The Science Behind High and Low Rep Ranges

Hey Angels and Alphas!

Whether you’re a powerlifter that’s never even done more than 6 reps, or a bodybuilder that’s always chasing the “hypertrophy zone,” you can’t deny one thing. The goal you’re pursuing requires that you strive toward a particular training methodology.

That’s because working hard with no specific strategy rarely gets you anywhere. And if you’re one of the people that’s always chasing the “middle ground” of 10 reps on every exercise, chances are you haven’t really thought about the effect that rep ranges have on your results.

Lucky for you, today we’re going to learn how to find the right rep range for our goal.

By doing this, you’ll gain an invaluable tool that will help you multiply the results you’re currently getting – all by maximizing and targeting your effort the right way.

The Differences Between High Range and Low Range Training

To best explain the differences between high and low rep ranges, we’re going to take a look at a few studies.

Even though making conclusions based on a few studies is rarely a great idea, we have a chance to look at the scientifically-proven benefits of the two main rep ranges.

We’ll define the low rep range as anything between 1 and 6 reps.

We’ll define the high rep range as anything between 12 and 20 reps.

And we’ll define the moderate rep range as anything between 7 and 11 reps, even though we’re not going to talk much about it today.

First, I want you to check out this study. Researches took two training groups and exposed them to different types of training. One group had to lift 55% of their 1RM for a high number of reps and had 3 seconds to perform each rep. The second group had to lift on average 85% of their 1RM for low reps, and had one second to perform each rep.

The two groups achieved an almost identical result when it came to muscle mass and strength gain.

Here’s another similar study. Two groups were exposed to arm training for eight weeks. One group performed 20 reps a set with 30 second rest periods. The other performed up to 8 reps and had 3 minute rest periods.

Again, both groups achieved similar (if not the same) result. Here’s another similar study that proves the same thing.

And finally, check this study out. They found out that low-weight, high-rep training stimulates protein synthesis no different than heavy training, essentially proving the usefulness of low-weight, high-rep training during injury rehabilitation.

So far, we’ve found out that, when it comes to muscle strength and size, both low rep ranges and high rep ranges can do wonders for you.

Contrary to what a lot of fitness “experts” say, 6 reps and over isn’t considered cardio. You can still improve strength and muscle mass with higher rep ranges – doing 1-6 reps every set isn’t detrimental to your gains.

That being said, high rep training and low rep training do have their benefits, and now, we’re going to take a closer look at their ups and downs. Finally, we’ll tie that together with what goal you have, making it super easy to choose a rep range that will help you get there faster!

The Benefits of High Rep Training

A common misconception is that training with higher reps (15-20+) and lower weights (30-50% of your 1RM) means that you won’t be training to failure and you won’t be providing the muscle with enough metabolic stress in order to grow it.

On the contrary! Imagine an exercise like the lateral raise. Such an exercise is just better suited for high rep ranges and low weights. By doing it that way, it’s much easier to develop the mind-muscle connection you need in order to put the right type of pressure on your muscle (and minimize the stress on your joints).

Higher rep ranges also allow you to push through metabolic fatigue during your sets. That’s why drop sets were invented! You can some extra “burn” going during your set just by dropping the weight and continuing onward, and that goes a long way to stimulate more muscle growth.

High rep training is an excellent option for those who are usually chasing the “hypertrophy range” in their exercises. It’s great for building muscle size and endurance, as well as giving your joints a break from the heavier weights.

The Downsides of High Rep Training

Training in the high rep range does have its downsides.

In general, I believe high rep training should be utilized mostly in isolation exercises.

If you were to try the high rep, low weight method by doing squats and deadlifts, that would be extremely exhausting and taxing on your muscles.

And if you try to train to failure using a high rep range, chances are it’s going to be highly unpleasant – a lot harder than lower reps and heavier weights.

As a rule of thumb, the 6-12 range is where weights are heavy enough for you to provide enough tension to your major muscle groups.

That’s why it’s usually preferred when the goal is strength and muscle gains because it allows you to generate a lot of metabolic tension without overtaxing yourself and accumulating fatigue.

Which leads us to our next point…

The Benefits of Low Rep Training

We know for a fact that lower rep ranges are more beneficial when it comes to gaining raw strength.

This study done in 2016 made clear that after 8 weeks of training, lower rep ranges (in this case, 2-4) resulted in more strength gains than higher rep ranges.

And even though the differences weren’t dramatic per se, you can see a clear trend toward strength gains. But if the research was longer than 8 weeks, I believe we’d see a dramatic result in the long-term.

The Downsides of Low Rep Training

The obvious downside of lower rep training is that you would need more sets to reach an adequate amount of training volume.

If you only do low rep training, chances are you aren’t putting the maximum amount of metabolic tension on your muscles. And, you’re putting an unnecessary amount of damage to your joints.

That’s why it’s easy to get yourself burned out on a low-rep regimen. These methods often involve a lot of physical and mental fatigue that negatively affect your workouts in the long-term.

How do I choose the right mix?

Although there isn’t a definitive answer to “what’s the best type of rep range to use,” you can get pretty close to a solution that fits your fitness goals.

If you’re just trying to gain strength, always choose low rep ranges and heavy weights.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re generally going to be doing mostly endurance/high rep training with some strength training sprinkled about.

When you’re trying to build muscle and endurance, choose a combination of low and high rep ranges. Low rep ranges for compound exercises, and high rep ranges for isolation exercises.


To conclude, we can say that it’s possible to gain muscle, lose weight, and improve your strength and endurance, regardless of what method you choose.

Nevertheless, what’s important is that you pick a method and stick with it because the real dramatic difference between them will only be visible in the long-term.

Both rep ranges can be used to build muscle. But you need to remember to push yourself and progressively challenge yourself as you go on. If you do this, you’ll achieve muscle growth regardless of what method you are leaning toward.

High reps and low reps aren’t individually better, but differentiating them allows you to treat them differently.

Don’t treat them as the “one thing” you have to do.

Treat them as the newest tools in your training skillset – and use them wisely.


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