What's Better, More Reps or More Load?

A Study Finds Surprising Answers

Conventional thinking tells us that adding more weight instead of more reps is always the way to add muscle, but a new study says otherwise.

I’m calling Milo out. You know the story, the one about the guy carrying the bull? It’s a little off.

As you probably know, Milo has been called “the father of progressive resistance training.” Way back in Greece in the 6th century BC, Milo picked up a newborn calf, hoisted it onto his shoulders, and walked around with it until it was time to go to his aunt’s house and clean the leaves out from the Corinthian columns in front of her temple.

The next day, Milo picked up the calf again and walked around some more. Same thing the following day and the next. He must have figured it would make him a stronger wrestler, so he kept on doing it. Meanwhile, the calf kept putting on weight. Soon, it’s a full-grown bull, and Milo is still toting him around like Bob Cratchit carrying around an enormously bulked-up and no-longer-tiny Tim.

Yep, there it was – progressive overload in action.

Modern-day folk marvel at this tale, especially when we consider that bulls weigh between 1,100 and 2,200 pounds.

That’s what caused me to become suspicious. Even Tom Stoltman, reigning “strongest an in the world,” couldn’t hoist a piece of meat that size onto his shoulders without a crane, let alone carry it down to the Acropolis.

I did a little sleuthing, and it turns out that prior to 1790, at least in America, beef cattle averaged only 350 pounds. Hell, all it takes is a little extrapolation to figure out that Milo’s bull probably weighed no more than Mrs. Papadopoulos’ poodle, Dimitri.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Still, Milo’s bull was probably nowhere near as heavy as today’s bulls. That means that as the bull reached his comparatively meager adult weight, Milo would have essentially plateaued.

Maybe he decided he needed to do more “reps” with the bull. You know, carry it a bit, put it down, rest, and do it again. He’d probably have wondered, though, if doing more reps with the same weight was as physically profitable as continually adding more weight.

Too bad he couldn’t consult with a group of researchers, Brad Schoenfeld among them, that took it upon themselves to compare the effects of both types of progression. Milo would have realized that both methods appear to be pretty equal when it comes to building muscle.

What the Researchers Did

Schoenfeld and his colleagues, no doubt while drinking lab-brewed beer out of 1000 mL beakers, had an epiphany: They realized that no one had ever conducted a study “designed to directly compare the effects of progressing repetitions vs. load on muscular adaptations.”

They predicted “…that load progressions would produce superior maximum strength and that repetition progressions would produce better muscular endurance.” But it’s a good thing they went ahead with the study anyhow because it turned out they were largely wrong.

Here’s how they figured it out: They rounded up 43 participants (27 men, 16 women) with at least one year of consistent lower body resistance training and divvied them up into two groups. The first group would increase load while keeping reps constant (the LOAD group), while the second would increase reps while keeping the load constant (the REP group).

All the participants were poked, prodded, and tested. They had their 1RM in the Smith machine assessed, their endurance in the leg extension recorded, their countermovement jump height determined, and their muscle thickness of the thighs and calves measured.

Subjects performed 4 sets of 4 lower body exercises twice a week for 8 weeks:

  • Back squat
  • Leg extension
  • Straight-leg calf raise
  • Seated calf raise

Both groups began with participants attempting to maintain an 8-12 rep max per set. As training progressed, the LOAD group kept increasing load while maintaining the target rep range. Meanwhile, the REP group attempted to increase the number of reps while maintaining the initial load.

All trainees did their reps in a controlled manner while taking 1 second to perform the concentric action and 2 seconds to do the eccentric action. Sets were performed to the point of momentary concentric failure.

After 8 weeks of training, the researchers repeated all the same poking, prodding, and testing they had prior to the start of the study.

What They Found

Who’da thunk, but the outcome of REPS training was generally similar to LOAD training:


Both groups gained appreciable muscle over the 8-week training period. Muscle thickness increased in the soleus, gastrocnemius, and all three vastus lateralis measurement sites. However, there was one notable exception: REPS showed a modest advantage over LOAD in the thickness of the rectus femoris.


All participants increased their 1RM squat by an average of 20 kg, but LOAD showed about 10% better results than REPS.


There was no readily discernible difference between the two groups as far as leg extension endurance as both groups increased by about 7 reps.


Neither group improved on this measurement, nor was there any difference in performance between the two groups.

Implications of This Study

I’ll let the research team say it for themselves:

“Progressing load and repetitions throughout an 8-week training cycle produced similar increases in muscle size in most muscles and regions of the lower body. This suggests that both are likely sufficient for maximizing hypertrophy, at least in the short to medium term. However, we found modestly favorable aggregate muscle thickness measures favoring rectus femoris growth in REPS… Load progressions were slightly more effective for maximal strength and equally effective for muscular endurance performance.”

