Are All Rep Ranges Really the Same for Hypertrophy?

The Truth About Bodybuilding Reps

As long as you’re training to near failure, all rep ranges are the same for muscle growth. Popular idea, but is it true? Answers here.

Rep Ranges: Don’t Keep It Simple?

To become a popular strength coach or “fitness personality,” it helps to say things people like to hear.

When I started out as both a coach and author, I craved new methods and revolutionary approaches. Innovators that broke the mold were the most popular sources of info. We’d get excited about learning the new method. We wanted to know more about why and how it worked. This led to the development of even more novel methods.

And yeah, it also led to complex programs and created some confusion about how to put all of that info together into an effective plan. But that was part of the fun. Heck, it was the most fun part!

Today, the pendulum has swung the other way. People want simple – easy to apply and easy to understand. They want REASSURING. There’s nothing wrong with that… until simple becomes “too simple.” A lot of pieces are dropped for the sake of simplicity.

The problem? This often leads to beige (a French expression that loosely translates to bland or tasteless) programs that might be simple but are very unmotivating. And, in some cases, “too simple” actually leads to faulty information.

One such example? The current trend of saying this:

“Every rep range will trigger the same amount of hypertrophy provided that you do your set with the same level of effort (proximity to failure).”

In other words, if you do 6, 12, 20, or 30 reps per set and stop one rep short of failure, you’ll get the exact same amount of muscle growth. But is that right?

Here are some quick thoughts:

Now let’s dive into the details.

How It Started

To the best of my knowledge, the idea that all rep ranges are the same comes from a study I wrote about myself in a previous article.

Basically, a group doing 3 sets to failure (leg extension) at 30% of their 1RM had the same hypertrophy gains as a group doing 3 sets to failure at 80% (but half the strength). While interesting, don’t forget this study was conducted on beginners using a single exercise. Not really applicable to our reality.

Then came the theory of “effective reps” by Chris Beardsley. (Note that I do subscribe, in large part, to this theory.) An effective rep is a repetition in a set that combines the two key factors to stimulate growth:

  1. A high recruitment of the growth-prone fast-twitch fibers.
  2. A high level of effort to complete the rep. This means that even though you’re trying to push the weight as hard as you can, it moves slowly.

You need both for a rep to be effective at stimulating growth:

  • If you move a weight explosively, you’ll recruit a lot of fast-twitch fibers, but the muscle contracts too fast to have maximum tension. So, it won’t produce much growth.
  • If you go slow on purpose with a light weight, you get a lot of tension on the recruited fibers but not enough fast-twitch recruitment to be effective.

In a normal set, regardless of the number of total reps you do, only the last 5 reps (if you go 1 rep short of failure) will combine both conditions and be effective for growth. Hence the belief that the number of reps you do doesn’t matter – if you push your set hard.

But Is That True?

In theory, it is. And it’s intellectually elegant and makes training super simple. If muscle growth is all you care about, you can use any rep range and load, and they’ll work equally, provided you use the same effort level.

The modern lifter loves simplicity, but reality isn’t so black and white.

For one thing, various rep range or rep-execution styles have effects other than muscle growth – effects that might be as equally desirable as growth.

For example, if you perform 6 reps (heavy weight) 1 rep short of failure, and I do 20 reps (light weight) 1 rep short of failure, we might get a similar hypertrophy response. But you’ll gain more strength than me because lower reps with heavy weights improve neurological factors more than lighter weights for high reps.

But I will gain more resistance and maybe favor increased glycogen storage (provided that sufficient carbs are ingested) by upregulating GLUT-4 more than lower/heavier reps.

Other things:

