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How to Choose your Rep Ranges for Building Strength or Muscle Mass

The first thing any athlete needs to establish is what their ultimate fitness goals are.  Goals are the starting point on your path to success.  Without them you will never be able to cultivate the proper mindset necessary to reaching your personal goals.  

If one of your fitness goals is increasing your strength or your muscle mass, this article will provide you with a general overview of what rep ranges, volume and weights you will need to include in your training program.  

(Example: Size and Muscle Mass Workout Rep Ranges) 


If your goal is getting stronger, then your reps ranges should be lower in overall volume. Pushing every set to or near failure doing sets of 15-20 reps will surely be a recipe for disaster if strength is the overall goal.  For example, if you were trying to work up to a 315 lb deadlift, you would want to warm up with some lighter weights (185lbs-225lbs-295lbs would be a good starting point) to warm up generally you would keep your sets to 5 or fewer reps to reserve your strength for your heavier sets. Eventually you would load your target weight (in our example for the deadlift of 315 lbs) for five sets of 5 clean reps. If you hit all 5 reps, you should aim to bump up your target weight the next time you perform this exercise. 

(Example: Strength and Performace Rep Ranges) 

Following your main lift, you would then move into accessory work (isolation work) that logically follows based on the muscles worked during the main lift (ask me or Brett for help with this if you are unsure). In this case, hamstring, glute, abdominal, or back work logical follows, as the deadlift works all of these muscle groups.

If your goal is to build muscle mass, the rep ranges increase to the 8-12 range on your heavier exercises and can go as high as 15 reps. Sometimes “back-off” sets are employed on the last set or two of a heavy movement to pump maximum blood into the muscle, as this is an important component of building mass (termed the pump). However, this rep range is more commonly used toward the end of a mass-building workout for the same reason just stated. 

Also of significance is that muscle-building workouts are based on a much higher volume than strength-building workouts. For example, if I were going to work my chest, I would likely do 5 exercises for a minimum of 3 sets or a maximum of 5-6 sets per exercise. In contrast, strength-building workouts are more productive when executed with lower volume. This will vary per individual, but in general, a strength-building workout should last no longer than 45-60 minutes. However, a mass-building workout should last anywhere from 60-90 minutes depending on the size of the body part you are training (legs and back being your longest workouts).

Lastly, if your focus is building muscle mass, it’s important to divide your workouts into a “split” that focuses on 1-2 body parts per workout. The objective is to hit each muscle group once a week (abs and calves are the exception) so that your body is able to recover from the muscle breakdown that occurs during these higher volume workouts. Anything beyond that is detrimental to your recovery, and in turn, your gains in muscle mass. The same is applicable to strength-building workouts despite the lower volume. This is true because lifting maximum loads is taxing to the central nervous system (CNS), which also requires rest days for optimal recovery and strength improvement. Whether you are shooting for strength or size, 1-2 rest days per week is necessary depending on the individual. 

So here is your 3 step plan: 

  1. Decide what your goal is.  Size and muscle building or strength and performance? 
  2. Get a baseline for your strength by getting a 1 or 2 rep max with good form on all of your lifts 
  3. Now decide if you should be working with weights at 80-90% of your max for lower reps to reach your strength and performance goals or weights at 50-70% for higher reps to reach your size and muscle building goals.  

That’s all for now until next week. If you have questions, fire away on Facebook or in the gym and we’ll make sure to bring you up to speed. 

Candy Grape Out 

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