A lot of you should be excited by these findings. Say you’re injured or have bad joints, or maybe you’ve just plateaued, i.e., are stuck on a weight. It could be you’re an old bastard who gave up on big weights. Maybe you work out at home and just ran out of weights to slap onto the bar.

Regardless, this research tells you that increasing repetitions instead of increasing weight is a viable strategy for getting bigger and stronger, at least for a while.

I think the late Charles Poliquin had long ago suspected these findings to be true. I remember a biceps workout he sometimes used to build strength and promote hypertrophy that somewhat mirrored the findings of the study. It involved using the same load on an exercise while increasing the reps in every subsequent workout. Here’s an example:


  • Week One: 4 sets of 4 reps
  • Week Two: (same load) 4 sets of 5 reps
  • Week Three: (same load) 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Week Four: (increase load) 4 sets of 4 reps
  • Week Five: (same load as week 4) 4 sets of 5 reps
  • Week Six: (same load as week 5) 4 sets of 6 reps

Unfortunately, there’s no absolute way of knowing (yet) whether these findings also pertain to biceps or the upper body in general, but it wouldn’t be too crazy to assume that they do.

But even if you’re a sucker for load, it seems that it would be a good idea to mix it up a bit, allowing yourself cycles where you focused on putting that bull down, resting a bit, and picking it up again for reps rather than being a slave to load.

Make any workout work better. Fuel it.




  1. Plotkin D, Schoenfeld BJ et al, Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ. 2022 Sep 30;10:e14142. PubMed.

It seems like it ia all about doing more than you are used to.
Wither it be more weight (load) or more reps (volume), as long as you are doing more “work” , you will be progressing. The difference will be preference and/or access to equipment and health.
The good thing is that, regardless of what we do, as long as we are progressing with either load or volume (perhaps intensity too?), we will be doing just that, progressing.


I was a believer in the heaver loads the better. Three shoulder surgery’s in 5 years I got the memo. Lighter loads , time under tension, pre exhaust muscle groups , consistence and leave the ego at the door of the gym. Being 65 I could give a tip how much I can lift. Use focused training as I have the last few years I have gained size and am more defined than I was 40 years ago



Looking good, old man! I’m twenty years your junior, but have already seen the truth in what you say. Swallowing the ego is tough, especially when we’ve all been focused on the numbers for so long, but I’ve had to do just that to ensure I can do this for the long haul.

I’m sure there are many twenty-somethings that would give their left nut to look like you do at 65 - keep up the awesome work!


Going conversation overheard at a local Thracian gymnasium circa 525 BCE:
“…What are you talking about, bro?! Milo was even stronger than Heracles!”

“Milo was a Cretan malakas. I have a friend who knows a guy who has a brother whose Spartan father could lift TWO full-grown bulls, one on each shoulder, and walk around the Agora, as a teenager!”

In my 52 years doing bodybuilding since I began at age 15 in 1971, I haven’t seen any essential changes in the training how-and-what for causing hypertrophy and/or developing strength. “New” techniques, “new” programs, “new” exercises inevitably distill to “same old methods used since Sandow in 1890 with new labels”.

(Read the letters from Charles A. Smith near the end of his life to Dennis B. Weis, found on Dennis’ website as last of a section titled “Letters From Bodybuilding Champs and Other Iron Game Personalities”, for another witness to that same-old, same-old methods; Smith, who died in 1991, was another lifelong iron game passionate, who wrote for several of the muscle magazines, including Weider’s, for fifty years.)

But one aspect that has changed is “objective data accumulated” regarding the various methods. What objective research (Brad’s being among the sources for that) keeps confirming is that those various methods and approaches do indeed work.

At ages 15 and 16, when I was just beginning my lifetime iron addiction in the pre-internet era of the early 1970s, I read, “Add load for growth”, I read, “Add reps for growth”, and I read “Add either load or reps, or even add load AND reps, for growth.” Most of what I read was anecdotal, being the experience of the author and what he had found worked successfully for himself.

At first, unsurprisingly, the consequence for myself was uncertainty about which method was “the correct” or “the most effective”.

However, as many years passed (“many” meaning, ten or more years, not ten months nor even a “few” years, lol) , I, same as did most of us eventually, came to realize ALL those training methods can be effective for hypertrophy; our long-term observation underlies the “it all works” opinion many of us lifetimers might interject into a heated debate between, say, HIT and HVT absolutists.

Subsequent objective research has confirmed that those seemingly-contradictory anecdotes could indeed all be true - - that adding load, or reps, or even both, is effective for hypertrophy. By personal experience and informal observation, we had recognized that to be true. But today, objective research has confirmed it is.


