T Nation

Theoretical Thought About Rep Range


Say someone had been training for a couple years or more,in a fairly low rep range, like 5-6. For extra simplicity,say the lifts are the squat,dead and bench (I don't want to bring up single joint lifts etc. because it seems they're destined for high reps).

OK. So presumably they have stacked some good strength and mass,including plenty of 'sarcomeric hypertrophy'.

Now say they suddenly decide to switch up big time. Lower the weights drastically and go for the highest rep range they can possibly see as creating decent hypertrophy,like 20.

Do you think the person could go on progressing in size like (s)he used to? Presumably he could grow quite a bit weaker in single maxes until very many workouts later when he blasts through his former singles repping them tens of times. His strength endurance could be in the mud so reasobly low weight would provide a challenge for repping out.

How about the sarcomeric/sarcoplasmic hypertrophy distinction? Would he perhaps lose 'dense' sarcomeric muscle and start replacing it with sarcoplasmic kind? Extra nutrient storage TC.

I realize this is not the most likely scenario to take place in real life. It's an exaggeration but I think it bears asking.


I have no idea but in my experience only with myself and my brother, we both lost size and strength when we did higher rep workouts exclusively (like GVT) and wished we did not do it.


Its tough to say. Training in the low rep ranges for so long "taught" your muscles to behave more like fast twitch muscles. And while it may not have changed your actual fiber makeup, the fast twitch fibers may be more pronounced.

If you suddenly start training with high reps depending on what type of protocol you use, it would likely become counterproductive to your previous gains. So while you may gain some new muslce with the new stuff, you likely would lose quite a bit of what you built before.

Its sort of like this. Say you had a 100m sprinter. And I know this isn't the case, but say this sprinter always trained only in the 30m-100m range. They are fast, strong, and have a good amount of LBM. Now say this sprinter decides that they should start running marathons, because this longer duration lower intensity quality is untrained and has much room for improvement. Yes, their aerobic capacities will certainly improve rapidly, but they are going to lose mass, strength and speed for their actual event.

This is one of those things that is a little cloudy though, because you cant say a set of 5 reps is all fast twitch and a set of 20 is all slow twitch. You have think more in terms of strength and endurance. If you do sets of 5, and are constantly getting stronger, then this is strength work. And the same goes for a set of 20. If you start by benching 135 x 20 and each week add 5 lbs you are getting STRONGER, just at a higher rep range.

Now on the other hand, if you dont raise the load much, but instead add reps or decrease rest, then this would be more like endurance work. So if you started with 135 x 20 on bench, and then each workout added 2 reps, you'd be improving endurance primarily and not strength.

The same could even be said for the low rep stuff. Say you benched 250x5x5 and took 2 minutes rest between sets. If you did 250x5x5 with 1 minute rest, or 250x8x5 or 250x5x7 or whatever you are primarily increasing your endurance, just at a lower rep range. So the simplist way to look at it is this. IF YOU ARE STRESSING INCREASES IN LOAD, YOU ARE WORKING STRENGTH. IF THE LOAD DOESN'T CHANGE MUCH, BUT THE VOLUME OR REST BREAKS DO, THEN YOU ARE WORKING ENDURANCE.

And to answer your original question. If I were you, and you wanted to try it, i'd do maintenance work on my heavy stuff, and go for strength on the higher rep ranges.

EX: If your deadlift max is 500, then pulling a couple singles per week at 450 should be enough for you to maintain most of your strength. Or if you primarily do 5-6rms, maybe 1-2 sets of your normal 5-6 rep work would be enough to maintain.

Then pick some exercises and do something like 5x12-15. The focus will be on increasing WEIGHT though.


If you are benching it might go like this

135 x 15
145 x 15
150 x 15
150 x 12
150 x 7

Dont do this

135 x 15
145 x 15
150 x 12
145 x 15
125 x 15

I hope you understood that. Basically, dont compromise the weight to keep the reps up. If anything keep the weight up and allow the reps to drop. Hope this helps.

