Virtually every exercise and training routine relies on an understanding of this simple word. The word ‘rep’ is an abbreviation of the word ‘repetition’ and refers to one complete movement of an exercise. For example, curling a barbell up and then back down is one rep.
With the exception of a few test lifts, bodybuilders rarely perform just one rep of an exercise. Instead, they perform a series of consecutive reps in a group or bunch, called a ‘set.’ The average number of reps in a set is 8 to 12, but this depends on such factors as the exercise itself, the goals of the trainer, the muscle group being worked, and the time of the year (i.e. off-season or pre-contest).
Probably the most common question pro bodybuilders receive at seminars is: ‘How many reps should I perform?’ Everyone wonders if there is some magical rep range that will produce the biggest and fastest gains in muscle size. It would be nice if you could plug your vital statistics into a computer and calculate that magical rep-range, but it just doesn’t work that way! For this reason, most bodybuilders will vary their rep ranges throughout the years. In fact many will alternate rep ranges during the same workout.
The Big Three
Generally speaking, there are three broad rep ranges that bodybuilders follow throughout the year:
- Ranges for building maximum strength,
- Ranges for building maximum size, and
- Ranges for building maintenance and conditioning.
If maximum strength is the goal, recommend rep range is 3 to 5. This does not mean simply stopping at 3 to 5 reps, no matter how many you could have done, but rather using a weight that prevents you from achieving a higher number.
If maximum muscle mass is the goal, then the accepted rep range is 8 to 12. Some bodybuilders find slightly lower ranges of 6 to 8 more productive. Others experience the best results by performing higher reps in the 15 to 20 range. For the most part, however, you probably can’t go wrong keeping most of your exercises in the 8-to-12 zone.
If general conditioning is the desired goal, then the 12 to 15 or sometimes 15 to 20 range is recommended. Many athletes and bodybuilders follow this range during their pre-contest phase of training as it burns slightly more calories, preserves muscle size and strength and reduces the risk of injury. (Higher reps require the use of lighter weights.)
Reps are without a doubt the most important aspect of your bodybuilding training. To maximize your muscle and strength gains, you should experiment with various rep ranges to determine the range that works best for you, and remember to switch it up quite often. No two people respond the same and the best bodybuilders are those who frequently try different rep and weight combinations.