More Reps or More Weight For Muscle Growth?

More Reps or More Weight For Muscle Growth?

When it comes to resistance training, you can hear all sorts of different things. Some of the things you may hear can be good information, and some of it may be not so good.

Heck, I'd be lying if I told you I haven't been steered in the wrong direction. I remember when I was growing up I was told I had to work out my arms every day to get them bigger. Well, that is certainly not the case. On top of that, It could also hurt your results.

Now that I'm older and have years of studying, learning, and experience in health and fitness under my belt ... I've come to learn what the real facts are. With that information, I've also been able to help hundreds, if not thousands, of people earn better results.

You're probably here because you want to know what's better: more reps or more weight. Well, the simple answer is neither is better than the other. But, there really is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

The best answer for you is going to depend on your goals. That's the truth!

Whether you want to build muscle, increase strength, or lean out, it can look a little different. So, let's unpack this question in depth.

You'll leave here today knowing exactly what the right option will be for you!

What Are Your Goals?

Before you can know whether more reps or more weight is better, we need to look at your goals. What are they? Do you want to build muscle? Do you want to build strength? Do you want to burn fat? Do you want to do all 3 or a combination of a few?

There is no plan that will work for everybody. However, science can work for everybody. So, what does science say in the case of more reps or more weight?

Well, the answer can be either. That's why I said neither of them is better than the other. This all has to do with something called volume and progressive overload.

If you haven't heard either of these things, don't worry. That's what we’ll get into later. Because the truth is, both reps and weight play into these things.

When it comes to strength and muscle adaptations, there are recommended ranges for weight and reps though. Let’s talk about that next.

Match Your Resistance Training To Your Fitness Goals

We’re going to keep it super simple here…

If you want to get stronger, then lifting heavier weights is going to be the best strategy (1). 

This will be higher weights (85-100% of your 1 Rep Max or RM) for 1-5 reps.

If you want to increase the size of your muscle, then lifting more reps will be the best strategy (1). 

This will be more moderate weights (75-85% of your 1RM)  for 6-12 reps.

This is a very simple explanation, yes. However, it still isn't the whole story. Now, reps and weight work against each other in a sense. That's because the heavier the weight is, the less reps you can do. The more reps you do, the lighter the weight can be. See what I mean?

Let's take a look at both of these scenarios and compare the benefits of choosing one method over the other.

Low Reps With Heavier Weight

Lifting heavy weights is the key to getting strong! 

As I said before, strength adaptations are maximized between 85-100% of your 1RM on a given exercise. This, you'll generally want to do for 1-5 reps.

This is going to help you out most with firing up your type II muscle fibers (2). These are also known as you fast twitch muscle fibers and are responsible for strength, power, and explosiveness.

So, if building raw strength is your goal, this would be the best way to do it.

High Reps With Lighter Weight 

If you’re trying to get jacked and juicy, then higher reps will be the key for you! Just be careful, as you don't want the weight to be too light for muscle growth.

The ideal range is said to be 8-12 reps at 75-85% of your 1RM. This can help support muscle growth in the most effective way possible. This is known as hypertrophy training.

Training this way will activate both type I and type II muscle fibers (3). Type I muscle fibers are slow twitch muscle fibers, and are used for sustained energy and endurance.

If filling out your shirts and looking bigger is what you're after, this would be the ideal way to train.

Can I Do Both?

Now, here's the good news: you can train both ways. In fact, strength training and hypertrophy training can go hand in hand. Plus, training one way over the other doesn't limit you to improvements in either area alone.

What I mean is training for strength can also result in muscle growth. Training for muscle growth can also result in greater strength. However, for maximizing one or the other, yes, you'd want to focus more on one method.

For a lot of people, a mix of these methods can be most ideal. Plus, if you're looking to be stronger, you're almost certainly looking to get bigger too. The two goals generally go hand in hand.

So, yes, you can do both. What you focus on most will depend on your goals. But, this isn't everything you need to know. I would actually argue there's something even more important than choosing weight or reps.

I made a reference to this earlier, and it's called volume. Without it, you actually won't make progress regardless of weight or reps! Let me explain.

More Reps or More Weight? Either, But You Need More Volume!

You see, to build muscle or strength, your muscle tissue needs to overcome a stimulus it isn't used to. If you always use the same weight, do the same number of reps, do the same number of sets, or maintain the same intensity ... Your body has no real reason to adapt. That means, your body won't be put in a position to build new muscle or strength.

Let's be real, your body gets used to everything you do. You probably know exactly what I mean too. Over time, the things you used to think were a challenge no longer are for you. Why? Because your body adapted to it.

Volume is essentially a measure of how much work you're putting your muscles through. A very basic way you could calculate it is through this simple equation:

Volume = (Reps x Sets x Weight)

Generally, people prefer to measure volume over the course of a week's time. This is because a lot of weightlifters like doing the same muscle group multiple times a week. So, if you want to build muscle and strength, you have to increase volume over time.

