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Follow the science on rep ranges to maximize results year-round

Goal: Strength, Size, Conditioning
Bodyparts: ALL

As gym rats we are creatures of habit, slaves to nostalgia. We love doing what's comfortable, what's worked in the past. We love to revisit yesteryear's routines and to relive the athletic prowess of our younger years. And for some reason, we always choose to fall back on one particular rep range. Whether it's the legions of devoted 5x5ers out there or the vanilla three-sets-of-10 crowd, a certain number always resurfaces in our routines. But is that the best thing for your gains?

Here, Phil Gephardt, MS, CSCS, a Newport Beach-based (Calif.) trainer ( and exercise science professor provides us a refresher on the nuances of the rep and offers some tips for how to make each one count.


"The rep range for a given time under tension (TUT) determines the training stimulus. What this means is the amount of reps is the single most important factor when determining what it is you are trying to accomplish in your workout. Where most authors lack in talking about reps is making sure tempo is understood. Most lifters should use a moderate tempo (3-4 seconds) in the eccentric or negative portion of the lift and move the weight as quickly as possible in the concentric portion of the lift."
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"Rep ranges are pretty simple. If you simply want to get stronger, 2-3 reps is ideal. You'll need longer rest periods between sets but strength will be the outcome. Functional hypertrophy is important for everybody, including you moms out there. For this, 6-8 reps has been shown to yield the greatest results. For those skinny guys looking to get size the hypertrophy bracket is 10-12. That means 10-12 good, quality reps with 3-4 seconds each negative. That means each set you will have a time under tension of at least 40 seconds per set. Remember: muscles respond to that eccentric portion greater than the concentric, so slow negatives are critical for growth!"


"All workouts for a specific training block should be done in a specific rep range. So for a four-week period you would do all exercises in the 6-8 rep range if you are trying to gain functional hypertrophy. But in as little as six workouts, your body could adapt to the specific training protocol so after that 2-4 week period you would want to change to another rep-range bracket. If you continue at the 6-8 rep range your progress will be basically insignificant. In another four weeks, change again. This will keep the neural drive high and your muscles constantly evolving!"

>> Phil Gephardt, MS, CSCS, is a Newport Beach-based (Calif.) trainer ( and exercise science professor.