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Lifting Rep Range Rules for Building Muscle

If you struggle with building muscle and strength, this post is for you.

Let me tell you about a recent conversation between my buddy, Alex and I, after his workout.

We met for coffee when Alex walked in and said, “Man, this pump is insane. I think my muscles are already growing from that last set.”

Once a bro, always a bro.

As a backstory, Alex was new (again) to the gym.

He played sports in high school and lifted with his football team, but that’s about it. In college, he’d start training, mix in some yoga or a group exercise class, then stop.

He’d see progress, then get more interested in beer and chasing tail. Fair enough.

These days, Alex is 27, a few years into his career, and still primarily interested in beer and chasing tail. Again, I can’t blame the guy.

But now, he’s developed a bit of a gut. Long days at work and short nights have taken their toll and it’s starting to show. Alex has been lifting consistently now for six months, has lost a little fat and built muscle, but has since hit a plateau.

He’s losing motivation because he’s not seeing results and doesn’t know where to go for a new workout. So, he asked for a few pointers and knew how to get my help: by offering copious amounts of caffeine.

Alex’s workout (printed on the internet read)…
1. Barbell Bench Press 4×10 

2. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4×12

3. Dumbbell Decline Bench Press 3×12
4. Cable Chest Flyes 3×15
5a. Triceps Push-down 3×10
5b. Assisted Dips 3×10

I took a drink of my coffee and dove in. 
Most muscle building advice for the average guy is flat out wrong. This was okay…but it could be much better.

Since Alex told me he wanted to be lean, but more muscular, kind of like an NFL linebacker I knew the look he was going for. 

I asked Alex, “is this what you’ve been doing for the last few months?”


“Have you been able to get stronger on your bench press, or are your numbers staying the same?”

I made progress in the beginning, but not for a while. I haven’t been tracking them.

Alex was making two of the biggest problems in the book.

First, he wasn’t tracking his lifts. You must track your progress to lift heavier weights for more reps over time. Without pushing your body past what it’s currently able to do how can it grow bigger and stronger?

It can’t.

Second, Alex was only lifting in one rep range, the hypertrophy rep range. Now, it’s true the “best” rep range to build muscle is lifting moderately heavy weights for multiple sets of 8-12 reps. Still, this isn’t the whole picture. You need a variety of rep ranges to maximize lean muscular gains.

Save for advanced lifters who’ve been training consistently for years, building muscle a byproduct of getting stronger. This means you need to get stronger first and lift a bit heavier to maximize your progress.

The reason you’re not building size and strength isn’t due to a lack of effort. The reason is a lack of strength, not tracking workouts, and too little variety in rep ranges. Here’s what to do to fix it and get back to growing.


How To Train For Maximum Muscle Growth


Strength First:
Mechanical tension, lifting a heavy load with a full range of motion, is a key component to muscle growth. In the example above, Alex wasn’t creating enough tension. If Alex were to add 50 pounds to his bench press, don’t you think he would be stronger with more muscle? Of course. Strength and size are correlated, as you’ll learn with the Minimalist Muscle Blitz workout.

If you’re like Alex, here’s how you fix it: Train heavier with low reps as the first exercise in your training. You don’t need to stomp around like a powerlifter; rather, pick one exercise each day and lift increasingly heavier weights for 3-8 reps.
Track your workouts in a notebook and add weight from week to week.

workout, muscle building rep range

Monday: Upper Body
Bench Press 5×5, rest 90 seconds

Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week. 

Tuesday: Lower Body
Squat 5×5, rest 90 seconds
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week. 

Lifting heavy will help you recruit more muscle fibers, meaning you can fatigue them later on to grow. Equally as important, getting stronger allows you to lift heavier weights in the exercises coming up next. 

I can’t make it more clear: For most guys, the fastest way to get bigger is to get stronger. It’s as simple as picking a major movement like those listed above and getting stronger from week to week and month to month. 


Use The Bodybuilding Rep Range

The bodybuilding rep range, 8-15 reps with a moderate weight, is still an essential component of training to build muscle and should make up at least 50% of your training. These reps should be heavy, with 1-2 reps of failure, but not grinding reps.

This creates mechanical tension as well as keeps your muscles contracting for a longer time. This leads to another important muscle building component, metabolic stress.

Metabolic stress, also known as the “pump” occurs when muscles contract, yet blood can’t escape. This stressful environment triggers a number of muscle building factors. 

Here’s what you need to do you should do. Pick two or three compound exercises training your target muscles and lift 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps. 

Monday: Upper Body
1.Bench Press 5×5, rest 90 seconds                                                                                                                                                           
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.                                                                                   2a.Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                    2b.Dumbbell One Arm Row 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                                                3. Dip 3×10-12, rest 60 seconds

Tuesday: Lower Body
1.Squat 5×5, rest 90 seconds
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.                                                                                                       2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4×10, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                        3.Dumbbell Step Back Lunge 3×8/leg, rest 45 b/t legs                                                                                                                          4.Machine Leg Press 3×15, rest 60 seconds       


Mix In Higher Rep Training

To cap off your training, sprinkle in higher rep training. Do one exercise with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with short rest periods to maximize metabolic stress.


Additionally, you can use one exercise to failure. This exercise must be an isolation exercise, like a biceps curl or leg extension instead of a squat.  A recent study found when it comes to muscle growth, the same growth came from using 3 sets to failure with 30% max as 3 sets of 80%.

