How Many Reps?

Ronnie Coleman on the ideal number of repetitions for maximum muscle growth.
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QUESTION

Is 10 the ideal number of repetitions per set for maximum muscle growth?

ANSWER

Count all you want, but don’t count on counting for maximum muscle growth. I’ll say it again, for the umpteenth time: Bodybuilding is about quality, not quantity. People will produce data proving one rep range, or number of sets, or training cycle, etc., is the answer, but it all comes down to the pump you’re able to build in the muscle. That’s the ultimate gauge of whether everything you’re doing in your training is worthwhile. People are constantly commenting on the amount of weight I use, my high reps and my basic exercises, but those are dictated by my sole quest of developing a specific sensation in the muscle. I don’t tackle a workout obsessed with being able to lift a specific number of pounds for a specific number of repetitions. My goal is to lift whatever weight it takes, for however many reps and sets it takes, to feel a good full pump in the muscle being worked.

Finding that ideal compromise of weight and repetitions for the optimum pump is a task that cannot be taken casually. It demands extensive experimentation. The 10-rep rule of thumb is only a starting point — it might be far from ideal for your body. Maybe the ideal is six, three or 15, but if you don’t have a good pump after 15 reps, the weight is too light or you’re cheating too much. If you reach failure at three or six reps without building a pump, the weight is too heavy or you’re not focusing on the muscle.

The 10-rep rule of thumb is only a starting point — it might be far from ideal for your body.

You will probably find that the number of reps for building an ideal pump varies with each muscle group, according to the adjustments your body needs to make for balance and strength. Power-plane movements, such as squats, military presses, deadlifts and bench presses, have a higher weight-per-rep ratio, so they usually require fewer reps to build a full pump. Exercises such as barbell curls, deltoid raises, dumbbell curls and cable work have a lower weight-per-rep ratio, so they usually require higher reps to build a full pump. Even at that, other factors, such as your proportions, torso mass and relative length and strength of your arms and legs, can affect the number of reps you’ll need.

Start with a weight that builds a good pump in 12 reps, then concentrate harder to see if you can get an even better pump in 15 reps at the same weight. Progressively increase the weight in an attempt to build the same or better pump with fewer reps. If you begin to lose the pump, you’ve gone too far; stay at your bestpump combination until your strength signals that you’re ready to increase the weight.

Warning: Never be content with merely copying the rep ranges of top pros. Each Mr. Olympia has found his individual ideal, from Sergio Oliva’s 20-25 sets of six to eight reps per bodypart, to my 12-16 sets of 10-12 reps. Ignore these numbers. Instead, think only of building a pump with smooth firm reps and perfect control. That’s the only way to achieve maximum muscle growth. - FLEX

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