  • Lower reps with heavier weights will improve neurological factors more than higher reps, leading to more strength gains.
  • Higher reps can increase muscle resistance and lactate tolerance.
  • Lower reps/heavier weights can have a bigger impact on myogenic tone than higher reps (making muscles look harder even at rest).
  • Higher reps can possibly upregulate intramuscular glycogen storage, making a muscle appear fuller (if you’re eating enough carbs).
  • Doing the initial reps of a set (the easy ones) as explosively as possible also improves neurological factors and your capacity to produce power. This could benefit an athlete wanting more muscle mass but also more explosiveness. For example, if you do 10 reps, only the last 5-6 will be hard. If you do the first 4-5 explosively on purpose, they might not build much muscle, but they will increase power output.
  • Doing the initial reps of a set slowly on purpose can help develop movement control and improve intramuscular tension and the mind-muscle connection. This can be useful for beginners or for a muscle you have a problem developing.
  • If you hold the bottom position of an exercise, where the target muscle is being stretched under load, for 1-2 seconds, you can get extra growth via the stretch-induced hypertrophy pathway. And you increase muscle tension at the start of the lifting portion by reducing the stretch reflex.
  • If you voluntarily use a strong rebound in the bottom of a rep, you train your peripheral nervous system to better use the stretch reflex. This is very useful for athletes requiring speed, power, and agility.
  • If you perform very slow eccentrics/negatives, you increase motor cortex activation, speeding up motor learning (useful for beginners). It can also help build up your tendons and reduce the risk of injuries.
  • Performing very high reps (40 or more) can, over time, increase the number of capillaries going to the muscle. This speeds up recovery and helps with endurance. (See The 100-Rep Method for Big Legs.)
  • Heavier loads (lower reps) will have a stronger potentiation effect on the nervous system. Doing that type of work early in the workout helps increase performance on all subsequent exercises.
  • Lighter weights with a slower speed of movement done at the beginning of a workout can help you “feel” the main muscle better when you switch to a big basic lift afterward.

So no, every repetition number/range is not equal. That’s oversimplistic and short-sighted, but it’s a good marketing strategy.

And Then There’s This Study

If all rep ranges are equal for hypertrophy (provided that the same effort level is used), then it would mean that combining more than one rep range in a workout, or a week, wouldn’t provide any added gains compared to only performing one type of rep range.

The following study (1) compared 8 weeks of training (three times per week for the lower body using squats and leg extensions) for three different protocols:

  • Group 1: Heavy (low reps progressing from 82% to 94% using 3-5 reps/set
  • Group 2: Light (high reps using 28-34% to muscle failure for 2-3 sets)
  • Group 3: Combination of both

The group combining both rep ranges had more muscle growth than both groups utilizing only one range.

Although this is only one study, it’s still an interesting finding. It shows that there might be benefits from combining various rep ranges, even strictly for growth.

My Recommendations

  • I’ve always had my best results by combining at least two rep ranges in a workout. Some of my most effective workouts (The Layer System and HSS-100) use four ranges in a workout for the same muscle.
  • If you’re interested in more than just size, use various rep ranges to train qualities useful in your activity. For example, an explosive athlete will do his hypertrophy work differently (different rep ranges and execution) than an endurance athlete.
  • If you want to increase strength as much as size, start with big lifts with lower reps, even in an hypertrophy phase (4-6 reps, for example) and increase the reps gradually from exercise to exercise.
  • If you’re training using feeling and pump as your target, start with one exercise for higher or intermediate reps (targeting the main muscle you want to develop) at the beginning of the workout.
  • If going low reps/heavy weight on an exercise prevents you from properly feeling the muscle you want to stimulate, include higher rep work with maximum tension and mind-muscle connection for that muscle. In fact, if you don’t feel the target muscle doing the work, go lighter using higher reps on that movement, too.


  1. Fischetti F et al. Hypertrophic Adaptations Of Lower Limb Muscles In Response To Three Different Resistance Training Regimens. Acta Medica Mediterranea. 2020 Sep;5(36):3235.

I have a theory. It may be dumb, and you may prove me wrong. But here it is.

There seems to be some disagreement over using sub-maximal weights for straight sets as being useful. For example, in 531 there are supplemental schemes where you do 5x5 at a first set last weight, something that may only be ~60-70% of a 1 rep max. You are not close to failure in a conventional sense, and many would say these are not effective reps. But, I believe this can work well as many (if I can include myself) have seen nice results from approaches like this. Here’s why.

My theory: If you approach that set of 5 with your maximal effort, meaning you essentially move the barbell with maximal speed and explosiveness each rep, you effectively are taking each rep to “failure”, meaning you can’t again duplicate that effort within that working set. If I’m benching 185 lbs for a set of 5 (~300 lb max), but each rep is done as explosively as possible, each rep will be a bit slower than the last one. Each rep was the max effort (not the max weight) that I could have done. As bar speed slows, the set is over. Even if I have plenty of “reps in the tank”, once bar speed dips you rack it and call it a set. This is in-line with Wendler’s approach to lifting: go lighter than you think but make sure each rep is explosive and crisp as possible. I have had much better results this way and just feel better than when I would grind heavier sets.

