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Are low reps (1-6) better than high reps (8-12) for muscle growth?

April 03 2010

The debate about whether high reps or low reps are better for muscle growth has been going forever. In fact, my thesis was on this exact question and I am yet to see any good evidence to favor either side.

high reps or low reps to build muscle

Finally, a recent study which compared high reps and low reps sheds some light to the long- standing question.

Why are high reps (8-12 reps) better?

Bodybuilders: Bodybuilders always use low weight, high reps: 8-12 rep range .Power lifters always use high weight, low reps: 1-3 repetition range.

Growth Hormone Increase: Number of studies show that low weight, high reps (8-12 reps) with short rest increases GH significantly compared to high weight, low reps.

Based on the above evidence low weight, high reps (8-12 reps) is considered the standard recommendation for muscle growth or hypertrophy.

So why is there a debate on low weight, high reps and high weight, low reps?

Muscle Growth Studies: Surprisingly, the studies which looked at low weights, high reps and high weights, low reps show no significant difference in muscle growth.

GH ineffective: The GH hormone hypothesis of muscle growth doesn’t hold water anymore considering number of recent direct and indirect studies showing that exercise-induced increases in growth hormone (systemic hormones)  do not help in muscle growth.

Greater Load: As reps decrease, the weight lifted increases. So theoretically greater the weight (low reps) , greater the potential for growth.

But what about protein synthesis & rep range?

Your muscle increase in size because of an increase in protein synthesis. So the most simple question to ask is does low weight, high reps ( 8-12)  show greater protein synthesis than high weights, low reps?.

Surprisingly, nobody ever bothered to look at protein synthesis and exercise intensity until this latest study.

The study compared different intensities ( 15%, 30% 1RM, 45%1RM, 60% 1RM, 90% 1RM) to see if there is a dose response relationship to weight lifted or reps and protein synthesis. The subjects were beginners and the volume was kept similar in all groups.

What were the results of the high reps & low reps study?

  • And guess what, there was no significant difference in protein synthesis for the 60%, 75%, & 90% 1RM! Simply put, there was no significant difference for high reps and low reps.
  •  protein synthesis data for high reps and low reps
  • The study showed the same results for older individuals but the levels of protein synthesis were depressed which further confirms the above results.
  • This study finally shows why studies which looked at outcome measures couldn’t find any significant difference in muscle growth with high reps and low reps.

What about trained lifters?

In trained lifters, the curve may take either one of the shapes as shown below in the graph.

protein synthesis in trained lifters for low weight high reps and high weight, low reps

Practical Application

  • There no magic in the 8-12 repetition range for muscle growth. If you are using a weight above 60% 1RM, you are getting the maximum level of your protein synthesis.
  • There is no increase in protein synthesis as the weight goes up or the reps decrease.  So 5RM (low reps) is no better than a 10RM (high reps) to increase protein synthesis.
  • Theoretically, a high rep range (low weight) would work the best for muscle growth considering there is less damage and nervous system fatigue compared to high weight, low reps .

Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 2
Reference 4

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Mumford | Sat April 03, 2010  

hmm, interesting article anoop

60% of a one rep max is around.. 15 reps? so working 15 rep sets is the same as 6 rep sets (85%)? aren’t there differences in muscle fiber recruitment pattern that should effect protein synthesis?

Anoop | Sun April 04, 2010  

Hi Mumford,

yes, 60% percent comes around 15 reps. It looks like there is a ceiling effect for protein synthesis and it doesn’t matter what weights you use as long as there is some Type 2 fiber recruitment.

There is greater TUT fibers with low reps, but it doesn’t show the difference here nor in studies which have compared high and low reps for muscle growth.

I don’t understand how the high reps group did (3 sets of 9 at 60% RM) and still got the protein levels up high as other groups. These guys had done a pilot study which shows similar results and then proceeded to do a bigger study.And t is from Rennie’s lab who is one of the authorities in the field.

When I did my thesis, I couldn’t find any difference in high and low reps. But the study wasn’t any good either.

Jim | Sun April 04, 2010  

Anoop, well written article.

Question, what is the relationship between blood flow to the muscle and anabolism. It seems to me that research is starting to show that there is a relationship due to nutrient delivery via blood.

Anoop | Sun April 04, 2010  

Thanks Jim.

The blood flow basically bring the amino acids to the muscle from what I have read. Insulin works in increasing protein synthesis by increasing blood flow and amino acid delivery to the muscle.In older people, the blunted response of protein synthesis is partly because of the endothelial dysfunction/insulin resistance which limits the increased blood flow to the muscles with insulin. Did you see any studies?

The study really shows why powerlifters are not just strong but also muscular as bodybuilders as we all suspected.

Jim@TBF | Mon April 05, 2010  

Thanks,
Jim

Anoop | Tue April 06, 2010  

Couple of things about the study:

1. The study was done on beginners. It is known that in trained individuals the protein synthesis is usually lower. So in trained individuals you might see the same trend with a lower peak.

2. The volume of 3*8 reps & 6 sets of 3 is lower than usual. And the protein synthesis came back to basal levels after 2 hrs. For example, 8 sets of 8 reps have shown to elevate synthesis upto 24 hrs in the post fed state. Here the volume was minimal and the subjects were fasted.

Anatoly | Tue April 06, 2010  

>The study was done on beginners

Ok, it’s explanes a lot
smile

Anoop | Tue April 06, 2010  

The study was done on beginners. If it were trained, that will change the peak levels, but I do think you will see a similar curve.

And what do you expect to be different in trained,Anatoly?

