Today, I received a question about how many sets and reps for building muscle.
Steve is a long time follower of Weight Lifting Complete and asked the following question:
“My goal is to build muscle and I was wondering which rep scheme would be better, or are they too similar. 2 sets of 10 reps vs 10, 8, 6 reps.”
So what's better for building muscle? How many sets and reps are optimal for building muscle?
Let's fully answer Steve's questions today and help anyone else out there who might have the same questions.
An Excerpt About Building Muscle From the WLC System Manual…
First off, there is no optimal rep range for building muscle. Too many people think that low reps do not build muscle and that higher reps are only for endurance. I’m sure you’ve heard people say that low reps are for building strength and high reps are for building endurance.
Those same people will usually tell you that you need to lift between 8 and 12 reps to build muscle.
This is wrong. The 8 to 12 rep range will build muscle, but it's not the only rep range that will build muscle. I browse through other websites all the time. Just the other day, I found yet another website stating that anything fewer than 8 reps will only build strength. Amazing.
It really is amazing to me since I've had much of my success building muscle in the 4 to 6 rep range. And I know many others that have had that same success.
I’m here to tell you that the exact number of reps you do really isn’t that important for building muscle. The only reason the number of reps is useful is to ensure you are making progress.
For example, if you lift 200 pounds for 10 reps, you want to make sure the next time you lift 200 pounds that you lift more than 10 reps or that you do more than 200 pounds for 10 reps.
Do you still believe that the number of reps is that important for building muscle? Still believe that low reps only build strength and that high reps only build endurance?
The table below shows the results of a study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology from November 2002. The table shows the percent increase for muscle fiber types using different rep ranges. The results are amazing! Take a look…
The table in the WLC System Manual shows results for muscle size increase with 20 to 28 reps, 9 to 11 reps, and 3 to 5 reps.
The 3 to 5 rep range showed the largest increases in muscle size between the different types of muscle fiber but all rep ranges shows significant increases in muscle size.
So all rep ranges are great for building muscle!!! Each rep range provides different benefits as well.
It's All About the Load You Place on the Muscle
Fatigue is not the most important muscle building factor. Again, fatigue is not the most important muscle building factor!
The relative load you apply to the muscle group is the most important factor in increasing muscle size.
I guarantee that you could do 1 set of the trap bar deadlift just twice per week, increase the weight every workout, and you would get amazing gains in size and strength from that one exercise simply because you increased the weight every workout.
You could take that same exercise, keep the weight the same every workout, increase the number of sets you do, and your results would be next to nothing compared to increasing the weight every workout.
You need to focus on increasing the weight and stop worrying about the exact number of sets and reps to do to build muscle.
You want to take one of the weight lifting programs within the WLC Workouts Manual and focus on increasing the weight every workout.
For Steve only: I would do one of the full body size specific weight training programs and focus on getting really strong on that program. I would do what the workouts manual says for that program. You won't have to worry about the number of sets and reps to do because it's already planned out for you.
If You Want to Build Muscle, You MUST Increase the Number of Calories
Another thing many people forget is to track and measure their results on a weekly basis. Every week you should be measuring your results.
If you are not gaining muscle, then the action you need to take is simple. Add more calories. You can add 300 to 500 calories every week that you aren't building muscle.
The intent in adding more calories is to add more nutrition to your body. More nutrients means more opportunities to construct muscle within your body.
If you are following the WLC System guidelines and increasing the amount of weight you are lifting every workout, you will build muscle. It's that simple. Building muscle is easy if you follow the WLC System.
Remember, measuring your results and tracking the number of calories you are eating is a fundamental part of the WLC System. There's no way you won't get results very fast if you follow the guidelines.
If you don't gain muscle one week, increase the amount of calories you are eating. Continue increasing calories until you are building muscle consistently. And then increase again once the results begin to slow.
You are always learning about your body and what it takes for you to build muscle when following the WLC System.
Even if you don't build muscle one week you learned from that and adjusted your program to begin making progress. If you don't make any adjustments, you aren't following the WLC System and you aren't making progress.
If you measure results and make adjustments based on those results, you will make amazing progress. No other muscle building system in existence teaches you how to do that like the WLC System.
So How Many Sets and Reps for Building Muscle?
Steve's question was about 2 sets of 10 reps or 3 sets of 6, 8, or 10 reps for building muscle.
Hopefully, the question was answered by reading the above.
The strategy we employ in most of our size based training programs involves decreasing the number of reps you are doing over the course of a weight lifting program while increasing the weight.
We design all of our weight lifting programs around increasing the weight because that is the most important muscle building factor.
In our size based programs, we look for even bigger weight increases from workout to workout so we start with higher reps and light weights and finish with really heavy weights and low reps.
The huge increase in weight over the course of a weight lifting program is what builds muscle size. It isn't the small details that matter. It's the weight increase that your body sees.
So 2 sets of 10 reps over an entire weight lifting program isn't going to allow you to increase the weight very much from beginning to end because you'll struggle increasing the weight by very much.
And 3 sets of 10, 8, and 6 reps for a weight lifting program also isn't going to allow you to increase the weight very much. Starting with 10 reps in weeks 1 and 2, 8 reps in weeks 3 and 4, 6 reps in weeks 5 and 6, and then 4 reps in weeks 7 and 8 would be much better. You would be able to start with lighter weights and increase the weight as the number of reps decreases.
So the answer to Steve's question is neither 2 sets of 10 reps or 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 is the best for building muscle. The best strategy for building muscle size is to increase the weight by large amounts over the course of a weight lifting program.
If a weight lifting program (as within the WLC Workouts Manual) allows you to increase the weight by large amounts, then that is a good weight lifting program for building muscle size.