Repetitions for building muscle
Fitness training, muscle building and maximum strength are different and complex topics. In order for the muscle building training to bring maximum profit, not only training plan and nutrition plan have to be optimally coordinated. Rather, it requires the development of a perfect workout in which every exercise is tailored to personal goals. A decisive factor in success-oriented fitness training is the number of repetitions within a set , which fundamentally influence muscle fiber growth and thus muscle building.
What is a repetition?
A repetition is the unit that makes up an exercise set. The repetition means the targeted contraction and relaxation of a muscle in an uninterrupted time interval. An example for a repetition: When doing the bench press, the barbell is taken out of the holder and slowly lowered to the chest (eccentric movement) and after reaching the end position (when the elbow joint and shoulder joint are approximately at the same level) it is pushed back into the starting position (positive Repetition or concentric muscle work).
If this process is carried out one or more times and the barbell is then put back into the holder, an exercise set has been mastered. from several sets of a certain number of repetitions. The repetitions can vary greatly depending on the number of sets, the intensity and the training goal (a lot of muscle mass, more muscle endurance or more muscle strength).
How many repetitions do you need to build muscle?
First and foremost, we have to differentiate between building muscle in conventional fitness training and building muscle in weight training or bodybuilding. Conventional fitness training aims to achieve overall physical fitness. Fitness training is based on a very high proportion of cardio training and full body training (e.g. jogging, swimming, cycling, etc.). Too much endurance training can be detrimental to rapid muscle building. For this reason, too much cardio is avoided in bodybuilding.
If the focus is on building muscle mass quickly, which is probably the goal of over 60-70 percent of gym visitors, a few rules should be observed. An adequate diet and a professional training system for building muscle are of course just as important as the number of repetitions for building more muscle mass and maximum strength . There is no precise guideline for how many reps are really needed to build muscle. Every body reacts differently to muscle building training and may require an individual training plan with a training intensity that is precisely tailored to one’s own training condition. For rapid muscle building, however, the repetitions should be within a certain range that does not leave the rep range of 6-12 repetitions.
One or more warm-up sets before an intensive muscle load with high weights improves the blood circulation and nutrient supply of the muscles, brings about a temperature increase and thus prevents muscle injuries from lifting weights. Experience has shown that 10-15 repetitions with approx. 40-50% of the maximum training weight (1RM, here is our maximum strength calculator) have proven to be a gentle warm-up set.
Our little graphic shows you the relationship between the training method (which is a measure of the training intensity) and the type of energy supply, which we cover in detail in our Hypertrophy Guide.
An effective muscle building training can be divided into four intensity levels.
1. Training below the repetition maximum
The training set will be ended before the repetition maximum is reached. An example: When bench pressing with 50kg, you put the barbell back into the holder after 5 repetitions, although far more repetitions would be possible on your own. With this variant you can achieve a lot, but certainly not massive muscle building. At least if the 50kg is well below 50% of your 1RM.
2. Training up to the maximum number of repetitions (“hypertrophy training”)
Here you train with so much weight that you can do a maximum of 6-8 repetitions on your own and the muscles are completely exhausted afterwards. If you can do more than 8-10 repetitions per set, you can increase the weight even more. This number of repetitions is a representative reference value if the exercise involves several muscle groups (e.g. bench press or deadlift). 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions are completely sufficient for intensive muscle stimulation. A higher number of repetitions is not necessary for targeted muscle hypertrophy.
If a muscle is stimulated largely in isolation (e.g. with biceps concentration curls), around 8-12 repetitions are also to be regarded as a reference value. As a rule of thumb: With 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions each, the training weight can be reduced by approx. 10-15% after each set to adapt the load to the muscle exhaustion and so that the maximum repetition is reached in each set.
An estimated 80-90% of strength athletes build their muscle mass through training to the maximum number of repetitions.
Particularly small and sensitive muscle groups (e.g. musculus deltoideus pars clavicularis, the front shoulder muscles) should never be trained with excessive weights. These small muscle groups are not suitable for maximum strength training due to their high susceptibility to injury and low muscle mass.
3. Training to failure
There is a big difference between muscle failure and maximum repetitions ; if you train to failure, you lose control of your weight and are not more able to move or lift it back on its own. For this reason, training until muscle failure should only take place with a training partner .
An example: You lift 100kg on the bench press. After 8-10 repetitions, which cause completely sufficient stimulation of the muscle nerves for muscle building, you will reach your maximum repetition and would normally push the dumbbell backwards. Your goal is to do 5 more reps without interrupting the set. From the 10th repetition, your training partner intervenes slightly and supports you in lifting the dumbbell.
After about 3-4 more repetitions you will no longer be able to lift the weight on your own and you will lose control of the dumbbell. Your muscle failure has been reached and you can only push the barbell back to the starting position with the help of your training partner. If you train to muscle failure without a training partner, you will probably soon be able to analyze your bench press on YouTube as soon as someone has uploaded your fitness fail.
