Should you be doing 8-12 reps to grow?
So you just received your new training program - you’re pumped, you’re so excited.
You open your spreadsheet, email, or text message (whatever it is that your coach sent you).
You open it up and you start noticing that there’s kinda a pattern in the prescription of your accessory exercises. There’s a bunch of 3x10, 3x10, 3x10, 3x10. And you start wondering, does this guy really know what he’s talking about?
Some people may think that it’s too much, some people might think like it’s too little, and they might think that you need to be constantly changing and confusing your muscles in order to make it grow continuously. Maybe you think that you need to add four sets or keep changing the rep range.
So let’s talk about The Myth of the 3x10. Is it effective or is there a better way?
Let’s talk about that, tune in!
What would be the life of someone who loves 3x10s?
Many people reference whats known as the “hypertrophy rep range”. This is usually a moderate rep range with moderate weights somewhere between a strength rep range and an endurance rep range.
If you’re as skeptical as me, this seems a little bit too simple. There are counter examples across all sports: strength athletes that get big by doing very few reps and track athletes that hypertrophied by doing very little strength training.
The most recent literature has investigated optimal loading strategies for hypertrophy; finding that about a huge range of loads can create about the same hypertrophy as long as the volume is equated as the intensity is high.
This makes sense since hypertrophy is driven primarily by the tension sent by slow, high force, fatiguing contractions. If the volume of these hypertrophy inducing contractions is similar, then the hypertrophy response will be similar regardless of the load that was used.
Any contraction with a heavy weight imparts enough force to stimulate hypertrophy, but if you can only do a few reps, then you don’t get as many chances to stimulate hypertrophy. Heavy weights are also tough to handle and require a lot of time to recover, usually. On the other hand, light weights will eventually require the same high levels of force as fatigue accumulates.
That’s why we need to do many more reps and only the last few create hypertrophy.
Very high volumes of light weights are also really hard to recover from, but at lighter enough weights, we might fail to fatigue those big, hypertrophy sensing fibers before we have to stop for other reasons.
A minimum effective weight exists and it’s slightly around 30% of a 1RM.
It turns out that 8-12 reps is actually good advice.
It sits in the Goldilocks Zone of reps and loading, it’s time efficient in that it can maximize the number of tough reps per set, it’s energy efficient in that it doesn’t require too many reps to stimulate hypertrophy, or involve loads that are unnecessarily heavy.
There is nothing magic, though, about sets of 10. It’s not dogma.
Like any other good, general guideline it’s easy to follow and hard to mess up.
In a balanced strength training program, you must use a variety of loads and rep ranges.
Any of these (high load + low reps vs. low load + high rep) will create some hypertrophy- especially if you’re coming close to failure, but there is something about these classic hypertrophy ranges just maybe not in the way that people used to understand them.
Hope that makes sense!