How Many Reps To Build Muscle? Depends On The Type Of Muscle You Want To Build!

When it comes to building muscle mass there are quite a few different approaches and techniques out there. Quite a few of them work and quite a few don’t work. If you want to build muscle, you need to know how many reps it takes to build muscle and how to do those reps. You can luck out and build muscle without even knowing how you’re doing it, but it’s nice to know what works and what doesn’t so you can build muscle efficiently!

How Many Reps To Build Muscle

Basically, determining the amount of reps to do depends on the type of muscle that you hope to build.

For example, there are guys that have an amazing amount of muscle mass but they look really bad. A lot of the time they look soft and bloated. That’s not the type of muscle that you should be trying to build.

But what about the really skinny guys? Even though they could still benefit greatly from adding even some of that “soft” muscle the huge guys have, here are a few things to consider.

Knowing the type of muscle you need to build, whether it’s flat out size or if it’s harder, more angular muscles, determines how many reps you should do.

Here is a quick overview:

  • 1-3 reps – Pure strength & definition
  • 4-6 reps – Mostly strength & definition with little gains in size
  • 7-10 reps – Mostly size with little gains in strength & density
  • 11-15 reps – Pure size

Now let’s see why these rep ranges work the way they do. We’ll look at the two main types of muscle training — mass and density.

How Many Reps for Mass?

Building overall mass is probably the most traditional type of muscle building. When you are focusing on building muscle mass, that type of muscle growth is known as “Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy.” What this means is that your muscles will fill up with fluid.

To create the maximum amount of Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy,  you are going to need to focus on a high volume of reps. Stay in the higher rep and set ranges.

A Workout To Build Muscle Mass

A good muscle mass workout should target one muscle group per week so that you can really blast that muscle and still allow sufficient time for it to repair and grow. A common and effective approach to doing this is the 3 day split.

  1. Chest, Shoulders & Triceps – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  2. Back and Biceps – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  3. Legs and Abs – 4 sets of 12-15 reps

Pick 2 or 3 exercises for each muscle group — two if you’re starting out, three if you’ve been lifting a while. So your total number of sets would be anywhere from 8-12.

What I like to do is to focus on two main exercises like incline dumbbell press and flat dumbbell press (for chest) and do 4 sets of 12-15 reps for both exercises. After that, I might head over to the cables and do 2 sets of low cable chest flys.

During this phase you should limit cardio. No more than two separate cardio routines of no more than 30 minutes done on non-workout days.

Pros: The upside to this type of workout routine is that you can really pack on some decent size.

Cons: The downside to this routine is that the type of muscle you are building isn’t good for a whole lot except for size.

How Many Reps for Density?

Muscle density and muscle mass are two completely different things. When you see guys pounding out 10-15 reps per set you know that they are not building dense muscles.

In fact, you can usually tell the rep range someone prefers just by how their muscle looks. For a dense muscle, you need to focus on building the actual muscle fibers and not so much the fluid in side of the muscle.

To build hard and dense muscles, focus on a low volume of reps. In order for your muscle fibers to grow, your workouts are not going to be damaging the muscle as you would when shooting for Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy.

A Workout To Build Muscle Density

Here’s the rep range for a good muscle density workout. Not only are the amount of reps to build muscle different, but the amount of time you work each muscle each week is different.

Since you are not going to be damaging the muscle you can workout each muscle group twice per week. I go into greater detail in another article about doing workouts for definition but here is an overview.

  1. Chest & Back – 3 sets of 5 reps
  2. Shoulders & Arms- 3 sets of 5 reps
  3. Abs
  4. Chest & Back – 3 sets of 5 reps
  5. Shoulders & Arms-  3 sets of 5 reps
  6. Abs
  7. Rest / light-medium cardio

For these workouts, I like to do 3 different exercises per muscle group. So I do 3 sets of 5 reps for 3 different exercises per muscle group.

Pros: By staying in this rep range you can build functional and dense muscles which still have decent size. Also, you will get stronger by doing these types of workouts versus the muscle mass workouts which focus more on size and less on strength.

Cons: Since density and mass are completely different, muscle density workouts will not give you much in the way of size.

What Type Of Muscle Do You Want To Build?

Really I am just scratching the surface here. What I hope though, is that this quick overview will show you that there are two main types of muscle and that the amount of reps you do determines the type that you’ll build.

There is a lot that determines how effective your workouts are. The best info I’ve found was from Rusty Moore’s Visual Impact Muscle Building. He goes into detail on not just how many reps to build muscle, but also rep tempo, type of rep, rest periods. Each phase you will focus on a different set and rep scheme to maximize the effectiveness of the routine.

What is cool is that by mixing up how many reps you do, you can not only train for pure muscle mass or pure muscle density, you can also train for mostly mass, mostly density and everywhere in between.