T Nation

Limit Strength: Its Concern for Bodybuilding


Not posted in awhile, been making steady progress in lifts and measurements. Still repping the oh-so-miraculous discovery that arms respond to DIRECT ARM WORK. Why that didn't go in earlier..

I've been thinking a lot lately about the importance of reaching close to your "limit strength" in 4-6(8 tops) rep ranges for all main movements before "moving on" to more 8-12 style stuff.

Basically, both gangs seem to be right: If you bench 3 plates a side you will mostly look bigger then the guy who benches 2 (strength side), in the same vain a certain strength levelis usually seen in guys with a certain amount of muscle.

But at the same time, CCs postings (in Alpha) about the importance of not neglecting rear-delts, calfs, arms, side delts etc. from the outset if you want the balanced "bodybuilder-look" physique is even more key to those who actually want to look like a bodybuilder.

So, especially to you guys who are repping 300lb+ for bench and 400+ for squats...., how important do YOU think building this level of strength is in the pursuit of hypertrophy and perhaps even more key- do you agree with my thoughts that 8-12 rep range on main exercises for people at 40-60% of their strength potential seems an easy way to get nowhere fast.

If a lifter like me, who is still one session away from hitting the amusingly allusive 100kg bench press, honestly wants to get "big" as a natural, am I getting there faster from 4-6 reps on the bench to build up to 140kg+ presses over time, or 8+ reps...

To me this seems to be the way I can gain strength, but then others may be able to "easily" build strength regardless of rep range, where I struggle even with low reps. My genetics seem more inclined to reasonable leanness and muscle growth when nutrients are provided.

Lemme' know..


I'm not repping 300lb plus for bench press (just to get that out of the way)

IME, individual responsiveness to a prescription regime (whatever rep range you are trying) based on strength changes can be evaluated in as little as 3-4 weeks, assuming two sessions per week of the given exercise (with appropriate volume/loading etc).

This is based on rapid strength changes with a given, consistent (so not a 531 type model) prescription scheme (assuming you are already familiar with the given exercise you are evaluating for strength change).

This is only a relevant observation for strength change, with the perspective that rapid strength responsiveness will lead to increases in muscle size down the track.

I believe that anything between a 4-15 rep max range may be effective across the general population of weightlifters (finding what you respond best to is something for you to find).

So no, I do not agree that the 8-12 rep range is a way to get nowhere fast. For alot of people, this can be a very effective training range.


I didn't mean the strength figures as some sort of requirement, more just as in interest in how most "got their heavy lifts heavy".

More concisely I think I'm just stating my belief that 4-6 reps or so is what I have had to come down to in order to make viable progress on certain exercises.

I agree with what your saying, the classic find what works best for you, but I can't help but be of the opinion that in lifts where there is so so much strength potential left, for me the bench press where were talking well over 100 pounds till I'm anywhere near my limit strength stage. In the squat it is likely over 200. Now, while I believe this to be exercise and perhaps body part specific, I just can't see how I would "get the arms" of someone benching 350lb or so whilst using 10+ reps, it would just take forever. Same with squatting 500 or so and having the matching legs.

I don't think going "full powerlifting" or "olympic style" till a certain strength level is name of the game, but the evidence seen in most bodybuilders hitting 80% of their limit strength often before actually bodybuilding must count for something? I'm just finding a hard time believing theirs all these natural guys developing massive bench presses in the 10-12 rep range... unless we're talking it taking them like 10 years


In my opinion I think you have to find a balance... For myself going from a 120kg to a 140kg in less than 3 months was just a focus on hitting my main movement for a heavy 3-5 reps waving that over a 4 week period, resetting and so forth. After you hit your main movement, the prime movers in that motor pattern I hit for 8-12 reps to get that "bodybuilder" look.

Everyone works different but I still say for compound exercises explosive low reps and smaller muscle groups higher rep ranges, I do not think you have to pertain either or solely as your body adapts. Also I think the key ingredient is what you eat and how much you eat. Right now I am just eating anything and everything and weights seem to be moving up.


