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Do Rep Ranges Matter? This Study Says No

For years we’ve been taught that rep ranges correlate with your desired fitness outcome. If you want to shred, perform high reps with low weight volume. If you want to build mass, low reps with heavy weights is where it’s at. This axiom has been repeated so many times that it’s attained almost talismanic significance. But now a new study from the prestigious American Physiological Society is turning the common understanding of rep ranges on its head.

Forty-nine men ranging in fitness level from beginner to experienced participated in the study. The participants were randomly assigned to either a high-rep (30-50% of their 1 rep max) or low-rep (75-90 percent of their 1 rep max) training routine. They trained for 12 weeks, then had their results analyzed. Data collected included skeletal muscle biopsies, hormone examinations, and basic strength testing.

The results of the study were shocking, to say the least.

First, the results showed that both high- and low-rep training produced equivalent strength increases for all exercises but bench press. Both groups also gained a relatively equal amount of lean muscle mass. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that, “in resistance-trained individuals, load, when exercises are performed to volitional failure, does not dictate hypertrophy or, for the most part, strength gains.”

This development creates a huge shake-up for bodybuilders and other fitness professionals who have long espoused the belief that strength and size gains are inextricably linked to rep ranges. Both schools of thought, however, continue to align on one point: The total volume of sets and reps carries more meaning than the split (i.e., how many reps you perform per set). It remains to be seem whether anyone else will try to replicate these results, but the debate over these new and interesting findings is sure to create a buzz within the fitness industry.