***Another thing you may want to look into is glycogen supercompensation. You can gain "muscle" rapidly with the right stimulus and some carb loads.


Back in high school I noticed a big difference when I'd make the switch from the traditional football scheme to the wrestling one. I did notice a small drop in strength and that I had no endurance for the 25+ rep sets required for wrestling....Luckily, I adapted fast because of coaching. I was able to quickly switch back and forth between the two and maximize my last off season with a hybrid of sorts with high rep stuff one week and low rep stuff the next with a medium week after the low rep week then a rest/yoga/cardio wk to finish out the month....that definitely prepared me for my most successful athletic year ever

and to give props to ankid, you will definitely gain a different kind of muscle...no power, but you'll be able to move forever


It's an interesting thought. Chasing your tail forever in an eternal plateau switching up all the time. Assuming you really need to get stronger in a conventional sense to progress.


I have never seen or heard of anyone (who trains seriously) that only lifts in one rep range.


i stopped at sacromeric


Making a clear distinction between sarcomeric and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is a bit off, in my opinion. If one were to think about "pure" strength gains, many might say that such gains are "neural" in nature. Ok, now think of how the nerve signal gets from the brain to the muscle. Once the signal gets to the muscle, the electrical impulse causes a release of calcium ions. The calcium ions are what overcomes the inhibition, caused by the troponin-tropomyosin complex, of the actin and myosin from cross-bridging. This release of calcium ions (a very important part of the "neural" part of the display of strength) occurs in the sarcoplasmic reticulum. So, even purely "neural" strength displays involve the sarcoplasm.

As to the query that many have of "well, then, why are bodybuilders so weak for their size?" My answer to that is "isn't that the point?" To illustrate: if I had an identical twin, and we both started exercising to increase the size of our arms. We chose the same exercises, and had the same strength levels. We both can barbell curl 50 lbs 10 times and do dips with bodyweight only for 10 reps. If I increase my strength to 70 x 10 in barbell curls, and bodyweight + 20 lb dbell x 10 reps, but my twin increased his strength to 100 x 10 in bbell curls and bodyweight + 50 lb dbell x 10 reps, yet our arms grew the exact same amount, who's the better bodybuilder?


Im not sure what you are getting at here. You DEFINATELY couldn't look at just training in this scenario. Because although the one twin might be stronger he might weigh less than the other and thus be smaller. (Weight is entirely up to calories in vs. calories out) And size is related to weight so strength isn't the only factor when it comes to size.

Also, these differences in strength levels could easily be completely neural, because dips with +20lbs and BB curls with 70lbs aren't very heavy.

If you were to instead have two identical twins, both WEIGHING THE SAME AMOUNT, but one can deadlift 400 x 1, while the other can do 400 x 20, then you could almost definately say the second one would have more muscle an less fat. (BUT THIS IS ASSUMING THAT THEY HAVE BOTH BEEN TRAINING DEADLIFTS)

Which brings me to my next point. Why IN GENERAL, bb'ers are weak FOR THEIR SIZE. And this statement would only be true when compared to ATHLETES THAT ARE STRONG FOR THEIR SIZE in general. (This would be gymnasts, o-lifters, and pl'ers) There are many reasons for this, everything from "un-functional" or sarcofplasmic hypertrophy, training to failure, training for size, not training for strength.

These last two are the most important. A bodybuilder is successful not based on how much they can bench with a bench shirt on, but based on their size, symetry and appearance. Although probably un-likely, the winner of a bb'ing contest could very well be the individual with the lowest strength.

And for the most part, the opposite is true for strength athletes. They train for STRENGTH and any size they train for is only for the purpose of improving their lifts.

A bodybuilder will squat in the manner that allows them to hit their targeted muscles the best, whereas a PL'er will be squatting with box squats to increase their squat and deadlift. And an o-lifter will be doing olympic style front and back squats. The o-lifter will develop decent sized quads, while the PL'er could care less about quad size/strength, they are all about the posterior chain. And the bodybuilder wants it all. So this is why bb'ers are weak for their size IN GENERAL, and strength sports athletes are small for their strength.

