Are High Reps Or Heavy Weights Best For Building Muscle?

In the world of bodybuilding, you can find two kinds of people: those who prefer lighter weights with a higher rep count and vice versa.

Now, if you’re just starting out, you may be wondering how these practices differ when building muscle mass. Well, each methodology comes with its own merits, and both are aimed at a specific kind of muscle mass increase.

As a beginner, you should set a specific goal for yourself when looking to build muscle. Do you wish for an athletic physique or one resembling an Ancient Greek hero? These are the questions you may want to find an answer to very early on. This will determine the reps and weights of your exercise routine, as per your gym instructor’s directions.

Let’s examine each methodology in detail and find out the definitive answer.

How Reps And Weight Affect Your Muscle Build

There’s a direct correlation between the number of reps you must perform and the weight you should be lifting. Known as ‘The Strength Continuum’, reps and weight classes are separated into different exercises based on a spectrum. This spectrum has strength on one end and speed on the other.

Understanding the Strength Continuum can go a long way in maximizing the kind of gains you want from your exercise routine. Your body type and how it reacts to certain exercises will also determine how you’ll be performing them, paving the way to success.

Here’s a brief overview of the relation between lift repetitions and weight sets.

1. High Reps With Lower Weights

Performing higher reps with lower weights builds muscle endurance. This is perfect for you if you’re looking to be the speedy athletic type. It follows the same principle as running a marathon: the longer you workout, the higher your calorie-burn rate will be. 

And so, you’ll be eliminating fat from your body over time while building up a tolerance to the exercise. The aim with lower weights typically isn’t a musclebound body, but to achieve a toned look.

So, how much is ‘lower weight’, exactly? It amounts to about 50% of your one-rep peak. Your muscles won’t tire easily with lower rep counts and if your body isn’t being challenged by the exercise, then it won’t see much growth.

On the Strength Continuum, high reps and low weights land on the speed end of the spectrum. You can mix in a few strength-based exercises as well, for building your muscle in a more optimal manner. Consult your gym instructors for more information on these exercises and how to perform them for the best gains.

2. Low Reps With Heavy Weights

The favored method of bodybuilders and powerlifters, this exercise typically only involves 1-5 reps with weights that can be up to 75% of your one-rep max. Naturally, as the weights increase, your body will not be able to keep the repetitions up for a long time. The resulting exhaustion will stop your reps in their tracks completely, requiring you to rest before continuing.

Heavier weights are ideal for building pure strength. You’ll find massive gains even with the low rep count, and coupled with dietary restrictions, you can maximize your musculature with sufficient tenacity.

The caveat associated with this practice is that age and physical issues may limit your access to heavy weight training severely. Your muscle recovery will face a decline and so will your muscle gain.

Naturally, low reps and heavy weights land on the strength side of the Continuum. Deadlifts, back squats, bench presses will all help you build that pure strength. Ask your instructor for the weight and rep sets that would suit your body the best.

Rep-Range And Ideal Weight Sets

Gym enthusiasts would tell you that rep range will determine if you’ll build strength, endurance or pure muscle. While it isn’t as simple as that, there is an element of truth to it.

Simply lifting heavier weights without modifying your rep count is a surefire way to failure. Remember that training your body to the point of collapse is not a healthy way to go about muscle building.

Muscle builds during exercise when your muscles face metabolic damage. This forces your body to repair them and form a stronger layer of muscle tissue. Meaning, your body has to be challenged for the metabolic damage to occur and the repair process to give you the results you need.

Performing higher repetitions is perfectly fine, as long as you’re adjusting the weight that goes with it. This rep-range can be whatever you want, as long as you’re lifting the adequate weight. The converse is also true, albeit to a much lesser degree: you can deadlift hundreds of pounds, but you’ll be limited to a couple of reps.

Tips To Maximize Muscle Growth

There is a lot that goes into muscle growth beyond an exercising routine. Keeping a few things in mind, you can optimize your workout routines to maximize the gains you achieve.

1. Beyond Rep Count And Weight Sets

As you continue to workout over a period of months or years, your body will grow accustomed to the routine. The weight sets won’t cut it anymore and you won’t have to exert any effort to finish your exercises. That is a point every bodybuilder dreads, as it’s a point of reduced progress for them.

Your body needs to be against the ropes when exercising continuously. To maintain the challenge of workouts, you can opt to switch up your routines every once in a while. It doesn’t always have to be increased weights or rep counts. 

You could try a different rhythm, or perhaps increase the intensity of your reps. Even something as minor and simple as a different exercising order can make all the difference for your workout sessions. As you progressively push your body, you’ll see very minor dips in the rate of muscle mass increase.

