Even if you are not a bodybuilder, one of the most common strength training workout goals is building muscle, which is referred to as hypertrophy training.
But, when it comes to hypertrophy training workouts, most people ask: “How many reps should I do to build muscle, or what is the best hypertrophy sets and reps range?”
In this hypertrophy rep range workout guide, we will discuss how many reps and sets are recommended if your goal is to build muscle along with tips for how to structure hypertrophy workouts to maximize muscle growth.
We will look at:
- What Is Hypertrophy Training?
- How Do I Build Muscle?
- What Is The Hypertrophy Rep Range To Build Muscle?
- How Do You Build Muscle Lifting Weights?
Let’s jump in!
What Is Hypertrophy Training?
Before we take a deep dive into the optimal hypertrophy reps and sets recommendations, let’s start with the basics: what is hypertrophy training?
Hypertrophy refers to muscle growth, or increasing the size of the muscle fibers.
Hypertrophy workouts aim to stimulate muscle growth to enlarge the size of the muscles, so you can consider the goal of hypertrophy the same as the goal of building muscle.
When differentiating strength vs. hypertrophy training, the primary difference is that hypertrophy workouts are targeted at increasing the size of muscles whereas strength training workouts strive to increase the amount of force that your muscles can generate, or the amount of weight you can lift.
Essentially, hypertrophy training aims to increase the size of the muscles, so it’s focused more on muscle quantity and appearance, while strength training strives to increase the functional capacity of the muscles, so it’s focused more on the quality and performance of the muscles.
How Do I Build Muscle?
The process of building muscle involves two steps: in order for muscles to get bigger, they need a stimulus (step one) and resources to grow (step two).In the first step, the muscle fibers have to be broken down because this triggers the reparative process that ultimately builds muscle mass in step two.
Hypertrophy training—heavy resistance training workouts—with the optimal number of reps to build muscle, the optimal number of sets to build muscle, and the optimal weights to build muscle—is the stimulus that causes the breakdown.
Essentially, if you exceed the capacity of the muscles (progressive overload) with the best hypertrophy volume and exercise, there is some amount of microscopic damage to the muscle fibers.
Although purposeful, using the best hypertrophy volume overworks the muscle fibers, causing some loss of integrity to the proteins, filaments, and other components in the muscle fiber.
This damage stimulates the reparative process of myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS), often simply referred to as muscle protein synthesis.
Then, step two of the muscle-building process takes place.
New proteins are manufactured are inserted along areas of damage and microtears on the existing muscle fibers, reinforcing the weakened spots.
This will occur as long as you are following a nutritious diet and have ample protein and calories in your post-workout meal and diet overall.
Therefore, hypertrophy training builds muscle mass and increases muscle size by thickening the existing muscle fibers, to reinforce and strengthen them.
What Is The Hypertrophy Rep Range To Build Muscle?
The ideal hypertrophy sets and reps recommendations are intended to maximize the stimulus that triggers muscle protein synthesis for muscle growth without exceeding the microscopic damage level such that you’ve overtrained and injured your muscles.
Keep in mind that there are several training variables in a strength training workout that contribute to the workload of your muscles.
The number of reps and sets to build muscle, the weight or load that you use for each exercise, and the number of exercises that you do in the workout all contribute to the training volume and workload in a given strength training workout.
The dynamic interplay between these various weightlifting volume factors will determine the effectiveness of your muscle gains.
Note that building muscle with weightlifting isn’t necessarily correlated with increasing strength because even though research shows that high-volume resistance training may be best for increasing muscle mass, the gains in muscle may not necessarily be accompanied by increases in strength.
How Do You Build Muscle Lifting Weights?
“High volume” involves doing enough reps and sets, and lifting enough weight. Before we look at the optimal hypertrophy reps and sets, let’s quickly review what reps vs sets in exercise.
The term reps is short for repetitions. A rep refers to one complete movement of an exercise.
For example, one rep of a squat begins with standing upright, then bending your hips and knees and sitting your hips back to squat down, then returning back up to the starting position.
A set in exercise refers to a series of reps (repetitions) of a given exercise that are performed together as a unit back to back without rest in between.
A set of squats, therefore, would be 8-15 reps done one after the next without resting.
So, let’s answer your question, how many reps should I do to build muscle?
When your main strength training goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth), the number of reps and sets you should do to build muscle is actually higher than the number of reps and sets recommended for strength gains, but the loads or weights are slightly less.
Although different fitness organizations provide slightly different hypertrophy rep ranges or hypertrophy reps and sets guidelines, according to the American Council on Exercise, the optimal number of reps for hypertrophy (hypertrophy) is 6-12 reps per exercise.
More globally, the ideal hypertrophy rep range is typically 8 to 12 reps per set of an exercise and 3 to 4 sets of the exercise.
In terms of the number of sets to build muscle, most fitness experts recommend doing 3-6 sets, depending on the number of reps you are doing, the load you are using, the exercise you are doing, your fitness level, and the number of exercises you are doing in the workout.
Note that the number of sets of an exercise for hypertrophy is almost always suggested to be 3 (usually 3 sets for beginners, intermediate lifters, and even most advanced weightlifters), but some competitive bodybuilders may do up to four sets of an exercise in a hypertrophy workout.
Again, this hypertrophy reps and sets volume is necessary to trigger the process of muscle protein synthesis, in which your muscle fibers are first broken down and then repaired and rebuilt such that the damaged fibers become thicker and stronger, which leads to larger muscles, or an increase in muscle mass.
The optimal hypertrophy load or weight used to build muscle is suggested to be 67-85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM).
Your 1RM refers to the maximum load you can possibly lift with proper form for one complete rep of an exercise.
Another way to look at the optimal hypertrophy reps and sets range is to use the strength continuum, which also gives guidance as to how much weight to lift based on the number of reps you do.
The strength continuum refers to a framework by which the appropriate load to lift can be determined based on the number of reps that you are performing.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the following table shows the percentage of your 1RM you should use for the given number of reps of an exercise:
|Maximum Number of Reps||Percent of 1RM Load|
This strength continuum correlates quite well with the recommendations for the amount of weight you should lift to build muscle according to ACE Fitness (67-85% of your 1RM).
If we look at 12 reps, the recommended load is 70% of your 1RM while if you are only doing six reps, you should use 85% of your 1RM.
Ultimately, you can vary your hypertrophy workouts within the hypertrophy reps and hypertrophy weights recommendations.
For example, in some workouts, use heavier weights (closer to 85% of your 1RM) for fewer reps (6-8 reps), and lift lighter weights (closer to 70% of your 1RM) for more reps (10-12 reps).
Lastly, in terms of the best exercises to build muscle, research suggests that the bulk of your hypertrophy training should involve performing compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, bench presses, rows, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, etc.
However, studies suggest that isolation exercises like biceps curls can also help build muscle mass.
For more tips on how to build muscle, check out our guide on how to optimize muscle growth here.