Random Thoughts on Rep Ranges | Tim Nassen
One of the questions I get asked most often in the gym is, “What rep range should I be working out in?” The answer to this varies from person to person and often depends on what their specific goals are and what their body type is (endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph). There are many pre-established notions on rep ranges and their effect on the body. I believe that each person has a basic range that is the most effective for their physique, some being heavy and low, while others might thrive in moderate rep ranges with slightly less weight. I personally believe that rep ranges should be varied within each workout and that your perceived rate of exertion (specifically your number of max effort sets) must be closely monitored.
I stated earlier in this article that goals and body types will play a role in selecting the rep ranges for your workouts. As you start to read my basic workout plan with rep ranges included, I feel it is important to understand that my goals are to maintain as much muscle mass as I can and that my body type is probably a meso-ectomorph. Although I currently compete in bodybuilding, my original background stems from strongman and powerlifting. Consequently, I generally prefer those types of workout routines.
One of the things I do is try and hit 3 different rep ranges in each work out. I will usually start each workout with a heavy compound movement, starting light and adding weight each set until I have maxed that rep range out. For these “strength sets” I will usually use 2, 3, 4, or 5 as my target reps. My next set will be in a “hypertrophy” rep range. For these sets I work in 6, 8, or 10 rep ranges. Generally speaking, my second lift in a workout is also a compound exercise, but I have been known to occasionally make this set an isolation move. My third exercise will be done with Time Under Tension (TUT) principles. I use several different methods to achieve this. Four-second negatives and four-second isometric holds on the negative portion of the lift (make sure and vary your hold position) are two that I rotate in most frequently. I will limit these sets to no more than three and keep the weight manageable, ensuring I focus on the muscle group I am supposed to be working. This third set is most often an isolation movement.
It is at this point that I will differ from most philosophies. Once I have completed exercises in the two rep ranges (strength then hypertrophy) and done an exercise in the TUT range, my fourth set will be done in either a strength range (off season) or a hypertrophy range (pre-contest). Whichever range I choose, I will make sure and work up to a max effort on my last set. I feel that by making the muscle re-fire at a max effort after exhaustion is beneficial in recruiting any additional muscle fibers that might have been “missed” in my first three lifts. At this point in my workout I’m thankful for PEAK ATP, as my muscular contractions continue to feel strong and productive.
As contest prep continues and cardio increases while calories decrease, I will tend to try and drop the total number of sets I do during a workout. Our CNS (central nervous system) is a key player in all of this. By dropping the total number of sets, I feel it allows my CNS to recover better (remembering that the added cardio must also use our CNS for recovery).
I know that my ideas may vary from those of other bodybuilders or strength athletes, but over time I have found that this basic workout pattern allows me to vary rep schemes and intensity levels from workout to workout. I also find that this style of workout allows me to maintain more of my strength during the “cutting” phase of bodybuilding.
I hope that this article has been helpful. I would like to thank TSI USA Inc. for allowing me to share my thoughts on workout rep ranges and the construction of my workouts. Their products help me in my recovery from workout to workout and maintain more of my muscle mass as I endure contest prep. PEAK ATP is a quality product that enables me to train stronger for longer and aide in my recovery. I appreciate their products and support!
- Tim Nassen, Bodybuilder/Former Strongman