Challenge inspires a positive change in your body, and you must capitalize on it every chance you get.

2. Changing It Up

Your body will respond to a shift in your workout programs. If you’ve spent some time working out already, you’ll remember how quickly a positive change was noticed in your physique during the early days. The idea behind changing up routines is to push the point of diminishing returns as far back as you can.

If you’re performing low rep exercises, try increasing your reps while decreasing the weights every once in a while. It ensures that your muscles see gains at least semi-routinely. You can do the opposite, if your regular routine involves high rep, low weight exercises.

Train your body with different exercises to see a greater rate of muscle mass increase and meet your goals in a timely manner. But, through it all, remember to set realistic goals and be diligent with your exercises.

Persistence is key in achieving the physique you desire.

3. Rest Well

The heavier the weights, the more time you’ll need to recover after finishing a set. It’s always a good idea to rest between sets, so as to not damage your muscles excessively. The ideal resting time between sets depends on the weights, which can be up to several minutes.

Your body needs rest well after a workout session as well, as excessive training also diminishes the ability to recover from the exercises. Some believe that working out every day to the point of exhaustion is the key to better growth for your muscles. But doing so will reduce your gains significantly, so get enough sleep every day and give your body the chance to recover properly.

4. Protein Is Your Best Friend

By consuming a protein-carbohydrate shake, you’ll be increasing your body’s ability to process protein, resulting in improved post-workout gains. This works with the increase in blood flow that comes with exercising, enabling a greater breakdown of amino acids in your muscles.

Mix in a scoop of whey protein powder in your shake and down it about an hour before your workout. Since liquids digest faster, protein shakes are preferred over solid meals.

5. Post Workout Meals

Downing carbs after a workout will aid the muscle rebuilding process in your body during resting periods. You can opt for healthy, carb-rich foods that will help in increasing the insulin production of your body, so as to slow down amino-acid breakdown.

Some of the best sources for carbs are:

  • Bananas
  • Legumes
  • Oats
  • Brown Rice
  • Whole-grain pasta

6. Hydrate Well

You will lose fluids in your body while working out in the form of sweat. Remember to drink water once every 15 minutes to replenish the lost fluids. The reasoning behind this is that remaining thirsty is a detriment to your performance and will make it significantly more difficult to achieve desired goals.


1. Do I need to lift heavy to build muscle?

There is sufficient evidence to show that low load resistance training can be as effective at building muscle as high load training. The layers of muscle added to your existing ones will see little difference if the magnitude of training is similar.

While it is true that high rep training results in an equivalent increase, the workout sessions are twice as long. By lifting lighter weights, you’ll be building endurance through the longer workout sessions as well.

It’s up to you to decide what kind of training you want. Longer workouts and higher rep ranges may also lead to an unpleasant experience, depending on what you’re seeking from it. By no means does it negate the benefits of heavy lifting, nor do low weights get completely surpassed by it.

2. How quickly can I build muscle?

You can build muscle in as short of a time as two months, provided that you’re diligent and have a healthy workout routine. Perform compound exercises to get the most out of your workouts, consume protein shakes before workout, carbs afterwards, and rest well.

The simplest way of speeding up your muscle gain is to add small amounts of weight to your lifting routine, but remember to be cautious when doing so.

3. Can I train every muscle with the same workout routine?

Different muscles react differently to varying workout intensities. Your lower body muscles, such as hamstrings, quadriceps, and back muscles benefit more from lower reps, while upper body muscles will see higher gains from more reps.

Ideally, you may perform three to four sets per exercise, even with the varying number of reps.

4. What is the maximum number of reps I can perform?

You’ll find the gains reduced if you’re performing more than 20 reps in a set. This is because if you’re able to perform more than 20 reps, you are likely lifting less than what would elicit measurable growth in the body. 

Your body needs to work for the gains to show, and weights that are too light for this won’t be helpful enough.


There isn’t a clear-cut answer on the conundrum of high reps or heavy weights being better for muscle growth. One offers longer workout sessions, the other challenges you in a smaller number of repetitions. It depends on what you want your body to be.

High reps and heavy weights offer different workout experiences with muscle growth, but there are other facts that make matters more complex. Your physique, diet, and time spent working out have a noticeable effect on your post-workout gains. Moreover, you’ll have to stick to a goal to continuously challenge your muscles for growth.

Consider hiring a personal trainer to craft an action plan for your workout sessions. This plan will fit your lifestyle and muscle-gain goals, capitalizing on your strengths, and eliminating chances of failure.

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

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