The question in muscle building circles tends to be “can you build muscle with light weights”, but since we’re always taught that between 8-12 reps is the magic ‘hypertrophy’ range for muscles, it also throws up the opposite question about whether low reps build muscle.
Do low reps build muscle?
Here what 7 experts and our in-house expert, WBFF Pro fitness model and digital editor, Altu Kop had to say.
1 Brandon Johnson
Yes – it’s called myofibrillar hypertrophy, an enlargement of the muscle fiber as it gains more myofibrils.
With this type of hypertrophy, not only does the area density of myofibrils increase, but there is a significantly greater ability to exert muscular strength.
This type of hypertrophy is best accomplished by training with lower reps that are 80- 90% of a 1RM.
2 Michael Gonzales
You can build muscle with a lower rep range. Any time you’re challenging your muscles with an overload, you’re going to build strength and mass.
3 Jeremy Sry
It all really comes down to the time spent under tension, so don’t just plow through your reps and rather take your time with them.
4 Sal Herrera
Yes. Heavier weight will build muscle density, but don’t rely on just that – switch it up. If you’re doing 10-12 reps, make sure it’s the heaviest weight you can manage for that rep range.
5 Zane Hadzick
Yes. While it may not be optimal, you can still build muscle in the 4-6-rep range. It is good to train in this rep range anyway, because it builds strength which can help you build muscle later when you switch to an 8-12 (hypertrophy) rep range.
6 Phil Rzepka
Building muscle has more to do with nutrition than training, although personally, I see better results when I do hypertrophy training. I do maybe one heavy set at the end of each exercise for strength reasons, but I like to train with volume, lots of sets and rep ranges from 8-20 per set.
7 Chad Hollmer
Absolutely. I think the foundation of compound movements with a similar rep range will give you a very good chance to stimulate muscle growth.
Our Digital Editor and WBFF Pro
8 Altu Kop
Most of the advice from the guys above is on point.
You absolutely can build muscle with lower rep ranges but, here’s the kicker – volume must be equated. What I mean by that is that ultimately, the main driver of muscle is overall volume and it’s about the total amount of work you do.
To give you a practical example from a study by Dr Brad Schoenfeld, they had two groups perform either 3 sets of 10 reps or 7 sets of 3 reps with heavier weight. Both groups gained the same amount of muscle because volume load was equated (even though the latter group performed 9 total reps less, both groups lifted around the same total poundage)
Practically speaking though, 7 sets of 3 reps will take you an age to plough through because your rest periods will be longer too.
So the answer to the question is a definite yes, but it’s about programming your workload smartly so that you can take advantage of the added strength that lower reps give you, whilst also maximising your time and volume in the gym with higher rep ranges.
An example from my personal workout routine is that I’ll always start with a big, compound movement of around 4 sets of 4-6 reps. All of the exercises after that, I’ll use a rep scheme of around 8-15 reps for the best of both worlds.
Do low reps build muscle, then? Yes, but only if you use them correctly as one tool in your entire arsenal.
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