Conventional wisdom states that lower rep ranges are most conducive to strength, 8-12 is mostly for hypertrophy, and beyond that is solely for endurance.
But if you know me, you know one of my favorite hobbies is challenging conventional wisdom.
In my 8 years of training, I’ve not found this to be entirely true.
Yes, strength training in low rep ranges conditions your nervous system to handling heavier weight. Raw strength is all electric, not mechanical. There are chimps out there who could warm up with your max if they got into lifting.
As for gaining muscle mass, that’s all about progressive overload + caloric surplus. Consuming more macronutrients and calories than your body expends. Training your muscles to handle more weight for more reps as time goes on. You won’t gain muscle if your workouts stay the same, week after week. You won’t gain muscle if you eat like a bird.
Progressive overload is most easily done in an 8-12 rep range. Lift something for 8 reps one workout, 9 the next, 10 the one after that, etc…
But even training for 5ish reps creates progressive overload, as long as you’re beating what you did the last time. Especially if you’re a noob, you can “shock” your muscles into quick growth by going for lower reps at higher weight after a long while of doing 8+ reps (I made 10 lbs of noob gains doing this!)
Strength’s also built when you go for reps.
As anyone who’s smart about their training knows, maxing out or ego-lifting heavy weight for <5 reps every workout is a sure-fire way NOT to progress with your training.
Real “strength training” happens when you lift moderate weight for moderate reps, and even doing 20+ reps a set creates progressive overload and strength gains if you’re beating what you did the last time.
Rep work conditions your nervous system AND your mechanical body to handle more tension, more weight, and to get stronger. A high-quality training program should take both electrical and mechanical conditioning into account.
That’s why periodization is a thing. Focusing on hypertrophy for a few weeks, then on strength for another few, then on endurance…
I do that, but also…
I like to train all the rep ranges in one workout.
Usually by doing complexes.
The simplicity of complexes
Complexes are the training method I swear most strongly by.
They’re the reason I once gained 15ish lbs of muscle in 4 months, after already havng trained for gains for 2 years (that and a very high-calorie diet consisting of 3 dinners a night on top of my other meals) along with making my best ever strength gains.
Superset a movement that focuses on strength, with one that focuses on reps, with one that focuses on explosiveness. All for the same muscle group.
Ex. You can superset pistol squats with jump squats and goblet squats. You can superset clap pushups with regular pushups and asymmetric pushups.
This is one way to get all your rep ranges in during a training sesh. I usually do these as finishers, while periodizing the earlier stages of my workouts.
And I’ve made the best gains of my life for it.
Your best gains will also come when you don’t lean too heavily into one rep range week after week, let high-rep sets make you stronger, and let low-rep sets make you more muscular.
Doing ONLY 20+ rep sets week after week, ONLY strength-focused sets, ONLY hypertrophy-focused sets… That’s a recipe for stagnating the number on the scale and the number of plates on the barbell.
Don’t stagnate. Periodize.
And remember that complexes are worth trying if you’re looking to take your training to the next level.
Now what else?
I’m not an exceptional athlete or prolific lifter. I’m just a fit, healthy guy who knows a few things about biochemistry….
And restored his own biochemistry beyond its former glory after crashing it, thinking he’d be a shell of his former self forever…
And can clean and jerk 200 lbs. (yay me. goal is to do 300 lbs this year)
Whether you’re shooting for high numbers in the gym, staying fit and healthy for its own sake, or an absolute novice to the health and fitness thing, biochemistry is the one thing in your life you can’t compartmentalize.
Health is holistic. Strength and power are holistic. They imprint on and are imprinted on by every aspect of your life.
Let’s optimize yours. And I mean YOURS. No “one size fits all” prescriptions here. I’ll get to know the intricacies of YOU, and we’ll go from there.
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