Weight Training Programs: Rep Ranges & Goal Changes

When it comes to weight training, there are many programs to choose from.  So many, in fact, the task of picking the right one can feel a little overwhelming.

While a self-written exercise routine is okay, a professionally structured training program is often the best way to go.  Before even attempting to wade through the many program options, however, get to know the differences in training styles to aid in planning your goals.

Your Goal: Strength

Heavy weights, low reps, low volume

Rep range: 1-5
Working weight: 85-100% of 1RM
Lifts: Majority Compounds

Strength training is for those who obviously want to become stronger.  When you’re stronger, life is easier, seriously.  Hauling groceries in from the car?  No problem.  Moving furniture when the redecorating bug strikes?  Can do.  The ability to still pick up your kids past the age of 5?  Priceless.

Aside from making life a little easier, strength training has many health benefits, too.  It increases bone density, staving off osteoporosis, and slows the gradual loss of muscle that naturally occurs as we age.  Strength training can also help control blood sugar, improve sleep, and boosts the mood.

A certain amount of muscle-building occurs within a strength program, but at a slower rate than that of a hypertrophy-based program.

Your Goal: Build Muscle (Hypertrophy)

Moderate weights, moderate reps, higher volume

Rep range: 8-12
Working weight: 65-85% of 1RM
Lifts: Compounds + Accessories

Hypertrophy training is for those wanting to focus more on building muscle.  This style of training also lends itself to the health benefits mentioned above.  But hypertrophy training is more popular for its body-sculpting abilities.  Not only is lean muscle mass attractive, it also burns more calories than fat due to its higher metabolic activity.

With hypertrophy training, it is possible to become stronger while building muscle, but it will be at a slower pace than a strength-based program. 

Your Goal: Endurance

Low weights, high reps, high volume

Rep range: 15+
Working weight:<65%
Lifts: Most lifts

Endurance training is for those looking to go the distance.  With endurance lifting, the high reps and volume put your muscles to the test, eventually making it easier to endure many physical activities.  This translates well into functional strength.

On its own, endurance training won’t build brute strength, and will yield far less muscle mass than a hypertrophy-specific program.  But endurance training can enhance strength and hypertrophy training, enabling longevity in training time, and creating metabolic stress within the muscles, making them appear larger.

 Sample Workouts by Training Style:

Strength

Hypertrophy

Endurance

Squat

5 sets of 5 reps
(5 x 5)

3-4 sets of 12 reps
(3-4 x 12)

3-4 sets of 20 reps
(3-4 x 20)

Bench Press

5 x 5

3-4 x 12

3-4 x 20

Deadlift

1 x 5

2 x 8

Leg Extension

3 x 12

3 x 16

Dumbbell Flyes

3 x 12

3 x 16

Seated Cable Row

3 x 12

3 x 16

This is just a basic example of each workout, but this serves as a visual to help us better understand some of the key differences between the three training styles.

The first thing worth noting in the strength category is the focus on compound exercises (Squat, Bench, Deadlift) and the lack of accessory lifts (Leg Ext., DB Flyes, Cable row).  Many strength programs will focus only on the big compound movements listed above, as well as the Overhead Press, Bent Over Barbell Row, and Pull-Ups. Others will add 2-3 accessories to each workout, in addition to the compounds.

When adding accessories to a strength program, however, the rep ranges differ from those of the compound lifts.  Accessory exercises focus on more specific muscle groups.  Whereas the Squat works multiple muscles (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, etc.), the Leg Extension works the Quadriceps specifically.  Obviously, as the Squat has many more muscles involved in the movement, it is far easier to move a larger amount of weight, as compared to the Leg Extension.

Trying to lift near-maximal weight for something like the Leg Extension is also very taxing on the connective tissues of the knees, and could very well lead to injury.  It is for this reason heavy weights with low reps are not usually recommended.  When you come across a strength program that incorporates accessories, it’s not uncommon to find the accessories programmed according to hypertrophy rep ranges and weight percentages.

You will also notice the Deadlift is programmed for only 1 set of 5 reps.  This is very common due to the extremely taxing nature of the lift, as it requires many muscle groups to perform.

Sample Strength Workout + Accessories:

Squat
Bench Press
Deadlift
Leg Extension
Dumbbell Flyes
Seated Cable Row
5 x 5
5 x 5
1 x 5
2-3 x 8-12
2-3 x 8-12
2-3 x 8-12

Hypertrophy tends to stick to the same rep range throughout a training session, and most exercises can be done without worry of overexertion or injury.

Endurance training, because there is so much repetition involved, can become a culprit in overuse injuries, especially as we age.  Note in the Sample Workouts, there are no reps listed for the deadlift.  This is a specialized lift, with a lot of moving parts, and it is not recommended in the higher rep ranges.

#Goals

Where do you go from here?  Do you want to increase strength, muscle mass, or endurance?

If you’re new to lifting, or you’re an experienced lifter looking to obtain brute strength, then these programs might be for you:

Beginner

Starting Strength
StrongLifts 5×5

Intermediate

Bill Starr (Madcow)
Texas Method
Jim Wendler 5-3-1

But why choose just one style of training?  Unless you are a beginner, for whom a plain and simple strength program is highly recommended, you don’t have to.  If you’ve logged a bit of time under the bar, check out these programs that take the best qualities of each training style and put them together for maximum effect:

Strength + Hypertrophy

PHAT: Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training
PHUL Workout Program

These are just a few of the best programs out there.  Some even have books associated with them, making these programs easier to understand and implement.

While strength, hypertrophy, and endurance training are characteristically different, they are also not set in stone.  Tweaking the volume, for example, would change a workout in various ways.  And, as the programs above have shown, the three training styles may be intermingled to cover all your bases.

Though, keep in mind, it is very possible to gain muscle while exclusively strength training, especially for beginners, as they will grow and get stronger from just about anything they do.  And should you choose to focus solely on hypertrophy, don’t think it will be at the expense of strength gains.

Once you have a bit more experience–having run a beginner program, followed by an intermediate program–you can then take a program and make it yours, simply by changing the lifts and/or volume as you see fit.  Take these basics into account as you peruse the different programs available to you.  Read up on those many weight training programs, research them, and choose a goal.

5 thoughts on “Weight Training Programs: Rep Ranges & Goal Changes

  1. I personally prefer hypertrophy training! Squeezing the muscle and pushing those last few reps in and noticing the difference weeks/months later is what I love!

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