4. Training beyond failure
With so-called “post-fatigue sets” you can train beyond muscle failure. This variant represents the highest intensity level of muscle building training and should only be carried out with sufficient experience in fitness training and a training partner. The effect and goal of this intensity technique is the complete exhaustion of your muscles.
If used correctly, you will no longer be able to lift even small weights on your own at the end of the exercise. You don’t think so? Drop sets / reduction sets or the classic pyramid training will push you to your physical limits! But be careful: The danger of overtraining exists especially for beginners!
-Pyramid training / pyramid sets
The classic pyramid training is particularly well established in muscle building training. In this training variant, the training weight is increased or decreased from set to set (reverse pyramid training). The number of repetitions can increase or decrease from set to set. Depending on how the pyramid training is structured, the load intensity is either increased or decreased.
Example for classic pyramid training:
1. Set: 50 kg, 12 reps
2. Set: 70 kg, 10 reps
3. Set: 90 kg, 8 reps
Example of reverse pyramid training:
1. Set: 100 kg, 8 reps
2. Set: 90 kg, 10 reps
3. Set: 80 kg, 12 repetitions
-Drop sets / reduction sets
Drop sets are the culmination of intensity techniques in maximum strength training. In reduction sets, many repetitions with constantly decreasing weights are performed one after the other without giving your muscles time to regenerate.
The load adjustment fully exhausts the power reserves of your muscles and achieves maximum muscle stimulation.
During muscle building training with drop sets, your training partner constantly reduces the load by removing the dumbbell weights. If possible, you start with the maximum weight that you can still lift on your own. The number of repetitions up to the point of weight reduction, the time at which the weight is reduced and the total number of repetitions can be selected variably. Of course you have no break between two sentences. Your training partner only has one opportunity to drop the weight so that the reps are still done properly and the drag remains effective.
Example: The drop set classic
1. Set: 80 kg, up to the repetition maximum
2. Set: 70 kg, up to the repetition maximum
3. Set: 60 kg, up to the repetition maximum
It is difficult to induce complete muscle failure this way if the exercise is stopped after the 3rd set. So that all power reserves are used up and the highest possible training intensity is achieved, I recommend another variant of the drop sets or reduction sets:
Drop sets with “additive repetitions” – example bench press
Here you start with the maximum training weight, which you can lift approx. 3 times with a mass-strength set (e.g. 100 kg). The 100 kg should ideally be reduced by your training partner in 10 kg steps each time you wean the barbell (i.e. 5 kg per side). You pick up the dumbbell again and now do 3 repetitions +1 (additive repetition) with the remaining 90 kg and put down again. The remaining 80 kg are now lifted 5 (4 + 1) times etc. When all weights have been removed and pile up on the floor (don’t forget to clean up !!!), you are probably torturing the last 10-15 reps with the bare barbell you out. Maybe this is your first time your training partner has to save you from the overwhelming weight of an empty barbell.
How many repetitions increase the maximum strength of the muscle?
The aim of maximum strength training is the optimal increase in strength and rapid muscle building through hypertrophy (cell enlargement due to stress). In maximum strength training (“MK training”), the muscular performance potential is fully exploited by the training intensity being in the range of 100% of the maximum available performance.
A training plan for maximum strength training is fundamentally different from a conventional fitness training plan.
A lot of weight, few repetitions, long recovery times between sets and a high health risk mean that maximum strength training is not suitable for amateurs. With professional support you can of course also do powerlifting.
In our article about – Maximum strength training – How do I get more strength? – we show you what a training plan for more muscle strength has to look like and what you have to pay attention to with drop sets, MK sets and strength training .
How many reps for muscle definition?
You don’t achieve muscle definition in the gym, but in your kitchen! The number of repetitions has little to no effect on muscle definition in muscle building training. In your workout you work for more muscle strength, mass gain and muscle endurance. Your diet guides you in how you can achieve good muscle definition.
In our nutrition area you will not only find useful nutrition plans and tips for muscle definition and muscle building, but also various diets for weight loss and fat loss such as the low carb diet, the low fat diet, the glyx diet and many more!
Maximum strength – our conclusion
The majority of fitness enthusiasts and strength athletes build their muscle mass through training up to the repetition maximum . The weight should be chosen so that 8-10 repetitions are possible before the repetition maximum is reached. In this area you move around 70-80% of your 1RM (repetition maximum). By the way, we have summarized all essential training basics in our detailed muscle building guide .
With increasing training intensity, the physical strain also increases. Make sure that you train your body – and not destroy it. If you integrate intensity techniques such as drop sets or pyramid sets into your training plan for muscle building, a reliable training partner is beneficial.
By the way: With our free training newsletter you can now learn incredibly useful training tips and intensity techniques that will bring you a big step forward in muscle building training!