Anatoly | Tue April 06, 2010  

Well, the atpha(I hope I prononce this properly) study on strength training clearly shows that advanced trainee must increase intensity to keep progress.
As I remember novice athletes might benefits from 60% intensity and 3 times frequency training, while advanced - 80%, twice a week. In Werbom study there is a section on type of training. There are some evidence that negative training (100-120% 1RM) might be beneficial for advanced trainee.

Anoop | Tue April 06, 2010  

“In figure 2 and figure 10 it can be seen that the rates of increase are generally higher for intensities >60% of 1RM than for those <60% of 1RM, although caution is warranted cause of the few datapoints <60% of 1RM. However, it appears that intensities of 70–85% of are sufficient to induce high rates of increase even heavier loads do not necessarily result in greater CSA gains.”

This is the discussion part in the wernbom paper about intensity. Below is his conclusion.

“75–80% of 1RM 8–10 to muscular failure or near

These recommendations are for novice to moderately trained individuals. Well trained athletes may need increased variation in intensity and volume.”

So i don’t think he says that a higher intensity for advanced athletes. He recommends a higher volume for advanced though(10sets/muscle group.

You are right. There are some studies which shows eccentric training helps in advanced but here we are talking about eccentrics.

Anoop | Tue April 06, 2010  

And nobody is saying that a weight of 8-12 (80-65%) reps isn’t better. The question is what if i do 8 sets of 3-5? Since there is more loading, is it better to do 3-5(>85%) than 8-12?

I guess the study shows that need not be the case. There is a ceiling effect and it’s probably true for trained athletes too. If protein synthesis did go up with load, we should have definitely seen it in beginners . If we don’t see that in beginners, I doubt we will see it in trained.

I guess the big part of the reason is that it is hard to get enough volume with low reps.

Juarez | Thu April 08, 2010  

1) I don’t agree that we can assume that more advanced trainees would not reap greater benefit from a more intense stimulus.  Given the anecdotal assertion that as one’s training age increases one needs to train with higher average intensities to continue to make gains, it seems to me that this is worth investigation.  Further, we can even imagine why this might be the case: as an individual adapts systemically to years of hard training, perhaps a greater and greater relative stimulus is needed (beyond simple progressive resistance) to continue to increase strength and size.

2) What was the volume the study normalized each rep range to?  I do not have access to the study, but based on your comments, it seems like the volume was 18-24 reps (6x3 and 3x8 are mentioned above).

3) In the study that showed 8x8 to increase protein synthesis up to 24 hours after stimulus, what sort of load were they using?  If that isn’t known, do we know what sort of rest period they were on?

4) I am under the impression that protein synthesis sort of spikes after stimulus and then spikes again during the process of tissue remodeling that occurs over the next 36 hours.  Am I way off base on that?  My point is that this study only monitored protein synthesis at 1, 2, and 4 hours after exercise, but even at that volume, the rate of protein synthesis could very well still have risen during the subsequent 24-36 hours.

Thanks for posting!

Anatoly | Fri April 09, 2010  

It’s reminds me a discussion we have in forum:
“forget heavy - think effort”

Juarez | Fri April 09, 2010  

A follow-up thought on why more experienced strength trainers might benefit more from higher intensity loading: it seems that it may be true that dedicated training of one type or another can cause the adaptation of muscle fiber types from I to II (as seen in elite strength athletes), or from II to I (as seen in elite endurance athletes).  If it is true that these changes in the fiber type make-up are at least partially a long-term training adaptation (one could argue that elite athletes at either end of the spectrum may be genetic anomalies, but I suspect this isn’t the whole story), then I would say it would make sense that experienced strength athletes would need a higher stimulus to properly recruit and stress HTMUs.

Nonetheless, however, most of us are not elite level strength and power athletes, so the need to train with higher intensities still wouldn’t apply to the bulk of the population, meaning that the full 1 to 15 rep spectrum could be used effectively to build strength and muscle mass.

Just thinking:) ...

Juarez | Fri April 09, 2010  

Sorry to comment the heck out of this post ...

Anatoly, I completely agree with “forget heavy - think effort”  ... I use the technique of “compensatory acceleration training” on virtually all of my sets, controlling the eccentric and exploding the concentric (maintaining the best form, of course).

Anoop | Fri April 09, 2010  

Hi Juarez,

Thanks for commenting.

1. When you mean higher intensity? Are we talking low reps (1-5)  or greater effort?

2. The volume was normalized for work done. So %RM *Reps*sets.

3. 8*8 of 80%1RM. This is the usual protcol for most protein synthesis studies around 8-12 sets of 8-10 reps.

4. In beginners, there is peak at around 3-4 hrs and then a higher peak at around 20 hrs. In trained, the peak is round 3-4 hrs and gradually returns to basal around 20 hrs. The study showed the levels to return to basal levels at 4 hrs which is not yet seen. The authors speculate it could be the volume or the fasted state.

Anoop | Fri April 09, 2010  

“A follow-up thought on why more experienced strength trainers might benefit more from higher intensity loading: it seems that it may be true that dedicated training of one type or another can cause the adaptation of muscle fiber types from I to II (as seen in elite strength athletes), or from II to I (as seen in elite endurance athletes). “

Nope. Your fibers cannot change from Type 1 to 2 or vice versa. Your fiber ratio is determined genetically.

Juarez | Fri April 09, 2010  

Hi, Anoop.  Thanks for the responses.

1) I use the term “intensity” to refer to the percentage of 1RM, so higher intensity equates to higher weight, and lower reps.

2) and 3) Thanks for the info.

4) This is very interesting information about the rates of protein synthesis.  What constitutes a “trained” subject?  If a trained subject were trying to increase muscle mass, it sounds like it might not make sense to overfeed on off days, since those days won’t be contributing to muscle tissue remodeling (and overfeeding on those days might lead to increased fat gain).  What do you think?

