High Reps or Low Reps: Which Is Better for Building Muscle?

By Salon Gold on November 15th, 2018

Creating an effective workout plan for muscle growth can seem a little bit like rocket science at first, considering there’s no definite “best” approach.

There’s not enough research to prove if either the use of high reps or low reps build muscle more effectively. This leaves a lot of newbie gymgoers and even experienced athletes questioning what they need to do to get the physique they want.

The answer is simple: to get bigger muscles in a short amount of time, you have to hit the books before you hit the gym. In other words, researching the effects of high reps and of low reps will get you much further than trial and error during workouts or trying the latest fitness trend.

The following is an in-depth look at how muscle is built with high reps and with low reps. Read it carefully before creating your next workout plan.

Building Muscle with High Reps

Most people assume you need to lift a heavy amount of weight to get a filled-out, bulky build. This isn’t necessarily true. It’s possible to build muscle by lifting low weights and high reps.

Here’s how:

Aims for Failure

Most low-rep workouts are naturally structured for failure. They require you to lift 1-3 reps at your max weight. But, working to failure is actually more important when lifting high-rep workouts at a low weight.

Think about it: why would you do 8-10 reps of something if you can do 15? Working until failure is what causes your muscles to really push themselves in a high-rep workout. It’s what creates all the small tears you need to get out of a workout in order to build muscle.

You can fail at a mid-rep count when lifting 80% of your max or you can fail at a high-rep count when lifting 65-75% of your max. Either way, the point is to go until failure every single set. Try to make your lifts consistent throughout a workout, though. Don’t do your squats at 70% then your lunges at 80%.

Creates More Time Under Tension

Working to failure is so important for muscle growth in the high-rep range because it maximizes time under tension. This is the amount of time that your muscles are actively working.

The more time under tension, the more tears are created which are necessary for muscle growth. But, there is a catch. Time under tension works best when you have a strong mind to muscle connection.

You need to be contracting every part of the muscle you’re working and pause at the top of your movements for the best results. Otherwise, you risk just going through the motions without getting the most mass possible.

Grows Muscle Endurance

High-rep workouts typically build muscle and strength at the same time. They give your body a much higher level of endurance because you’re pushing it past its limits by going to failure in every set.

This creates aesthetic results and shifts in your power, too. You’ll get the muscle-growth results you’re looking for in the mirror as well as an increased level of strength during high reps and low reps.

Building Muscle with Low Reps

Speaking of low reps, have you ever considered why people make the argument that these build muscle? If you’ve just taken someone’s word for it, it’s time to get educated.

The reasons for using low reps to build muscle are explained below.

Uses All Targeted Muscles in Full

When you pick up a deadlift at 100% of your max weight or squat at 95%, you’re using all the power you can. The mind to muscle connection comes more naturally because you need to keep the integrity of each part of the movement. After all, it’s a lot easier to get injured while doing a sloppy deadlift at 100% than at 75%.

Low-rep workouts require your muscles’ full effort. They create the tears needed for muscle growth by building a high level of tension in a short amount of time.

“Shocks” the Muscles

Such a level of tension at such a speed creates a shock in the body. It’s almost like going into fight or flight mode.

Your muscles quickly contract and find the strength to lift heavy at low reps, and as they do so, they get stronger and stronger. This strength turns into mass.

Just as with high-rep workouts, though, there’s a catch. Low-rep workouts push your body to its limits in full; they leave everything in the gym so to speak. This means if you really want to build a lot of muscle, you have to eat a lot more than you would with a high-rep workout.

The increase in calorie intake makes up for the energy used to shock your muscles and lift heavy. Failing to balance this out hinders the body’s ability to grow.

Builds Strength to Build Mass

Low reps are great for building strength, which just so happens to build mass. They’re effective if you’re trying to reach a certain number to squat with or bench press. As you progress toward that goal, you’ll feel your muscles growing and growing.

Again, this is best done with the right calorie intake and you have to lift between 90-100% of your max weight every single time. It’s not easy, but it’s how the results you’re looking for will happen.

High Reps or Low Reps? The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, there will always be a bit of controversy around whether or not to use high reps or low reps to build muscle. Each workout structure has the potential to create the aesthetic results you’re looking for.

For now, your best bet to build muscle is to create a cycle of workouts. Focus on high-rep routines for a few weeks then switch to low-reps. Incorporate mid-range workouts into your schedule, too.

The truth is you have to play the long game whenever you set new goals in the gym. There’s never a definite answer, but there are always plenty of resources and insights to help you do the things you want to accomplish.

To access more workout insights, click here.

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