“Malakas.” Had to look that up. Good word! I’m going to appropriate it. (And good post, too.)

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Goddam! Good work!

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Heheh…at age 67 now (and doing same as you have done, ejecting my ego and being appropriate about the poundages, volume, frequency, and even exercises my aged body can handle), when my 25-year-old, youngest son flatters me with “Dad, you are cut-up as all fuck!” and asks me why I keep bodybuilding, I confess, "Well…partly because I just plain love it, partly because I want to always look as good as I can, and partly to put the lie to the majority of guys my age whose excuse as they eat more tacos on the couch is, ‘After middle-age, being lean is impossible’ ".


I remember reading Eric Cressey on here years ago talk about total load. Guess the nerds finally caught up to the gym bros.


Great article, though I’d probably say go “up” to the acropolis, but hey. :rofl: This seems to give support to the 3-7 routine you wrote about a few months ago. I’ve used it on a variety of lifts, and it really works. I explained it once to a power lifter friend, and recognizing how hard it is, he was like “NOPE. Nope, not doing that!”

Thanks , I have had some serious setbacks the last several years including a stroke. Instead of throwing in the towel I got pissed and told myself I am not going down like this. Have been determined to out work everyone in the gym for the last 10 years or so. Hip replacement back fusion ,neck fusion , 3 shoulder surgery’s the last one they wanted to replace shoulder. Close call to meet my maker with double pneumonia , femur replacement and 3 knee surgery’s . I probably am the six million dollar man for real. My past is what motivates me to tomorrow. I get the basic same response from my youngest son who is 39. He says “you know you are a freak, and nobody should look like you do at your age”
It is my passion for 50 years with several extended layoffs in between.
I am training a 19 year old currently
And coach football and basketball for the Rec league my grandsons play on. Want to lead by example as we are going to need our youth to be kickassstrong


Those are some crazy ass veins in your shoulders dude.
At 52 I, luckily, have figured out what you did on the “lighter loads can be great with the right TUT and consistency” My joints haven’t felt this good since I was in my 20s.


Using old school Arthur Jones using pre exhaustion working targeted muscle group and super or tri set everything . Little rest after each superset. I keep redundant exercise out of the mix. Normally do 4 very isolated supersets in the 15-50 rep range. Upper body three days , lower body three days. Usually warm up with tri set of pull ups x25 push-ups 25 then 25 leg lifts. Perform 8 tri supersets for my warm up with a sweatshirt to get warm and loose


A lot of gym bros lift for years and reach some maximum. Lifting a calf every day for years, and one day not being able to do so, does not disprove the story nor the method no matter how much calves grow.

My theory is that gym bros just like to argue. The fitness community is small, and people will mock powerlifters or bodybuilders or crossfitters or Zumba or inflatable balance balls or gravity boots or Smith machines or whatever. But things aren’t miles apart and go in and out of fashion (though some are useless and I’ve never seen a gym with a fat massaging jiggling strap).

Still, I am always surprised by the insistence something HAS to be one way or the other. Rather than focus on the minimum possible protein intake, get enough. Is load more important than reps? If you compete as a power lifter, it is.

I was lucky to have access to a military gym when fairly young. Knowing nothing about lifting, and without a fine site like T-Nation to give meaningful advice, I started in a room full of thirty Nautilus machines and spent much (not all, there were conventional rooms too) of my lifting time circuit training for years until I could max most of them out. I still love some of those machines, which seem extinct, not seen a Nautilus pullover in years, probably to my detriment.

After that, I focused on basic lifts and got strong on those. Getting older, I put on extra muscle when adding more total volume, or reps, or just focusing more on things relatively neglected like deadlift variations or overhead carries. Point being: these things are additive. Add many ingredients to your fitness stew, not just one thing or the other. Just don’t try to add them all at once…


Double progressive overload has served me well during my years of training and is my go to when helping others put together their plans. Best of both worlds of reps and load. Eke out small increases in load while really putting emphasis on reps. Great article and love the comments section!


“Letters From Bodybuilding Champs and Other Iron Game Personalities”

What a great resource of info and insight… thanks for the reference!

It’s just a riff. I need a little foreplay before I dive into an article.

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Ultimately my training focused on improving my physique for bodybuilding competitions. I also competed in some powerlifting because it is much more fun than bodybuilding contests.

I used both low reps and high(er) reps. That said I only did low reps for compound exercises that I was moving large quantities of weight. I was seeking to get stronger. Then I would work higher reps (8 or 10) to increase the volume of my “stronger” muscles.

At my old age (74) low heavy reps are far back in the rearview mirror.


Sorry, swished right over my noggin.

But the thing about not being able to lift thousands of pounds overhead, if folks can’t do that now, had occurred to me before as well.

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