Juarez | Fri April 09, 2010  

Anoop, regarding muscle fiber plasticity, this article among others seem to suggest that the issue is not so cut-and-dried:

http://www.the-aps.org/publications/classics/articles/ingalls.pdf

The studies I was able to find in a quick search mostly seem to focus on the response of muscle tissue to endurance training, and the response over the course of the studies does not seem to be too large, so perhaps the changing of fiber types doesn’t play a large role.  However, I would like to hear your reasoning for sounding so certain that muscle fiber types do not change based on stimulus.

Looking forward to your response!

Anoop | Sat April 10, 2010  

The definition of trained usually varies. In some studies, 5 years of regular training and a few others are just 8-10 weeks of training. The peak and the duration of MPS is much less in trained than in untrained. This means greater protein around you workouts with a higher frequency might help.

It says that you can change from subtypes of fiber (Typ2x-Type2B)but cannot go from Type 1 to 2 or vice versa. It has been shown in rats that chronic endurance training can cause fiber changes from Type 2 to Type 1 and also in stimulation studies. But they are not yet shown in humans.

You should register in the forums, Juarez. You seems to have lot of good questions.

Karky | Sun April 11, 2010  

About fiber type change. I haven’t seen many human in vivo studies that have found change from type II to I due to training (let alone from I to II). But I a while ago I came across a review that took a different approach: they looked at twins and fiber type proportions.

http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/reprint/9/11/1091

According to them, the variation among twins is greater than what would be expected from technical difficulties (biopsy technique, counting, etc)

Granted, the article is old, and I don’t know much about fiber typing methods and if we’ve discovered something since then that makes those findings obsolete.

Very interesting article. I just signed up to the forums.

Anoop | Sun April 11, 2010  

I think the study shows there might be a modest change in fiber type with training in humans. This is pretty low compared to animal studies. Maybe if you do some intense training, you might see an increase in Type 1 fibers.Interesting study though.

Coming back to the study, I am posting the graph with my version of what could happen to the protein synthesis with trained participants.I think there can be two alternatives.Here is the link

Protein synthesis in trained

Anatoly | Mon April 12, 2010  

Interesting thread from HST board:
http://thinkmuscle.com/forum/showthread.php?19171-Intensity-and-MPS&p=211286#post211286
started by Dan Moore

Anoop | Mon April 12, 2010  

Hi Anatoly,

Thanks for the link.

I have come across that study before. It is a preliminary report and was a poster presentation in the ACSM conference. We have to wait to see it gets published. I am hoping they will publish it.

And I read the Brain is writing the HST book. Is it true?

Anatoly | Mon April 12, 2010  

>And I read the Brain is writing the HST book. Is it true?

Have no idea. smile

Probably it will be published when Lyle, Alan and Borge will publish their book - mean never
smile

I’m only joking, hope that them all will succeed.
I will be the first buyer

Anoop | Mon April 12, 2010  

LOL

The difference between Lyle,Alan and Bryan is that Bryan has I think 4 kids to take care and has a full time job. I can understand the time and money commitment it takes to raise a family.

I just read in thew forum that Brian quit his job or something didn’t workout and is working on finishing his hst book.

dean | Wed April 14, 2010  

my advice is to mix up low , medium and high reps on different days . not only does it keep you motivated it works on endurance , strength and power

dean

Anoop | Wed April 14, 2010  

Hi Dean,

Thanks for the comment.

We are strictly talking about protein synthesis and muscle growth. For the average person who wants to stay in shape and get motivated, you advice is good.

And maybe a cycle of high reps culminating in some low reps might be the answer if we are confused about which is best.

When I did my thesis, my hypothesis was low reps was better than high reps for muscle growth. Didn’t see it though. This topic is something I am really familiar with and haven’t see anything good as this one for a long time.

And I need to fix that website link int he comments.

franza | Wed May 05, 2010  

why not periodize the training pattern every 4-6 weeks?
It seems best to make consistent stimulus for the muscles.

Anoop | Wed May 05, 2010  

Hi Franza,

Thanks for the comment.

That’s a good option too. If there is any doubt that heavy weights might do something better than light eights, a cycle of high reps ending in a cycle of low reps would get the benefit of both. And that’s the classic linear periodization.

FullDeplex | Fri June 04, 2010  

I always get confused when people use MPS as a measure for muscle growth.

If MPS was the only thing that mattered than one could eat a ton of protein and grow muscle, I guess.

Is MPS the limiting factor to lasting muscle growth? Do you know other studies that also compare the effect high en lower loads and actually measure muscle growth (after, say, 12 weeks) instead of only MPS?

Anoop | Sat June 12, 2010  

Hi,

Thanks for the comment

Yes. In fact, the second reference shows a study which compared both rep ranges and found no difference in muscle growth. There has been other studies too but none show any superiority of high reps over low reps or vice-versa.

And generally, MPS is considered to be a limiting factor in muscle growth.

FullDeplex | Sat June 12, 2010  

Thanks for your answer!

I missed the 2nd reference before, but now that I have read the the abstract I notice that they used less total reps for the heavy low reps than the medium heavy 9-11reps. Doesn’t this mean that heavy low rep work stimulates more hypertrophy PER REP than medium heavy work? Nice study though.

I agree that ultimately it won’t matter much if you do 1-6 reps or higher (up to a point), because you can do more work more easily, but still they appear not have the exact same effect. Don’t plus 1rm eccentrics have more growth potential per rep to?

Oh jeah, I know that PMS is A factor, but that was not my question. wink

FullDeplex | Sat June 12, 2010  

additional:

Brad Pilon comments in ‘How Much Protein’ that PMS is not neccesarily a good measure for muscle growth, beause there are studies that measure MPS (although with nitrogen balance) and muscle growth that show no correlation.