What do you think about this? Sure, if you move the weight with the same speed regardless of the weight on bar, you won’t get much out of 5 slow, non explosive reps if you could have done another 15 reps in an identical fashion. But if you explode the weight up with your full effort, then the whole “effective reps” argument - that’s based solely on the weight on the bar - breaks down.

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It sounds good in theory and it works… in part.

For STRENGTH it works. Because the intent to violently accelerate the bar can compensate for the lack of load. This is called compensatory acceleration training. And since Force = Mass x Acceleration, by accelerating a moderate load you can create the same force production as lifting a heavier weight.

However, it doesn’t work as well for hypertrophy because, and this is important, the faster a movement is, the less tension there is on the muscles. That’s because at a high contraction speed, the actin-myosin cross-bridges don’t stay active long and this leads to fewer bridges at any given time. And the amount of muscle tension producted is proportional to the number of bridges formed at any give time.

That’s why things like plyometrics, jumps, throws, and even the olympic lifts have a negligible impact on muscle growth despite leading to a) a very high force production and b) a very high fast-twitch fibers recruitment.

To get reps that do trigger significant growth, a rep must be fairly slow even as you try to accelerate it/push as hard as you can.

Now, if you are using 70% for 5x5 you will probably get 1 effective rep per set. So that gives you 5 for the whole protocol. Which is sufficient to get SOME growth especially if you hit that muscle a few times per week (around 20-25 effective reps/muscle per week seems to be the level where significant growth occurs).

If you count your main lift, which can provide 5+ effective reps (depending on the week and how many reps you get) you can likely get enough overall effective reps in your week to get acceptable growth.


I appreciate the detailed response. Your point is well taken that this wouldn’t be ideal to those looking to maximize hypertrophy.

Question: When you are talking about effective reps per set, is this limited to hypertrophy? If one were training for athleticism and performance, would this still be true? I am in the minority on these boards in that I train solely for performance and prefer the look of an athlete over a body builder. For someone like this, would it change your answer at all?

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Yes, it’s limited to hypertrophy.

As I wrote in the article above, if you perform the “easy” reps of a set with maximum intent to accelerate, even though the reps do not contribute much to hypertrophy, they will have a positive impact on power production capacity, and strength to some extent.

If effective reps applied to everything, then jumps, plyometrics, throws, and even sprints would be worthless for performance improvements… and they obviously aren’t.

I don’t need to change my answer because that’s actually what I said in both my answer and article.

i talked about effective reps/hypertrophy only because that’s the way your original question was formulated.


I don’t think ANY non-competitive lifter values simplicity based on the questions I see posted across the interwebs, LOL! People will find a way to complicate even the most simple of things.

I competed (key word) in Olympic lifting then powerlifting for well over a decade. The high volume, low rep work but always leaving some in the tank is simply the magic for strength. Sheiko programs did more to get my powerlifting total up than anything…but I actually “shrunk” during peaking cycles. I understood why but I always used it as an example for (mainly) women who had the fixed mindset of “heavy weights make you bulky, high reps tone”.

Fast forward to post-competitive years and I almost exclusively use rest-pause training and got to my absolutely most muscular (but not strongest) bodyweight of 200-lbs at 5’7" without being a slob. 99% of my training for that period was the "Best Damm…for Natural Lifters " series👍

This is so true.

Good article and good discussion. I have always liked varying my rep ranges when training for hypertrophy – it keeps things more interesting for me and it has just never made a lot of sense to me to do a set of 6-8 on flies for example – so the fact that varying the rep ranges may improve hypertrophy outcomes is music to my ears.

100% agree. The obsession with “optimal” rep ranges for hypertrophy is mostly mental masturbation. If people want it simply put: do all the rep ranges for hypertrophy but work hard. Strength is a bit less vague, IMHO.

Key the comments on “well, it depends on how do you define strength. Relative? Absolute? Specific vs generalized?”. Knock it off. You know what I mean.

I look at this in a very simplistic view.
Do heavy low reps so that you can do heavier high reps for hypertrophy. (Disclaimer: 10reps were my high rep sets)

In other words: Get stronger so you can get bigger. This is done in cycles of 6 to 10 weeks.

