High Rep Compounds, Low Rep Isolations: Pointless or Decent Change in Stimulus?

Let’s say that somebody was doing a workout which had you train your compound lifts first, for low"ish" reps (4-8), followed by isolations for higher reps (8-12). I’ve been reading about periodization, and how to prevent a plateau, and one of the main pieces of advice in regards to this is to change your rep ranges, which is understandable. I know a lot of guys on bodybuilding forums seem to be obsessed with telling people that they’ve not reached a plateau, and they need to eat more, etc etc, so please regard my question as though it refers to an ACTUAL real plateau, as opposed to just somebody who “thinks” they’ve plateaud.

Anyway, provided everything else has been checked to try and get out of a plateau (increasing calories, more rest/recovery, etc), how should one go about changing the rep ranges on their exercises, based on the type of routine described above, with low rep compounds first, followed by higher rep isolations? Would it be sufficient/optimal enough to just do higher rep compounds and lower rep isolations? I guess this goes against the whole cliché of “do compounds with higher weight, and lower reps, and vice versa for isolations”, but I figured it may provide enough of a change in stimulus to help break through a potential plateau if and when it occurs.

I’m not currently on a plateau of any kind, and my routine is working great right now so I’m happy, but I figured I’d try and figure this stuff out and get some methods ingrained in my head for the future, so I don’t have to begin stressing and obsessing over what to do if/when a plateau occurs.

Thanks guys, any help would be greatly appreciated.

First, define what you mean by “plateau”, because that’s almost always in relation to hitting a wall when building strength. As in, “I squatted 365x5 two weeks ago, 365x4 last week, and 365x4 this week. I’ve plateaued.”

It’s not really a bodybuilding (muscle-building) term, as common usage. So we’re off on the wrong foot already.

Higher rep compound work can be brutal. 30-rep leg presses are nobody’s idea of fun. But you can run the risk of fatiguing support muscles before the prime movers, so exercise selection is crucial. There’s a reason you don’t typically see 15-rep front squats or 20-rep barbell rows recommended.

With low rep isolation lifts, if low rep automatically means heavier, then, again, you run the risk of reducing stress on the target bodypart by incorporating surrounding muscles (think shoulders helping with triceps pressdowns or traps and lateral raises) and/or increasing joint stress (think heavy leg extensions or heavy preacher curls).

But low rep isolation lifts with lighter weight can be a thing. Slow the tempo down or play with mid-rep pauses and try to fatigue yourself in 5 or 6 reps for a good change of pace.

1 Like

Ever considered changing up the movements you use?

1 Like

@Chris_Colucci By “plateau” I just meant any kind of progress being stalled for a prolonged period of time, whether it be mass gain, strength gain, etc.

I figured that heavy low rep isolations could cause injuries (tendon, joint damage etc.) but if that’s the case then what about articles online and people giving advice to break a plateau saying “change up your rep range”. If you’re always gonna have to stick with higher reps for isolations, then there really isn’t any room for change, so the advice almost seems pointless. I guess in that case changing the tempo of isolations seems the only option when lowering the rep range.

Regarding getting off on the wrong foot, I apologise. I try my best when posting to NOT come across as a dick, as I know that people are extremely defensive and quick to pick up on every little detail of a post, and to perhaps take a post the wrong way, which is unfortunate. I don’t mean yourself, it’s just that I’ve asked questions on forums in the past (going on 15 years or so now actually), and unfortunately more often than not have received nasty replies just for asking a question.

Anyway, I didn’t mean it was a truly bodybuilding term, I just meant that I’ve seen people never receive the answer they’re looking for, and instead been inundated with posts claiming that they either don’t know what they’re doing, aren’t eating enough, etc. When in reality, the person COULD genuinely have been in a plateau. It’s just wrong wording from me really when I said “bodybuilding”, so I apologise for that. Thank you for your help so far though!

@bulldog9899 I change my exercises every 8-10 weeks or so, provided of course that I’ve actually stalled on a lift for a decent period of time.

Run Deep Water. 10x10 for your compounds. That will fix your plateau.


Those are different problems that require different solutions. For example, the majority of time when someone hits a “mass gain plateau”, fixing their diet is the answer and adjusting training isn’t necessary. Training is easier than diet, though, so of course people want to turn there first.

No apology necessary. I was just saying that we should make sure we’re talking about the same thing before we actually starting talking about it.

Disagreed. There’s plenty of room for change because “higher reps” is vague. Doing sets of 10-12 right now? Do sets of 15. Currently doing sets of 15? Do sets of 20-25 for a few weeks, or do sets of 10-12, or do sets of 8-10.

Pretty much anytime you go plus or minus 5 reps, it’s a significant change that will affect the weight you’re using along with altering TUT and total volume.

Thank you Chris, you’ve been a great help. I was going to make a new thread about another question I’ve got, but I figured I may aswell ask it here so I don’t clog up the forum with all my questions. It kind of relates to what we’ve been talking about so far anyway.

If I were to use a reverse linear periodization approach to my training, separated by 4 week mesocycles, starting heavy(ish) with low reps and slowly increasing volume, what would be the best way to maintain the strength gained during the first four weeks when switching to a higher rep phase? I remember reading somewhere that it’s a lot easier to maintain results than it is to gain them in the first place, and it recommended that when switching from a strength phase to a higher rep hypertophy/volume phase I could incorporate some low rep ranges just to maintain the strength that was gained during the first four weeks. Unfortunately I can’t find the article anywhere now, and I can’t remember exactly how this approach was laid out.

Just a little bit concerned that when moving up from lower reps to higher reps for a lot of my exercises during the added volume phase, that the strength I gained from the first phase would disappear. Then again, each phase is only going to be 4 weeks long, so it may not even be an issue. I’m just not sure.

Low rep isolations can work well (certainly where strength is concerned to help bust through a plateau) + high rep compounds can be good for size gains, though not so great for strength gains at least in my own experience.

I have no idea why this answer ALWAYS gets ignored lol.

It wasn’t ignored, but I’m not going to take it as the ONLY answer to my question. Whilst I appreciate the answer, it’s almost like somebody asking “What’s the best car I should buy?” and the first reply is “Ford Mondeo”. I wouldn’t expect anybody to take that as the ONLY option available to them. I’m interested in my own methods and questions about stuff, and won’t stop wondering all of a sudden just because somebody has posted about a specific training method. It may be the best routine/method to break out of a plateau ever designed, but regardless I’m still curious about my original question. I’m not disregarding it, just trying to broaden my knowledge in all physique/fitness related issues, and at the moment my original query is one of them.

You spent 10 minutes writing that answer and defending yourself from a harmless comment but I guess you didn’t spend 5 minutes to look up that training program, did you?

1 Like

Ah, Grasshopper, the future looks bright for you…

(edit to add: Grasshopper is a reference to David Carradine’s character from an old, old TV series called Kung Fu)

1 Like

Thank you for adding the note, pg.

You must be an avid follower of mine to know to factor in such nuances.

Sorry, man. You’d have to be on the Martins!!! level before I would be an “avid follower”.

Punisher is one dude whose posts I usually read because I appreciate his humor, so I saw your confusion in the Hoffa thread. But I was not enough of an “avid follower” of yours to enlighten you. Sorry. :wink:

1 Like

Thankfully you did it in your last post here. I appreciate it man.

No worries man. I still didn’t get your reference, but I’m positive someone else will find it punny.