I am not saying a muscle can grow without PMS, but aren’t other factors not more important and acurate for (measuring) muscle growth when MPS is sufficient? (like long term serum testosterone, MPBreakdown, activation of myoblasts?)  Some studies some that the body can support use 120 grams of protein for MPS per day and 30 gram per meal. I don’t know anyone that has ever grown 120 grams of muscle a day, so apparently other factor limit muscle growth A LOT and MPS alone is not a aqurate measure for muscle growth.

Please, I would like your comments on this.

Anoop | Fri July 02, 2010  

Hi,

Yes. Testsoterone,myoblasts are important but those are processes further behind the muscle growth sequence.

The closest event to muscle growth is protein synthesis & protein breakdown. Just to give an example, some people do measure mRNA levels and assume an increase in mRNA levels to indicate an increase in protein content. But this need not be the case all the time. Theere can be an increase in mRNA levels and a decrase in protein levels at the same time.

Yes even if there is an increase in protein synthesis that only reflects the protein synthesis at that particlar time point. So it really depends on the study and other factors.

FullDeplex | Fri July 02, 2010  

Thanks for your answer.

I don’t want to irritate you by discussing this endlessly so please excuse me while I ask my last question, but doesn’t all this mean that when one wants to determine the best rep range for long term growth that short term studies should be ignored? Long term growth (longer than 3 weeks) is what matters to bodybuilders and the likes. If studies show significant greater MPS short term, but if this effect can’t be replicated in long term studies the short term studies are only useful to indicate what happens short term.

Would your conclusions change if you would ignore short term studies and only looked at long term studies which measure actual muscle size?

Anoop | Fri July 02, 2010  

Hi Fullduplex,

I already gave you a link (the second reference)  which shows no change in actual muscle growth for low reps and high reps for 8 weeks. And there are more long term studies which shows no significant difference.

And I also wrote in the article” This study finally shows why studies which looked at outcome measures couldn’t find any significant difference in muscle growth with different rep ranges”. So both acute and chronic studies point to the same conclusion.

And yes outcome measures like strength and muscle growth are more important. But sometimes it is hard to pin point the actual mechanisms with long term studies.

Please do register in the forums if you are interested.

FullDeplex | Fri July 02, 2010  

Just registered…

Karky | Sat July 24, 2010  

Anoop, do you have a link to the long term studies that show no difference? I’d like to read them.

mavros | Wed August 04, 2010  

Anecdotally, the best driver of muscle growth and strength, in terms of training protocols, is combining high intensities (>80%1RM) with high lifting volumes and high lifting frequencies (>3/week)...this is the kind of apprach that Eastern bloc countries use to great effect. 

Of course, the severity of this combination means that it’s not very useful for the average Joe. 

But it does provide a possible explanation for the seeming non-differentiated responses to the loading intensities in the study. Namely, that the superior hypertrophic effects elicited by high intensity lifting require a certain minimum threshold of lifting volume and frequency that was not satisfied in the study.

My own experience as an experienced trainer bears this out.  While I can maintain strength and size from training just about any way I wish (heavy, medium, frequent, less frequent), the only way I can make gains is to push all three elements as hard as I can (loading intensity, volume, frequency), for so long as my body can tolerate it and still recover.

Cheers
Mav

Meix | Thu August 05, 2010  

My 1Rm is 205 on bench press and im 18 what would be the proper amount of weight to use.

mavros | Thu August 05, 2010  

I’m not sure I can answer about the “proper” weight to use, as there’s a range of weights that would work.

Basically, anything above 145 (assuming a 2051RM) will get results.  I would recommend that you cycle your weights within the range of 145 - 185, and do the odd session (no more than once/month)up near your max.

Cheers
Mav

Norcal Rich | Thu October 07, 2010  

I find this site very interesting and full of information. Like all science, it creates a lot of doubt about received wisdom and gives us very little certainty, except to remain skeptical.

Given that, I think it is clear that bodybuilders somehow manage to increase the size and look of their muscles, and powerlifters manage to increase their 1rm, so they both must be doing something right in their workout/recovery methods.

What I wonder is, are there any studies comparing powerlifters and bodybuilders in terms of srm max?

Although I suspect the body tends to adapt to the stresses put on it, within genetically imposed limits, which would imply that powerlifters would have a higher srm, both this study that says both rep numbers (1-6 and 8-12) are about the same for protein uptake, etc, and Franco Colombu, who advocated in at least one book doing 6 rep sets for bodybuilding, but who won powerlifting championships in Italy (but I don’t know the specifics of his pre-competition training regimen for that competition) make it seem that the type of strength gain may not be that different between the two rep regimes.

Anyway, I wondering if anyone can shed any light on this conundrum. Thank you.

Anoop | Fri October 08, 2010  

Hi Norcal,

Good to hear that you are finding the articles informative.

If you a compare power lifters and bodybuilders in 1RM, the power lifters will obviously have higher 1RM since they do a lot of technique work, speed and ROM work.

Does that answer your question? And i will write about a study which compared these populations on fiber type and muscle growth.

Bill | Mon June 20, 2011  

Coming from a bodybuilder

This study holds no merit. Yes maybe if you were doing equal volume with each weight and % of 1rm.

Why not do an actual study on a whole routine designed with each in mind. Thats why the scietific community always lags behind and has contradicting information. They are ignorant to the real world applications.

The reason why 8-12 reps is better (using 70-75% 1rm) is because you can do more work with the weight.

Someone using 90% or higher of their 1rm can barely do any work the routines would pan out differently. The study has equal volume for each group, this is not how one trains. You can do more work without overtraining with the 70-75% 1rm than the 90%. And 90% is about your 4 repetition max. You are not going to be able to do 3 sets of 4 with it, once you hit failure with that weight your pretty much done, so something like 3x3 or 4x3 would be able to be done.