And nobody flame me, because i do put IN GENERAL. Sure their are bodybuilders that are very strong, even for their size, but it is not a given. Some train heavier and some never do.


Very technical but I think you're kind of confusing the physiology of muscle exertion with the whole growth thing.
I realize different forms of hypertrophy overlap (especially since real life training is generally unlike laid out in the hypothetical example) but some distinction is generally accepted as real.
The neutral strength point is accepted but there is no denial (that I'm aware of) that there are different kinds of hypetrophy.


Why is this not most likely to take place in real life? um Most successful people do this, or change rep ranges far more frequently then those stuck in plateus. Read the fine print in logs of successful competitors in powerlifting or bodybuilding. Rep changes will be masked in "taking it light the next few weeks", or "I feel really good lately I want to push extra hard raise the weight, couldn't get my normal 10 reps but it's a new p.r."


My point is that many are quick to explain the muscle size of bodybuilders as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and the muscle size of powerlifters, o-lifters, etc as sarcomeric hypertrophy. Not that the persons who have responded to this thread necessarily think it, but I think we can all agree that we've read more than once of someone poo-poo'ing bodybuilding training as leading primarily to "non-functional" or "non-contractile" growth. Have the ones who believe this actually substantiated that higher (15-20) rep training does indeed lead primarily to an increase in the sarcoplasmic "goo" surrounding muscle fibers and less to an increase in the diameter of the fibers themselves, and now have an odd fear or disdain for certain rep ranges because of it?

And I chose baby weights to indicate that the difference in strength was not the result of years of training.


One of my points is that many consider "sarcoplasm" a bad word, and any hypertrophy of such should be avoided if one wanted to have "real" muscles. I wrote it because I wanted others to understand (I was not directing my comment specifically at you and should have indicated as much)that sarcoplasm is involved in "neural" strength, so is no need to have a hatred towards all things connected with the word sarcoplsm.

My other point has to do with the sarcoplasmic vs. sacomeric hypertrophy idea. I've always seen it presented as fact, not theory. I first read of it in Supertraining, and again in Science And Practice Of Strength Training. What I'm wondering is: did some sports scientists in the Soviet Union examine muscle biopsies of different athletes, and one said "hey comrades, check this out. This guy has normal size sarcomeres but lots and lots of sarcoplasm in his muscle, and this other guy has big sarcomeres but normal amounts of sarcoplasm in his muscle. Hmm, we should see what kind of training these two athletes did to achieve such radically different types of hypertrophy."

I mean, is that how the discovery of sarcoplasmic and sarcomeric hypertrophy was made?

p.s. yes, I understand that its generally unwise to speak against any of the gods of strength training (such as Siff, Verkhoshansky and Zatsiorsky)

p.p.s. yes, I understand that I get a little Dr. Evil-ish with all the quotation marks around individual words


A few things....

First I have never heard of it as sarcomeric hypertrophy. I have always heard of it as myofibril hypertrophy. Its a little less confusing this way; at least to me.

As for the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy to be "bad", this is just silly, especially when talking bodybuilding. Im not possative on the exact number, but I think in general its something like the actual myofibril makeup of a muscle is like 15-20%, whereas all the extracellular "goo" as you put it can be up to like 70%. If bodybuilders were to completely avoid sarcoplasmic hypertrophy they simply would not be as big as they are. They'd be a lot more like powerlifters. Having said that, even a PL'er wants sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. It is sometimes called "un-functional" but it still has a function. It is "un-functional" in the fact that it cannon produce force or contract, but this extracellular fluid is in fact fuel; glycogen.

The biggest thing about sarcoplasmic hypertrophy IMO is this. And this especially pertains to non-competative lifters. Once can easily gain (or lose) 10-20lbs of "muscle" in a matter of days simply by changing the amount of carbs eaten. This is great for a bodybuilder who wants to swell up before a show, but doesn't do much for an average joe that just wants to gain muscle. (unless you are going to go for some glycogen supercompensation before heding to the beach) So this type of muscle can be gained very rapidly, but can be lost just as rapidly. This is why when people do diets like the v-diet or some other low carb, they get flat and say they lost a ton of muscle. When in fact they probably lost mainly fluid and at most a couple pounds (un-likely) of "real" muscle.