Just to make an important distinction, "limit strength" refers specifically to the force you can generate on a single repetition with maximal effort.

OP, if you're wondering why big guys seem to be moving a lot of weight in the 4-6 rep range before getting to where they can move a lot of weight n the 8-12 range, it's because those two rep ranges "carry over" quite well. Getting stronger on 5's will lead to being stronger on 10's and vice versa.

Another consideration is that lifting heavier in lower rep ranges is, for many, more enjoyable. Personally, given the option, I would much rather smash out sets of 4-6 than grind out 8-12 reps (remember kids, anything over 6 reps is cardio!). However, once you're moving very heavy weights, it becomes more important to vary the training loads in order to prevent injury. Many older and stronger lifters will lower their training weights, but push their rep ranges up to compensate.

In short, don't worry about it. Go lift weights.


Thanks for the responses. I didn't mean limit strength as a term for 1RM but rather as a general term for a foreseeable ceiling in ones strength. Say I bench 210lb now and even with all my efforts devoted to building a bigger bench, any higher then the low 400s could be a serious struggle. So I'm referring to getting the bench to at least 300 and probably closer to 350 pounds before focusing more on 8-12 rep sets.

There's definitely transfer over to an extent from low rep ranges to high, but I think the new article "why bodybuilders are more jacked then powerlifters" is basically a dream come true answer to my thoughts. Whilst I enjoy getting stronger my goals and genetics both point to closer to bodybuilding.

Think I'm going to just not worry about to and carry on using 6+ reps for all but my top set in my first exercise, where I would never aim to do less then 4 reps. Otherwise I'm just not bodybuilding effectively. As long as I get the volume in at 8+ reps I'm sure the slightly lower rep first exercise won't hold me back bodybuilding wise.


This question is confusing to me. Maybe it's the way it's worded. How do you even know what your limit strength is? I was stuck at 315 bench for months and my co-worker who works out suggested that might be my "limit". I broke through it a a few weeks later and was at a smooth 315x3 and 300x5 just a couple months later. So how do you even know when you're reaching this limit?

I say keep it simple. It think you're stuck on bench for example, change up the reps for a couple months and see what happens. Not to be a dick, but if you're asking about your "limit strength" you're probably no where near it. It took me almost 3 years to rep 300+ and I don't think I'm anywhere near my "limit". When I'm benching over 400, then I'll probably give it some thought.

Edit: To add, a long time ago I was stuck on 285 1RM for bench or some shit like that. I had asked Modok if he thought my max would go up if I switched up to a 6-8 reps ramping type scheme. He said yes, I tried it out and just like that my max went up after progressing in the 8 rep range over the course of a few months. I switched back to low reps (4-6) and the max started going up again.


This ^

I think that as you get more advanced, you tend to veer towards lower reps (e.g. 4-8), partly because you have greater focus/intensiveness than before and partly because it's just more enjoyable.

Cranking out 10+ reps a set is no longer an excuse to go "light", it's torture haha

As a side note though, pressing exercises have always been funny for me, as in, I tend to stagnate when going past 8 reps.


Yeah think I confused you a bit, I'm not saying for a second I'm anywhere near my limit strength (after all I missed a 220lb bench..). I basically have a the same view as you, 400lbs or so when I'll start to consider that or perhaps for the sake of me being a terrible bench presser, maybe 350lb. I'm worrying about my limit strength precisely because I'm so far from it, that's where my issue lies, but I think between the new article that has come out on pl vs. bodybuilding and what your saying about changing them up when you stagnate, I think I have a decent strategy going forward. Another case of me over-complicating shit, perhaps.


Spose that's one aspect, the stronger you get, the more like hell high rep sets get due to the loading. A mixture of everything from 4-12 then should cover bases as reasonably as possible..

My problem area is also presses, back lifts go up fine with more reps.. strangely my squats stalling with 4-6 reps so I might go 8-10 for awhile or something..