This means regardless of how heavy the weight is, training to failure maximizes muscle fiber recruitment and stimulates growth, even with lighter weight. This both saves your joints and preserves your nervous system while maximizing gains.

Applied to your training, you can train to failure but use isolation exercises. Keep the weight light and focus on technique. When your technique breaks down you’ve reached failure. Rest and repeat for 2-3 sets and call it a day.


Monday: Upper Body
1.Bench Press 5×5, rest 90 seconds                                                                                                                                                            Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.                                                                                  
2a.Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                     2b.Dumbbell One Arm Row 4×8, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                                               3. Dip 3×10-12, rest 60 seconds                                                                                                                                                                 4.Triceps Pushdown 3×15, rest 30 seconds                                                                                                                                                         5. Cable Biceps Curl, 3xfailure, rest 30-60 seconds       

Tuesday: Lower Body
1.Squat 5×5, rest 90 seconds
Increase the weight on each set. Aim to add 5 pounds to sets next week.   
2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 4×10, rest 60 seconds
3.Dumbbell Step Back Lunge 3×8/leg, rest 45 b/t legs
4.Machine Leg Press 3×15, rest 60 seconds
5. Leg Extension 2xfailure, rest 30-60

Keep in mind, this works best only once you’ve gotten strong. Make strength your focus first. Spend the middle of your workout with moderate weight and reps. Then,  sprinkle in the high rep stuff at the end as the icing on the cake.

Wrap Up
If you’re like Alex and want to build a strong, muscular, and powerful body, you need to focus on a few keys to your training.

1. Build strength. Strength means tension, and greater tension in your muscles forces them to grow.  

2.Incorporate moderate rep, moderate load training as the “meat” of your workouts. This creates both tension and metabolic stress (the pump) to accelerate your gains.

3. Sprinkle in high-rep sets and failure work. This is the icing on the cake and can help you cap off your physique. 

4. Write down your workouts. It takes months to build muscle, not weeks with an occasional ” I’m taking time off” sprinkled in every month. Keep pushing to make consistent gains, track your workouts, and add weight to the bar. Do this and you’ll force your stubborn body to grown.

5. Having a plan expertly designed for you is one piece of the puzzle. Having simple, easy to make meals and the help of a coach is the other half of the puzzle. That’s why the Minimalist Muscle Blitz is the perfect plan for you to add lean muscle, lose fat, and build your best body without living in the gym. Grab your copy today.

How to have a weak, average, and un-athletic body

Building a strong, shredded, athletic body is brutally hard work. It’s much easier to pack it in, follow the crowd and be average, weak, and un-athletic.  The sad part is most people are fine with average, until finally, they snap. They get sick of it and go all in, making a change for the better. 

If you want to be average do the things listed below. Want to be a better, happier version of yourself? Avoid these things like deadlifts at Planet Fitness and start making some real headway in the gym.

Let’s get to it. 

don't blend in, be different.

Don’t lift heavy weights. You’re not training to be a strongman anyways. Besides,  the pump is the only way a muscle grows.

Change your routine every week. Muscle confusion bro’!

Don’t Track progress. Besides, you’re changing workouts every week to do that “muscle confusion thing.” Body fat percentage, tracking strength gains, and analyzing your training is too hard anyways.

Focus on Curls, lateral raises, and calves. Cuz they’re my weak points that need bringing up. Sorry junior, you’re going to stay “junior” if you don’t seriously focus on strength in major compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and chin-ups.

Compare yourself to everyone else. if you’re not first you’re last, right?

 Don’t Eat Fruits and Vegetables. There’s not enough calories to support training. Besides, vitamins and minerals aren’t vital for chemical reactions that control every physiological process in the body.

Neglect Sleep. “ I didn’t sleep well” is a great excuse for every lackluster workout, meeting, or day. Besides, why sleep when you get to  drink 67 Red Bulls, a few pre-workouts and be ready to take on the world? Nonsense, hack your sleep and get back on track.

Stronger, shredded, athletic
Gimme za red bull

Circuit Everything! supersets and giant sets are more time efficient, but you need rest to drive up strength levels and improve performance. 

Never sprint, cut, jump, throw or crawl.  You’re not training for sports these skills aren’t important anymore.

Warm-Up? Nah bro I’m hawt. Staying healthy, maximizing training performance, and preparing the body for a long and prosperous training career isn’t important. #YOLO


stronger, shredded, more athletic
photocredit: knowyourmeme.com


Focus on bulking… all day everyday! You need a caloric surplus to gain muscle and plenty of nutrients to support training, but your body needs a break. Try cycling calories and carbohydrates to support your training needs. Try this.

Rely On Supplements for all your nutritional gains.  Science is mixed at best for most supplements. Plus, pills and powders are more convenient.
Here’s a tip… eat real, high-quality food. If you want to see what works check out the Examine Supplement Guide for no-B.S.  research driven information.

GO BEASTMODE EVERYDAY. Okay, you need to work hard, but turn it down every now and then. Seriously, chill out, take a deload week and let your body heal. Without recovery there is no adaptation. With no adaptation there is no growth. Train, recover, adapt=> Strong, shredded, and athletic.

Yea, this is a sarcastic list, but it serves as a reminder for those trying to build a strong, shredded, and athletic body.  Take advantage of the day and do something to build your dreams.

photo credit: davidwhitedesign via photopin cc

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