Someone using 75% (that would equate to your 10 rep max) of their 1rm can easily do 3 sets of 8 reps.

Total volume of each 75%: 24 reps, 90%: around 9 reps. You could do even more set with 75% 1rm cause your not going as heavy, can’t say the same thing with 90% you WILL over train.

You failed big time anoop

Anoop | Fri June 24, 2011  

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the comment.

The volume was normalized (%1RM*Sets*Reps). At 90%, they did 3* 6: 18 reps. I am not sure where you got the 9 reps.

About why not do an actual study: It is just how science works. You shows the results with an acute study and if there is any merit, you try a long term study. Long terms studies are time consuming and are lot more expensive. You need to justify it with data, not your enthusiasm. There is always a chance that this could be wrong in a long term study. And there are lot of smart bodybuilders who understand the above.

And I have failed many times.

FullDeplex | Fri June 24, 2011  

It is too bad that science has to work this way because the financial factor(s). I wish there was a way around the negative consequences of economics on the way research is conducted nowadays, but I can’t think of anything.

Any suggestions maybe?

Anoop | Sat June 25, 2011  

It is not too bad. That is the way it should be done!

Show me the data saying that you have a good hypothesis before you waste the time and money of people to prove your ‘pet’ hypothesis. So, good researchers will always do a pilot study or acute study because they know they may be wrong (and the funding organization know it every well too). The greatest sin a researcher can commit is to believe in his hypothesis.

Ever research works like that. For example in drug discovery, first the drug is tested in cell culture and then in animals. And if positive, then they take it to the next step of Phase 1,2 3, & 4 studies. And these take years. Most people who complain about these are just ignorant of the process.

FullDeplex | Sat June 25, 2011  

I don’t disagree that, in the way society is arranged now, this process is the best approach. I just see many negatives too this approach is implemented and see economics as a big factor.

Often many people (media and scientists alike) conclude from pilot or acute studies that something works or doesn’t, but you can’t really say anything yet. It’s even worse when people start advising or even changing policy based on these studies and there own paradigm and (financial) interests.

Even though we know a lot about how the body responds acutely to stimulants (including exercise) we often can only guess what the results after a significant period in the real world may be. Because of this I feel a lot of effects that show up after a longer period are not fully researched cause it does not show up in acute studies.

These are not the greatest negatives I could think of, but I don’t want to write too much or involve things that are off topic.

I feel(know maybe) that science in practice is not perfect, far from it. Lets not be ignorant to the great many negatives of its implementation. I personally don’t believe as much any more in the “power” of science as it is now as I used to do. Sometimes I even feel, maybe because of a those “junk-studies” and (financial) interests involved in science, that ‘real science’ is hanging on by a thread.

I don’t think ‘bro-science’ is the answer though.

Anoop | Sat June 25, 2011  

Most good scientists know that what they can extrapolate and what they can’t. That is why in the conclusion, they say it ‘increased protein synthesis and not ‘muscle growth’.

And if they had to extrapolate in the discussion, they would say this ‘may’ increase muscle growth in a long term study. And they would definitely give evidences of studies which showed how these acute variables have been highly correlated with muscle growth. If you look at my conclusion, I am careful to mention protein synthesis and not muscle growth. This is not the problem of science, this is clearly a problem of people mis-interpreting studies.

Oh yea, science is not perfect and everyone knows it.  But it is really a moot point when you don’t have a better alternative.  Science is just a systematic way to analyze observations,  and it is 100 times better than anything out there now.

FullDeplex | Sun June 26, 2011  

I know you are careful with (most of) your conclusions. It’s is one of the reasons I read your articles. smile

But ‘mis-interpreting studies’ isn’t the only problem. Big compagnies “boycotting” (internally and externally conducted) research from being published in order to protect their interests is another.

What I am trying to say is that science as a system to analyze isolated from other parts of society that could influence is nearly perfect imo for producing solid data. The problems start when this system is put in a real world with influences for outside the system. Some influences can’t be stopped like the need to finance a study, but there are a lot of problems that arise from these influences that could be helped if the right safeguards are in place. In order to create or improve these safeguards influences and the problems that arise from them need to be acknowledged, not ignored. Ignorance only leads to a futher downgrade of results/products of science as an analystic system. I feel some of these safeguards should be improved upon, because now they don’t seem to function correctly.

I don’t have a problem with science as a system. I have a problem with how it needs to be conducted because of outside influences. Doing acute studies that don’t really tell us anything conclusive in order to maybe get finances for the “real study” is only the way we need conduct science, because of the influence of the economic system. This is not ‘the way’ science has to be conducted, but just how is seems to work best under the circumstances.

The problems that arise are not flaws of science as a system. In a way science is just a collection of principles.

I hope this makes any sense.

Anoop | Wed June 29, 2011  

I agree about all the influences that can corrupt science. I have seen the other side of science. There are a lot of people’s lives at stake and lot of money involved that sometimes it runs like a business.

But I do not agree about the acute studies. Even if money was the least of the issues, I would want to do a pilot study before I do a long term study. It is clearly unethical to waste people’s time (and tax payers money) just because you ‘believe’ your hypothesis is true. If you truly believe it is true, why ever bother doing a study? When certain acute variables shows a positive correlation with your intended variable, it further bolsters your hypothesis. I would be really skeptical of the results of a long-term study when the results of an acute study comes out negative. If I am not, I am just too blind to see through my biases.

FullDeplex | Wed June 29, 2011  

Glad we agree on the corrupting factors.