Coach Thibaudeau, no joke, how are you such a genius / Beast / God of a trainer? I’ve been instinctively feeling that different rep schemes in sets are a good idea, yet I’ve been told multiple times that intensity is more important than rep ranges. Finally! An explanation on the benefits of multiple rep ranges that gets specific!

I personally think there’s some possible validity to your argument. You can read “rethinking proximity to failure” on myojournal that talks about the possible use of training NOT close to failure (though it’s talking about strength more than hypertrophy).

Using newtons law Newtons law:

Force produced by the muscle in the exercise = Mass (the weight on the bar) * acceleration.

So in theory , for a given load, the force produced is highest when acceleration is highest . Aka earlier in the set before fatigue accumulates. I think that accumulating these explosive early “high force reps” while minimizing grinding of the last 5 “effective reps” may be another method of attaining growth. BUT I think the load during these sets need to be at least >65%1RM, otherwise it’s too light. So you cannot accumulate explosive reps with your 30 RM.

Summary statement: light sets (>65% 1RM) far from failure may be useful in producing hypertrophy because you are accumulating more reps of the highest force production based on the equation of Force = Mass* acceleration.

I find it much more constructive to think in terms of work (W = Fs) or power (P = Fv).

F = ma is fine for understanding that weight is mass times acceleration due to gravity (w = mg). When holding a barbell you must supply enough force to keep the barbell mass from falling to the ground due to the force of gravity.

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You can say you are accumulating more work, and using more power by performing sets farther from failure. That’s 1000% true.

The problem with using the work equation is that higher rep ranges tend favor more work being done. Eg. 3x3 with your 5RM vs 3x13 with your 15RM yields different “work”. So I don’t want to use more “work” as purely the reason why.

And the problem with using the power equation is that peak power is achieved with ~30% 1RM. Which I don’t think will yield great a hypertrophy response.

I believe if the bar is accelerating upwards, then the Forces placed on the bar in the upward direction are greater than W=mg. The faster the bar is moving up, the more force your muscles are producing at that load.

So in the last few reps that are slow, according to F=ma, the force produced by the entire muscle against the bar is low.

So maximizing acceleration of the bar with a heavy enough load will thus maximize force production at the given load. Maybe accumulating those high force reps produce adaptations that improve force production. Aka muscle growth.

That’s my interpretation on why early reps may be useful, according to F= m* a.

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I am assuming you have some knowledge of analytical geometry. When doing reps the weight must change directions at the top and the bottom of the lift. At those changes in direction the velocity of the bar is zero.

If you plot the velocity of the barbell against time. The velocity will increase at the beginning of the pull. If you plot the curve for velocity it will increase for the first portion of the lift and will decrease in the last portion of the lift. It will start at zero and end at zero. As long as the slope (m = dv/dt) is positive the bar is accelerating, i.e., the bar is increasing in velocity. At the top of the curve the acceleration is zero. As you approach the end of the rep it is decelerating, because it must reach zero velocity. Where the slope is the greatest that is where acceleration is maximum.

I have not studied the velocity curve of a lift, so I don’t know the specifics (formula of the curve). But just know that increasing velocity does not assure increasing acceleration.

I would never try to approach this from an F = ma factor. I still stand that work and power are better approaches.

If you wish to train against some real life acceleration add some heavy bands to the barbell (with weights).

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That is all minutea and not really related to the conditions required for a repetition to be effective at creating hypertrophy.

The two conditions are:

  1. A high level of fast-twitch fibers recruitment (since they are those who have a significant growth potential)

  2. A high level of tension throughout the whole repetition/range of motion.

It’s the second part that high acceleration/light lifting lacks.

It’s also why plyometrics, jumps and throws are not a significant hypertrophy tool, even if you do a high volume to accumulate lots of work.

As I explained, the tension imposed on a muscle fiber is inversely related to the speed at which that fiber is contracting.

The reason is that in:

a) the tension imposed on a muscle fiber depends on the number of actin-myosin cross-bridges during the contraction

b) the faster the contraction is, the fewer bridges there will be at the same time. You might have a large amount of cross-bridge for a very brief period during the initial burst, but the average of the rep is low, to allow for the faster movement to occur: during fast contraction, the cross-bridges disconnect rapidly, never leading a large number at the same time.