So I dont really have a solid answer for you, as I think much of hypertrophy is still theoretical. But you can think of it this way. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is primarily the result of using up muscle fuel stores and SUPERCOMPENSATING with high carb intakes to expand these stores. And myofibril hypertrophy is primarily the result of tension causing microtrauma and breaking down muscle fibers. Supercompensation takes place and more protein is layed down to increase force producing capabilities. And in general heavy weights is myofibril and lighter weights is sarcoplasmic, but there is some overlap.


So, let's say this lifter had a max bench of 400 lbs. When he first switches to sets of 20, maybe his strength-endurance is so crappy that he can only handle 175 x 20. Now, if he were to progress to 225 x 20, one may say that he didn't really get stronger, he just became conditioned to doing high reps, or maybe his muscles now store more glycogen. Initial progress would probably not have anything to do with the contractile properties of the muscle.

But, what if he methodically progressed until he got to the point where he could do his old max of 400 pounds for 20 reps? How would we explain this? I don't have the answer but it would seem that, at some point, sarcomeric hypertrophy occurred.

What about muscle size? Perhaps at first, there is no growth since the load being used is to small to elicit any growth response. Maybe even some atrophy would occur since the fibers that would handle the 5-6 rep loads weren't being used at all. But, if he kept at it and was able to make progress, I think he would eventually see growth over and above his previous levels.


Well you are getting very hypothetical now, and I dont think anyone truly knows the answer to this. But.... If this lifter were to EXCLUSIVELY use sets of 20 until they reached their previous 1rm of 400 but could do it for 20 reps, you'd better believe that they are going to be much bigger. And this wouldn't just be the result of increased glycogen stores, this individual would be MUCH stronger. A person that can bench 400x20 would be benching 600-700+ for 1 rep.

Training this way would be extremely inneficient and I dont think this person would likely ever reach this goal. I think this is why people are stating you should train in many different rep ranges.

Here is another way to look at what you were suggesting. Say this same lifter that could do 400x1, decided to start adding in more reps. They might start with with 10x1 @ 375lbs and in a matter of time be doing 10x1 with 400lbs. Then they continued to train with 400lbs and over time started adding reps, doing sets of 2, then 3, then 4, all the way up to 20. I hope you see that this would take forever, but the end result would also be the same as your situation training with sets of 20.

I would think that these two individuals would be very similar even though they took very different approaches. They both could bench 400x20. But here is where the difference might come in. The guy that only did singles may have a better max, and worse endurance, while the other guy would likely have a lower max, but better endurance.

So if you lowered the weight to 300, the guy that trained with singles might be able to do 30, while the guy that trained with sets of 20 imght be able to do 40 or 50.

The guy that never trained with less than 375 will start to display greater characteristics of fast twitch muscles, while the other guy would display more characteristics of slow-twitch muscles (or just more toward slow twitch on the spectrum)

But looking at 400x20 they would SEEM to perform equally. Because both of them can do the same number of reps with the same weight.

There is another difference though. The guy that trained with heavier weight and lower reps would begin his set with faster reps exerting more force, but as the set got closer and closer to 20, he'd begin to fatigue and his force would drop.

The guy that trained with 20 reps wouldn't be able to exert as much force so he'd start out slower, but also wouldn't fatigue as much as the set went on.

This is VERY hypothetical and theoretical and way more complicated than anyone on here needs to make it. Basically you should train with the rep range that is most specific to your sport. And if you dont have a performance based sport (like bodybuilding) then you should probably train in all rep ranges. Most of your training should be in the 6-12 range, with a smalle percentage being in the 3-5 range, and 12-15 range, and a even smaller percentage in the 1-3 range and 20+ range. But as everyone always says, your strength in the 6-12, maybe 6-15 range is going to be what you want to focus on.