Rep Ranges for Strength, Hypertrophy, and Cutting

In this article we will discuss the key repetition ranges for gaining strength, muscle hypertrophy (general and for strength and power-based athletes), and for cutting phases (aesthetics and/or for sport competition). In the below sections we will outline repetition range guidelines, discuss why nutrition is key, and how coaches and athletes can implement these concepts into their training programs.

Repetition Guidelines for Building Strength

Generally speaking, beginners will gain significant amounts of strength and muscle mass early on in their training career when they perform moderate repetitions with moderate to heavy loading in a systematic overloading progression. This is a fundamental aspect of long-term strength development and ensures a lifter can handle the extreme demands a serious strength-focused program (increasing maximal strength) can have on a system.

That said, the below guidelines can generally be used for athletes who have spent time preparing for higher intensities and the demands of maximal strength-based programs. Note, that these guidelines can be modified based on the specific strength goals and sport needs of an athlete, and should be used as guidelines, rather than exact exercise prescriptions.

GoalSetsRepsIntensity (% RM)
Maximal Strength3-51-3<80%
Explosive Strength6-101-360-70%
Strength-Hypertrophy4-84-870-80%

 

Repetition Guidelines for Muscle Hypertrophy

In an earlier article we discussed the definition of hypertrophy and how coaches and athletes can manipulate variations like sets, reps, and intensity to better individualize muscle hypertrophy based on the specific sport-demands and needs of an athlete.

In the below chart the guidelines for both general hypertrophy and more strength and power specific hypertrophy are proved. You can refer to my earlier article to learn more about the benefits and different types of muscle hypertrophy.

GoalSetsRepsIntensity (% RM)
Myofibril Hypertrophy*4-64-675-90%
General Hypertrophy3-57-1065-75%
Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy*While research is still out on whether or not this is valid, it is thought that higher repetitions and volumes can create increase muscle volume (size).

 

[*Refer to this hypertrophy guide which goes in detail regarding the two main types of muscle hypertrophy.]

Repetition Guidelines for Cutting Weight

Below are two scenarios in which an athlete would want to cut/lose weight (either body mass or body fat), each detailing out the repetition guidelines that can be used.

Cutting Weight for Strength and Power Sports

When cutting weight for competition, nutrition and hydration cuts are paramount. The goal of training should be to maximize power/maximal strength during this time and allow for a proper peak/taper to occur (often when an athlete is slowly degrading themselves/under consuming calories to cut weight). The repetitions, sets, and intensity (training volumes) areas specific to the athleteโ€™s individual peaking and tapering plan, however most do follow the same general guidelines:

  • If a cutting phase is more long-term, an athlete should be able to maintain normal training volume during the peaking and tapering phase leading up to the meet.
  • If an athlete has issues recovering from the program (neural fatigue, excessive soreness, etc) that is not part of the normal taper process (as a tough peak + taper cycle will leave an athlete feeling beat), the coach may need to decrease the amount of sets and reps (decrease training volume) while still having increase intensities (% of RM).
  • If an athlete is cutting weight a few days prior to competition, this may not have a large impact on their training rep ranges, sets, and intensities as they are often already within the tapering part of the competition prep cycle, which has a systematic decrease in training volume (sets, reps, and intensities).

[For more information on cutting weight specific to strength athletes, take a glance at the Cutting Weight for Strength Athletes Guide by Christo Bland.]

Cutting Weight for Aesthetics Purposes

When cutting weight for aesthetic purposes, athletes and coaches must look at what they are willing to sacrifice during this stage of decreased caloric consumption. Generally speaking, rep ranges can remain relatively constant to what the athlete was doing before, as the key factor here is to place the athlete in a slight caloric deficit (from decreased food consumption and/or increase calories expenditures). If an athlete trains with heavier loads in lower volumes and cuts calories, he/she may still be able to maintain strength during the cutting process. If an athlete increase repetitions ranges and decrease calories a little less than the earlier example he/she may sacrifice some strength and power however drop weight/body fat similar to the above scenario. As you can see, there are multiple ways an athlete can do this, however he/she must weigh the options of dropping into a caloric deficit.

Final Notes

Depending on the physique and sport goals of the athlete, repetition ranges (and other variable) can be manipulated to bring about certain physiological changes within the body. Coaches and athletes should understand that the success of prescribing repetition ranges for maximal strength, hypertrophy, and cutting are highly dependent on nutrition and recovery factors.

Featured Image: @crossfit204 on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mikeโ€™s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.