So if the contraction speed is fast, you will likely have a high fast twitch fibers recruitment BUT the tension on those fibers will be low, making it pretty ineffective for hypertrophy (but effective for power and even strength).

BUT if you go slow on purpose during the concentric, you will have a higher tension on the recruited fibers BUT you will not recruit the fast-twitch fibers.

In both cases you will need to reach a point close to failure to have reps that will be effective at stimulating growth.

In the case of the reps you tried to accelerate, when you reach a level close to failure the speed of the muscle contraction will slow down despite your intention to accelerate. So now you have both conditions to trigger growth.

With the reps where you went slow on purpose, as you build fatigue during the set you will be forced to recruit the fast twitch fibers to keep going. So when you reach proximity to failure you are recruiting the FT fibers, and you now have both conditions to trigger optimal growth.

If you do 5 reps at 65% of your maximum, you will never get the two required conditions.

You would need to use roughly 75% for 5 reps to get some effective reps. Repetitions will have both conditions present when the load represents around 80% of the maximum you can lift at the beginning of the rep. At “normal” weights (60-90%) there is roughly a 2-3% decrease in strength due to fatigue on each rep.

For example, if you are using 75%…

Rep 1 is 75% of your maximum at the start of the rep
Rep 2 is 78%
Rep 3 is 81%
Rep 4 is 84%
Rep 5 is 87%

REps 3, 4 and 5 will have the conditions required to stimulate growth. By doing 5 sets like this you get 15 effective reps, which is pretty good for one exercise hypertrophy-wise.

But if you use 65% it looks like this:

Rep 1 is 65%
Rep 2 is 68%
Rep 3 is 71%
Rep 4 is 74%
Rep 5 is 77%

So you don’t even get one effective rep per set. The only way to make this work is to use short rest periods so that you don’t fully recover and you start a bit weaker on each set.

It could look like this

Rep 1 is 65%
Rep 2 is 68%
Rep 3 is 71%
Rep 4 is 74%
Rep 5 is 77%

Rep 1 is 68%
Rep 2 is 71%
Rep 3 is 74%
Rep 4 is 77%
Rep 5 is 80%

Rep 1 is 71%
Rep 2 is 74%
Rep 3 is 77%
Rep 4 is 80%
Rep 5 is 83%

Rep 1 is 74%
Rep 2 is 77%
Rep 3 is 80%
Rep 4 is 83%
Rep 5 is 86%

Rep 1 is 77%
Rep 2 is 80%
Rep 3 is 83%
Rep 4 is 86%
Rep 5 is 89%

In that protocol, you can get 10 effective reps. Still decent (we want around 20-30 per muscle) but quite inefficient, strictly from a hypertrophy perspective.

At 5 reps with 65% and normal rest you get FT fibers recruitment because of your intent to accelerate BUT even on the last reps of the set the load is not made challenging enough to have a decrease in contraction speed to have the level of tension required to trigger growth.

If you want to trigger growth with that load and number of reps, you would actually have to create excessive tension in the main muscles by trying to flex all those muscles as hard as possible and keep that maximum tension throughout the set, which is very hard to do on compound movements.

Hypertrophy is not physics. It’s physiology. It’s how the tissue responds to tension. Physics are more interesting when it comes to power and strength training.


Let’s compare the concentric portion of the 1st rep of a 10RM and the 10th rep of a 10RM using your analytical geometry and F= mass * acceleration.

Both of them start with a velocity of 0.

Wouldnt the peak/average velocity of the 1st rep be greater than the peak/average velocity of the 10th rep? Therefore wouldn’t the acceleration/average of the 1st rep will be greater than the acceleration of the 10th rep? So based on Force = mass * acceleration, the force acting to lift the barbell is higher in the 1st rep when compared to the 10th rep.

Th leverage for muscle hypertrophy is within CT’s comments.

Weight training is most closely related to Newton’s Third Law. I don’t see anything constructive in trying to shoehorn Newton’s Second Law into the solution.

I’m just saying a possible reason why Antiquity’s anecdote of submaximal effort training has worked. He said it worked, but no one explained why. That’s why I wrote F= ma as a possible reason. I think my reasoning with F=ma seems plausible in maximizing force per rep at a given load is plausible. You guys have any plausible reasons as to why Antiquity’s submaximal approach works?

But hey, use power, work, newton’s third law, effective reps, W=mg.

this is best response / reply so far
,Thank you CT