow best from reps. So you kill two birds with one stone.

For more of a rep-based, joint-friendly approach to getting jacked:


Jay Ferruggia