How do rep ranges work, which are best for what purpose and what repetition range should you train in to achieve your fitness goals?
Whenever you train, you’ll be dealing with rep ranges. These are the number that establishes how many repetitions you should do of a specific exercise.
There are a bunch of different rep ranges you could do at the gym to get a wide variety of results. As such, there are rep ranges that are ideal for specific outcomes, not so well suited for certain goals and definitely not great for some results.
Find out how rep ranges work and which one you should train in to achieve your goals.
Rep Ranges Explained
According to Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and cofounder of Renaissance Periodization, there are six rep ranges you can train in, they are:
Reps are part of sets and, depending on your training goals, you can decide how many repetitions and how many sets you want to perform. Rep ranges dictate the volume and loads you’ll train in.
Hard sets are those where you work under 10 reps and your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is above 7. You’ll be working close to failure. With sets of 5 reps or above, especially sets of 10 reps or above, your Reps In Reserve (RIR) – how many reps you could still perform until you go to failure – should be at most three.
These are all hard sets and based on this you can manage your loads: heavier loads get you in the low rep ranges and lighter loads mean you can perform high rep ranges.
If you want to boost your strength and hypertrophy, training in the right rep ranges is essential so you can get the most out of your training and spend time doing only what will help you achieve your goals.
What Are Different Rep Ranges Good For?
Sets of 1-3 Reps
Sets of 1 to 3 reps are great to train your peak strength and show off your maximum power and force production.
You should train in sets of 1-3 if you want to develop your 1 rep max.
This rep range is not the best to develop strength, but you should include it in your training during the last few weeks of a program (once you’ve developed the foundational strength) to improve your 1 rep maxes or if you want to lift your heaviest.
Training in the 1 to 3 rep range helps you practice for the very specific condition of tackling your heaviest weight (such as a weightlifting or powerlifting competition) and forces you to set up perfectly and use flawless technique, otherwise you’ll fail.
“There’s no way you can get that maximum performance at ultra-heavy weights without having really experienced it,” says Dr Israetel. Train sets of 1 to 3 reps if you want to lift the heaviest you can lift.
Generally, this rep range will build your strength over time, but will not maximise it. This is because these are very low repetitions per set, so the stimulus to the muscle (the get-stronger signal) is relatively low. Further, you can’t perform too many sets in the 1-3 rep range to increase the strength stimulus because the fatigue to perform them is incredibly high.
It’s hard to get enough volume for strength training doing sets of 1-3. Therefore, this rep range is not great for hypertrophy.
Sets of 3-6 Reps
Taking some weight off the bar will allow you to train in the 3-6 rep ranges.
The best use of this rep range is to develop basic strength; this is the underlying ability of your muscles to produce force.
Basic strength is developed in sets of 3 to 6 reps because this repetition range allows for a combination of decent volume and decent load.
Training in this rep range won’t get you to lift your absolute heaviest but is good for maintaining peaking strength. Maintaining is key here; the 3-6 rep range is not ideal for maximising either peaking strength or hypertrophy.
This is especially important for advanced athletes for which adaptations get harder to achieve. While beginners and intermediate athletes will see great results training in this range, if you want to lift the heaviest you should include sets of 1 to 3 in your training instead.
Sets of 5-10 Reps
Sets in the 5 to 10 reps rage develop hypertrophy incredibly well, this rep range is fantastic for muscle growth.
This is especially the case for exercises where you spend a lot of time under tension; think movements such as the back squat, which take a long time to complete, as opposed to calf raises.
Another advantage of this rep range is that it is ideal for developing technique. Training in rep ranges of 5 to 10 allow you to go light enough so you can practice the movement while maintaining technique, while simultaneously not demanding so many reps that technique degrades.
You need more than one rep to practice technique but doing more than 10 means most people rush through the reps and so sacrifice their technique.
“Sets from 5-10 are that awesome middle range, where it’s just enough repetition practice to get the really good training; […] just enough load to get them to feel the load, but not so much load that it crushes their technique; and it doesn’t tire them out, so it doesn’t degrade their technique,” says Dr Israetel.
Just like the 3-6 rep range, if you’re a beginner or intermediate athlete, the 5-10 rep range will help you develop peaking strength, but this isn’t necessarily the case for advanced athletes. This rep range is also not well suited for performing isolation movements such as dumbbell shrugs, calf raises or lateral raises.
Sets of 10-20 Reps
Out of all rep ranges, in general, this is the best for hypertrophy.
This is a big range, so you can do sets of 10-12 for muscles that can take heavy weights and sets of 18-20 for muscles that prefer lighter weights.
“For hypertrophy, it’s almost never the wrong answer,” says Dr Israetel about the 10-20 rep range, pointing it is especially good for high volume hypertrophy training and that, on average, it offers an awesome Stimulus to Fatigue ratio.
Sets of 10 to 20 reps are not great for strength development and should also not be used to develop technique. If you’re only just learning an exercise this rep range is usually too high and sees most people break down their technique at higher reps.
Is not realistic to expect good technique in sets of 10-20 reps, unless someone has already mastered it.
Moreover, it’s hard to approach failure (get close to having very low Reps In Reserve) in this rep range, so if you want to find out what your maximum is, sets of 5-10 are usually better.
Sets of 20-30 Reps
Training in sets of 20 to 30 reps is ideal for isolation exercises where the technique is not complicated and it’s reasonable to perform many reps.
Low amplitude movements with basic technique are great for this rep range.
Because this rep range forces you to lift lighter weights, sets of 20 to 30 provide low join stress and can be a great training avenue if you are, for example, coming back from injury or if your joints can’t take super heavy weights but you want to continue to develop muscle and strength.
Dr Israetel recommends training in the 20 to 30 rep range if you’re coming back from injury, as the training forces are very low, and the growth comes less from tensions and more from metabolites and the pump pathway.
Unless you’re a complete beginner, this rep range is not great for developing strength. It is also not ideal for people with underdeveloped technique or for athletes who don’t know how much load to lift to get close to failure.
Sets of 30+ Reps
While performing 31 reps will essentially have the same effect as performing 30, the best use for this rep range, especially past the 40 or 50 reps, to build strength or hypertrophy is questionable.
This is a different story if you’re working to build endurance, working on intensity for a specific sport, or are recovering from injury, but if your goals are strength and hypertrophy this rep range is not ideal for either.