As I said: Science can’t be isolated from some influences, like finance and (like you introduced in your last post) human ethics, unless it’s wartime or something like it off course. (How pityful we humans are) So, unless we would live in a scientic utopia, the ‘acute-first’ method is probably the best way of conducting science, but there are some conditions that have to be met:

-It needs to be possible to measure the effect in acute studies. I don’t mean causality would not apply in some cases, but in a lot of cases the mechanisms that lead to a long-term effect are not yet fully understood, measurable, correctly measured or even discovered. In many cases a strong correlation between acute measure and long-term effect is not enough, because of confounding factors along the way (that influence the end result) that may or may not yet have been discovered, measurable, considered and so on.

Add to this the cocktail of influencial factors involved in corrupting scientific data we both acknowledge and you may even say the scientific data banks are so full of clutter because of corrupting factors that it becomes very hard or even impossible to make a statement that is not corrupted. (This notion sometimes make me a “sad panda”)

Please note I said ‘may’: so not always. I do think there are some acute measures that are reliable, but many aren’t. I think that if you only use the ‘acute-first’ method this could lead to, what I would jokingly call: “Infinite Undiscovery”

Long-term study does not imply trowing ones scepticism out of the window, for scientists’ own paradigms/biases/beliefs can also corrupt science and the data it creates. I don’t think acute studies can always be used to correct for the corrupting of data from a long-term study, because of the problems I mentioned above and because these acute studies can be corrupted to by influences like the scientists’ paradigmas/biases/beliefs.

I would not imply that long-term studies are perfect or at least better than acute studies in every ways, because there are not, but going from long-term to acute instead of acute-first from time to time could help correct some the issues cause by the acute-first method. (There are some anecdotes that would fit the bill, but I am sure you can come up with some yourself)

All this is why I value long-term studies more that acute studies in many cases.

Sorry for the long post…

Anoop | Fri July 01, 2011  

I really hope you are joking when you say “going from long term to acute studies should help instead of acute-first from time to time could help correct some the issues cause by the acute-first method”!

Long term studies are what every researcher is going for, atleast in application-oriented studies. I never said that I value acute studies more than long-term. All the acute studies, in-vitro, animal studies are building a strong case or some biological plausibility for a long term study. Unfortunately, your enthusiasm without any supporting evidence is just not enough to convince anyone to approve or fund your study.  And nobody is looking for the perfect, fool- proof evidence, all what we are looking for is where the brunt of the evidence is leaning towards . This is how 99% of the studies are done.

And there is no reason to bring up every time how “science is corrupted” in your arguments since it has nothing to do with the topic in question.

FullDeplex | Fri July 01, 2011  

Guess I should have made clear that Long term studies IMO would also include things like (long term) pilot studies, case studies and other financially doable research methods. Sorry about that. I forgot to mention it.

My problem is with the only applying the acute-first method (a non-exsisting circumstance), not pilot-first.

I wouldn’t want the first nut job with some crazy theory to get funding for an expensive long term study too.

Maybe this changes things a bit, maybe not. That’s ok too, I guess.

Anoop | Sat July 02, 2011  

Pilot studies are mainly done for logistical reasons. To mainly show that the lab or the investigator has the ability to perform the study successfully. Pilot studies become more important if you are a new investigator or if you are trying a new method which your lab has never done before. It doesn’t give a good idea how well your hypothesis will turn out. For example, we did a pilot study to show we can inject plasmids to the rat muscles and successfully upregulate HSP’s(heat sock proteins). The backing for why HSP’s is justified through other studies and makes a lot of sense. But since we have never used plasmids in our lab we had to show them that we are capable of taking almost a thousands of dollars and finishing the study successfully.

And when you pick a variable, you just don’t pick one that comes to your mind first. You got for a variable that has been consistently shown in other studies to predict the other variable you are looking for. For example, protein synthesis is highly correlated with muscle growth. In 2 earlier studies from the Stuart labs, they showed an increase in protein synthesis. Based on the positive results from acute studies, they did 2 long term studies which showed an increase in muscle growth predicted by acute studies. So there is a difference between a theory and a ‘crazy’ theory. If someone comes say it increased titin or MAPk, I will ask do you have any studies if these variables are correlated with muscle growth? And they aren’t. That’s an example of a crazy theory.

I totally agree about acute studies not being the best method. It is just one way to weigh your decisions. The important aspect is to pick a variable which is consistently “positively” correlated with an outcome measure in question. Will this guarantee a positive result always in a long-term study: No.

So I agree and disagree with you.

FullDeplex | Mon July 04, 2011  

Thanks for the explanation about pilot studies. It was informative.

Anoop | Mon July 04, 2011  

Thanks!

Last post: Here is a news which came on CNN yesterday about the cure for a a disease. Th research is headed by Francis Collins - the head of NIH (the largest research and funding agency in the world).

http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/01/progeria.treatment.aging.collins/index.html?hpt=he_c1

And how do they do it: Find out what is really happening in a acute study using cell culture model. Formulate a hypothesis and try a drug in cell culture. Since it works in cell culture, they will now move to clinical trials. Now will it work? This is what the researcher had to say:

“I can’t say what the drug will do before clinical trial,” Krainc said. “We’re very hopeful, because of the dramatic effect (in cells) was replicated.”

They are optimistic because of the results in an acute, in vitro setting. But at the same time not too optimistic since no one knows what will happen in a long term human study.

This is how 99% percent of sensible research works.So it is not a matter of opinion or my philosophy.

Richard | Fri September 30, 2011  

Thanks for your interesting article on effective reps.

I’m trying to work out how best to get muscle growth most effectively while having a damaged disk in my neck.  Your site is very interesting with it’s science based advice.

I’ve been exercising for six weeks now and getting visible improvements, but I’ve been using what are apparently very high reps, 25 reps, so that I’m pretty much at my limit at that time.

Now I’m wondering what to do next.  I could just keep on this way, or maybe better optimize my approach.