As long as you do enough overall volume, it doesn't matter...

for example, a back day could look like

deadlift/rack pulls - 5 sets of 3-5 reps
v bar pulldowns - 3 sets of 8-12
underhand smith bb rows - 3 sets of 8-12
2 hand db row to chest - 3 sets of 8-12

chest day

FLat Bench - 5 sets of 3-5
low incline DB bench - 3 sets of 8-12
Mid Cable fly - 3 sets of 8-12
Machine chest press - 3 sets of 8-12

keep in mind...you should stll use form conducive to hypertrophy gains...you need to use form that stresses the target muscle....rather than bringing in a million other auxiliary muscles to leverage weight....


Taken from the article:
"More total reps also equates to more eccentric contractions, which have been shown to create more muscular damage. There's a large body of evidence suggesting that muscular damage is associated with increased muscle growth, although research is still inconclusive in this area"

I believe Dave Tate wrote something similar to this in regards to how and why he plans his training phases the way he does. The real question you need to ask yourself is if you are doing 6+ reps because you don't want to go heavy or you believe it's a better way to train. Also, how many overall reps are you doing? TUT? Tempo? Training frequency? Rest between sets? What percentage are you using? All of these play into getting bigger and stronger. Waterbury and many others have written about how reps per set don't really matter. Worry about being progressive first.


@D Public: Yeh your right, for sure I need to not let myself forget that bodybuilding isn't just doing the split- it's choosing the exercises that work for the best for the muscles with individual biomechanics etc. The part of me that wants "certain strength levels" probably needs to be silenced a little in terms of progressing in bodybuilding, as long as its making the muscles grow, spose the exercise choice doesn't matter.

@mex: I definitely hear you, I should probably focus a little more on the stress of the muscle, it's not ego lifting (since the weights are still low) so much as anti-embarrassment lifting because my strength for pressing movements is still DIRE! The other aspects of my training fit in with CTs early essentials "how to design a damn good programme" etc. so I should be good there.


yeah TUT is major factor in the release of MGF-1....

and by TUT, i mean standard bodybuilding 3 sets of 8-12 type stuff with decent form...no crazy super slow negative stuff

this is from a study on how MGF-1 affects the growth of muscle fibers

"During periods of increased loading, myofibers upregulate the expression and secretion of IGF-I. Acting as an autocrine and/or paracrine growth factor, IGF-I stimulates myofiber anabolic processes. Acting as a paracrine growth factor, IGF-I also stimulates adjacent satellite cells to enter the cell cycle and proliferate. Continued myofiber production of IGF-I stimulates some satellite cells to differentiate and then fuse with myofibers, thus providing additional myonuclei in order to maintain or reestablish the myonucleus to myofiber size ratios of the enlarged myofibers."

basically, it says MGF-1 makes your muscles bigger lol

yeah you TBT motherfuckaz don't know about that shit, huh?


I think its impractical to deliberately "aim for" a certain TUT, but 8+ rep sets combined with reasonably controlled eccentrics = a lot more TUT then low rep sets, obviously!


no doubt...

just stating that standard bodybuilding type splits/whatever causes an enhanced hormonal response that low volume/low rep does not cause...

that doesn't mean low rep has no value...i think it does as the strength training will transfer over to the volume training...


Why would anyone do your max sets of main exercises with only 60% even if it is 8-12 reps? Ofcourse someone doing that will go nowhere. The problem is not the rep range here IMO. 60% max is a deload workout.


Lol, I'm not using 60% of my 1RM. I mentioned above I did not mean limit strength in terms of my current limit strength but a theotical "rough max" of my achievable "life" strength e.g. 400lbsish where even a few pound gains become a struggle.. or whatever. Basically when you get to the "advanced" stage of strength in that lift.

I was just meaning did any guys repping 300+ on bench get there with mostly 8-12 reps


Gotcha, misunderstood that.

I dont see any reason why someone cant get to a point where they can rep 300 while using 8-12 range. I and most people have gotten to that point using a variety, doing the same rep range all the time gets boring. But as long as the effort is there, rep range really doesnt matter.

What is a theoretical life strength, and how in the world do you figure that out? seems overly complicated and unnecesary man.



That article misses the boat on so many things it's not even funny.