Think of greater volume as a greater challenge for your muscles ... Because it literally is! This is what brings us back to the question: more reps or more weight? Well, both can increase the overall volume placed on a muscle group! So, both can be great for building muscle and strength.

It makes sense, right? Because by increasing either, you are increasing volume. Now, are there other factors that can create more volume other than reps, weight, and sets? Yes, which is why I briefly mentioned intensity. This could be things like less rest periods, time under tension, and more.

Unfortunately, there's not an easy way to calculate volume with all these different factors involved. For that reason, I like to keep it simple and leave it to the big three: sets, reps, and weight.

I'm sure you're now wondering, what is progressive overload? How does that have anything to do with volume, reps, weight, or sets?

Progressive Overload: Increasing Volume Over Time

In case you didn't already guess it, progressive overload is just increasing volume over time. Get it? You're progressively overloading your body and/or muscle tissue.

Most people follow a very consistent cycle with progressive overload. That cycle is 4 weeks long, and here's a rough idea as to how it works...

Week 1: Baseline
Week 2: Increase Volume From Week 1
Week 3: Increase Volume From Week 2
Week 4: Deload (Lower Volume Recovery Week)

Then the cycle restarts with increasing their volume from Week 3. As you can see, over time, they can continue to slowly creep up in volume, with the goal of getting bigger and stronger.

But, what role does the deload week play into this? Well, deloading is believed to be for the purpose of reducing physiological fatigue, promoting recovery, and sensitizing muscle tissue.

However, there isn't concrete evidence of this, and it could be more based in theory. In fact, one study showed that a deload week taken in the middle of a 9-week program actually led to lesser strength adaptations (4, 5).

On the other hand, there are also studies that show deloading can be beneficial.

The truth is, more research needs to be done. I personally believe deloading has been helpful for me. However, I will leave it up to you whether you choose to deload or not. At the end of the day, recovery will still play an important role. Whether that means a deload week or not is debatable.

Now, how you choose to practice progressive overload is ultimately up to you as well. As long as you are increasing volume over time, you can earn results. That can be true whether you decide to do more reps, more weight, more sets, or increase intensity.

Reaching Your Goals

You may prefer more reps, or you may prefer more weight. I will leave that decision to you! At the end of the day, volume is what will matter most.

Plus, it doesn't even truly stop there either. Yes, exercise is important for building muscle and strength. But so is nutrition and recovery. That's a whole separate topic that we could spend even more time going through.

Unfortunately, nutrition is the piece that most of us struggle with. I definitely struggled with it when I first started pursuing my fitness goals! Just know, that's another area we can help in.

Our mission at 1st Phorm is to help real people like you and me earn real and long-term results. There are no hacks, which means you have to do the work. But if you're willing to do the work, we'll always meet you halfway.

We even created the ultimate all-in-one tool for your fitness to help along your journey. That tool is the 1st Phorm App, and it's designed to simplify the process of earning results.

Inside the app, you'll get access to:

• 1-on-1 messaging and assistance from your own certified advisor

• A custom nutrition plan and an easy way to log your food to stay on track

• Custom workout programs geared toward your goals

• Educational live streams and step-by-step workout videos to help guide you

• Activity and step-counting software

• Progress tracking and body metrics to make sure you get the results you're after

To get started reaching your goals, just download the 1st Phorm App here, and I promise you won’t regret it. We’ll do whatever we can to help you get where you want to be!

If you have any questions or need help in the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches right here in St. Louis, Missouri. Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at any day from 6 AM to 10 PM Central.

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(1) Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 29,10 (2015): 2954-63. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958.

(2) Wilson, Jacob M et al. “The effects of endurance, strength, and power training on muscle fiber type shifting.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 26,6 (2012): 1724-9. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318234eb6f.

(3) Grgic, Jozo et al. “Inducing hypertrophic effects of type I skeletal muscle fibers: A hypothetical role of time under load in resistance training aimed at muscular hypertrophy.” Medical hypotheses vol. 112 (2018): 40-42. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2018.01.012.

(4) Bell L, Strafford BW, Coleman M, Androulakis Korakakis P, Nolan D. Integrating Deloading into Strength and Physique Sports Training Programmes: An International Delphi Consensus Approach. Sports Med Open. 2023 Sep 21;9(1):87. doi: 10.1186/s40798-023-00633-0. PMID: 37730925; PMCID: PMC10511399.

(5) Coleman M, Burke R, Augustin F, Piñero A, Maldonado J, Fisher JP, Israetel M, Androulakis Korakakis P, Swinton P, Oberlin D, Schoenfeld BJ. Gaining more from doing less? The effects of a one-week deload period during supervised resistance training on muscular adaptations. PeerJ. 2024 Jan 22;12:e16777. doi: 10.7717/peerj.16777. PMID: 38274324; PMCID: PMC10809978.


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