I found an ebook on a website Musclehack.com called Targeted Hypertrophy Training by Mark McManus.  He has some complicated cycle of sets with varied reps, but seems to basically says you must take your reps to failure,  that low reps, 4-6, with heavier weights slow your results because of extended recovery time and you should mostly do 8-12 reps to exhaustion within 20 seconds to a minute to be in an ‘anabolic window’ for maximum growth. Apparently if you go longer you’re using your aerobic system.

Possibly I’ve got something wrong there but I think that’s it.

I am wondering in your article heading where you refer to high reps as 8-12 whether I am making a basic mistake and hindering my results with my 25 reps?  Would I see much better results doing reps in the 8-12 range, assuming they are not too heavy for my damaged neck?

If you!ve got any helpful comments I would greatly appreciate it.

The ebook I’m reading is quite detailed and the author seems to be very experienced with good results, but I’d appreciate knowing a bit more about rep ranges and effects.

Anoop | Mon October 03, 2011  

Hi Richard,

Thanks for the comment.

Why not try doing low reps for a few week or do your high reps and for the last couple of sets work with some with low reps.

I would stick with a lower rep range maybe 10-15. I can see high reps like 25 working for lower body though.

Vlad | Sat November 05, 2011  

Your “How to read a study/Outcome pyramid” article was great…

but… Umm… can you spell surrogate outcomes?

Any study measuring myofibril growth from different rep protocols?

And study measuring muscle growth resulting from different rep protocols?

And, more generally, any meaningful outcomes?

Vlad

Vlad | Sat November 05, 2011  

Actually… http://www.springerlink.com/content/t96qmxyaa7x7le0c/ says that for high reps there’s no increase in cross-sectional area.

FullDeplex | Mon November 07, 2011  

Hi Vlad,

Why was the average weight of the high rep group 10 Kg lower than the averages of all the other groups? Could this have influenced the results?

I think it is great that they have measured cross-sectional area separate fibre types, but where are the total muscle cross-section measurements and analyses? (I did not see them in the full text, may be my fault) Total cross-sectional area is what you are talking about, right? Hyperthrophy of different fibre types doesn’t really matter for this discussion.

Also, there may not have been a significant increase in cross-sectional fibre area compared to pre-values, but the study does not mention any significant differences in pre to post cross sectional area between training groups. They did show such significant differences in the ‘1RM’ and ‘Repetions’ sections. So the results may not differ as much as you think.

Tony | Fri December 23, 2011  

This comment is in regard to another article that disabled comments. It is very similar to the above article though. “Are low reps (1-6) better than high reps (8-12) for muscle growth?”

I disagree that there is no difference between muscle growth using variant rep schemes. The reason why this study is not concrete is because it only experiments on newcomers. Beginning weight lifters haven’t hit any strength plateaus where they are not increasing their 100% 1RM.  The greatest gains are from the first couple months. Different rep schemes confuse the muscles and allow for gains. That is why power lifters and bodybuilders develop different programs to stimulate the muscles in different ways depending on the weight lifters’ body type.

There are three ways to strengthen your argument about rep schemes affecting muscle growth:

1. Use advanced weightlifters with similar body types (weight, muscle density, and testosterone levels…etc) and have them do the same experiment over a vast amount of time (years).
2. Do not have them fast, but make them eat the same amount of food incorporating sufficient carbs, protein, and fats,...etc. You may have been getting the same results because of the fasting issue.
3. Discuss testosterone and which rep types cause the greatest amount to be generated. Testosterone was barely mentioned even though it is the key ingredient to muscle growth. Hence that is why weightlifters take steroids.

I also disagree with the following statement, “Bodybuilders always use the 8-12 rep range .Power lifters always use 1-3 repetition range. “.

A successful (ascetically pleasing) natural bodybuilder cannot entirely workout in the 8-10 repetition scheme. Nor can a power lifter workout entirely in the 1-6 rep range
Natural bodybuilders and power lifters workout in both rep ranges:

1.Natural bodybuilders will use high weight/low reps (1-6) for power movements such as squat, deadlight,...etc in order to raise their testosterone levels and maximal growth. Doing a thousand body weight squats puts a higher strain on your knee tendons (tendonitis) and would effectively work the heart (cardiovascular) rather than the leg muscle fibers.

2.Natural bodybuilders will then use assistance exercises such as cable flies and triceps extensions in the high rep scheme in order to sharpen their smaller muscles. This means that a person should not workout small muscle groups with high weight/low rep (100%1RM) because this can cause serious injuries to the surrounding tendon fibers.

3. Power lifters use assistance workouts (8-10 reps) as well. They do this to strengthen the smaller muscle groups and to warm up properly similar to bodybuilders

Anoop | Fri December 23, 2011  

Hi Tony,

None of your arguments say anything about the benefit of one rep range over the other. And I do have a seperate graph for trained individuals. Did you see it?

If you are saying changing reps can be a benefit, there might be some truth to it. This might have more to do with acute effects and will even out in the long term.

Why don’t you register in the forums? Will be a good discussion topic.

Moe | Sun April 29, 2012  

Taken from your comment above: “The volume was normalized (%1RM*Sets*Reps). At 90%, they did 3* 6: 18 reps. I am not sure where you got the 9 reps”

Anoop, when you are dealing with 90% of the 1rm, you will not be able to get 6 reps. This is a fact. There are rep calculators such as http://www.criticalbench.com/weight-training-chart.htm

that are +/- 5 lbs off. I have used that calculator the past 3 years and it never has failed me…


there is the big flaw in those studies. The intensities were calculated incorrectly. If they were correct, then the test subjects would have only been able to get in 2-3 sets of 3 reps.

This is why you need to read these studies with a grain of salt, because they are off in the most important variable…the actual intensity itself.

Anoop | Sun April 29, 2012  

Hi Moe,

Thanks for the comment. It is 6sets of 3. Hence 18. I usually have sets first.

Here from the study:“Thus, at an exercise intensity of 20% of 1 RM, the subjects completed 3 sets × 27 repetitions (reps); at 40%, 3 sets × 14 reps; at 60%, 3 sets × 9 reps; at 75%, 3 sets × 8 reps and those at 90%, 6 sets × 3 reps.”

Moe | Sun April 29, 2012  

Yes but I have used 90% of my 1rm. You cannot be able to endure 6 sets of 3 with 90% 1rm. Thats like saying someone could do 6 sets with 75% 1rm for 8 reps. They can’t get in that many reps as 90% of the 1rm is a 4 repetition max.

Now you probably had them doing 6X3 with a 80% max, as strength endurance dimishes…a load of approximately an 8 rep max could be used for that much. Remember, whenever you use a certain intensity, you have to account for strength endurance diminishing as a factor ...and if someone was using 90% 1rm to failure it would be 4 reps, which means the next set they will absolutely not be able to repeat the same amount of reps from damaged fibers. In a 6 X 3 the lifter would probably hit failure on the second or third set…and all sets after would have diminishing amount of reps able to be done.

Anoop | Mon April 30, 2012  

Hi Moe,

Good points.

Two things:

The 1RM charts are developed from exercises such as squats and bench press & power cleans. In machine exercises. We know that more repetitions can be performed for an 1RM on a machine compared to free weights.here they used leg extensions.

Second, we are comparing here. So the comparison groups should have been affected by the same too. So any missed reps are evened out. So I really don’t see any big issues here.

Thanks for the critique! Hope you registered in the forurms.

Sascha | Mon June 04, 2012  

Hi Anoop,

this is interesting. I have always trained low rep style like for example Pavel Tsatsouline and others suggest.
Now I got one question. What about the differences between myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy?
If the protein synthesis of higher reps is indeed the same as low reps, but the hypertrophy happens to be mostly of sarcoplasmic nature, wouldnt low reps/high weight still be a better choice?
Hope you get what I mean and keep up your good work.

Anatoly | Mon June 04, 2012  

Sascha,
I believe you can find the answer here
http://www.weightrainer.net/physiology/Moore_Sarcoplasmic.html
and here
http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/nonfunctionalmyth.html

Sascha | Mon June 04, 2012  

Wow, thank you very much Anatoly. These were great reads!
Very infomative to be honest.
Lets see what else I can find on these two sites.

dave | Thu June 06, 2013  

If rep ranges made no difference, powerlifters would have the same muscularity as bodybuilders do.  They simply don’t.  In the real world, anyone who has been lifting for any good length of time knows that higher reps do give you more muscle growth. that is simply fact. If you look at how pro bodybuilders train, they almost all, train with higher reps. some even as high as 20 per set.  If lower reps built more muscle, don’t you think they’d be lifting that way?  Low reps build strength and a better nueral adaption.  This is why many powerlifters can get get incredibly strong, yet, not put on much if any muscle.

Anoop | Fri June 07, 2013  

Hey Dave,

Thanks for the comment.

It is not that simple. And we have talked about this a lot in the forums and other comments.

First, just because power lifters look fat doesn’t mean they are not muscular. Will you call a bodybuilder in off-season muscular? No. I don’t think you will see much difference in LBM if you measure their body composition. And this is where a lot of people confused. The reason why elite powerlifters take drugs is they have hit their genetic muscle limits and wants to put more muscle so they can lift more. So powerlifting is a sport which ultimately limited by your muscle mass.

Second,pro bodybuilders are dipped in steroids. They can do whatever and still grow like a weed.

Third, there is a practical aspect of selecting reps. You can maybe get the same muscle growth with lower reps , but it is not practical in a gym. Imagine doing 8-10 sets of 4-6 reps of bench press w/3-5 rest time in a busy gym to get sufficient volume!So maybe it is not high or low rep, but the volume that is most important. Also the injury aspect and the pump factor. So high reps are used not per se because they are best for muscle growth, but for other reasons that may not be so obvious.

Murray | Thu August 22, 2013  

Anoop, do you think one can reach their natural muscular potential training solely in 8-15 range? I am in my 40’s now and the days of 4-6 reps are over for me (too much joint pain and regular soft tissue injuries).

Sticking around 10 reps allows me to do more volume and recover faster but some experts say you HAVE to train heavy (over 80-85% of 1RM) as you get more advanced. I’m not really sure why? As long as I continue to increase the load over time why would I stop growing using 8-12 rather than 4-6 reps? What do you think?

david | Fri November 22, 2013  

hi, i thought in terms of strength though you would only activate the fast twitch fibres more readily than slow twitch if the weight was heavy. is this not true anymore??

alpha1 | Tue December 17, 2013  

Has it been proved beyond doubt that Type 2 fibres indeed hypertrophy more than Type 1?

If you go by the Rep vs fibre type stuff - powerlifters should indeed be a lot more larger (in muscular terms) than bodybuilders.

Low rep training would grow the Type 2 fibres.
High rep training would tilt that growth balance to Type 1 fibres.

Very high rep training would be too low weight to cause any growth (and the muscles would fail because of fatigue, built up of metabolic waste)

To me, all this suggests that Type 1 fibres also hypetrophy to a great extent. And the High rep training actually facilitates this.

Bill | Sun July 20, 2014  

I like both and alternate them every other workout per body part and it seems to be working. My heavy low rep day is using HIT principles and the next workout for that body part (about 5 days later) will be about 12 reps with a little faster cadence but in strict form as are all my reps.

What do you think?

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