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Why High Reps Aren't Bullsh*t: Clearing Up the Confusion

Jun 30, 2024

Have you ever been told that doing high reps in your workouts is a waste of time? 

The fitness world is full of confusing claims, either relying on "the science" or "experience". 

I believe in using elements of both to understand what truly works.

Instagram post: Optimal Muscle Growth - Why Researchers, Coaches and Bodybuilders Can’t Agree

Let’s look at quotes like "No one got big doing high reps," "It’s all just swelling," or "10+ reps are way harder to recover from." 


Claim 1: High Reps Don't Build Muscle

Many people think that only low reps with heavy weights can build muscle. This isn't true. High reps can also help you get stronger and bigger.

Whether lifting a heavy load a few times or a lighter load many times, when comparing high effort sets - both generally build muscle equally well. 

Instagram post: Why do some claim that certain rep ranges are better than others?

Ignoring high reps means missing out on a powerful way to build muscle and improve endurance.

Solution: Include high reps in your workouts. Even a single set of 15-20 reps may complement your low-rep, heavy-weight training. Bonus points if you do it Myo-reps style.


Claim 2: High Reps Just Cause Swelling

Some believe that high reps only cause temporary muscle swelling, not real growth. This isn't accurate. High reps can lead to real muscle growth over time, as measured by strength gains. Even if we didn’t see strength gains, most of us do enjoy the visual difference it can provide.

The visual difference can be striking, as shown here by scientist and natural BB competitor Joshua Bradshaw:

“ On the left, 80-90% of my training was in the 4-7 rep range. On the right was 7 weeks of doing my 2nd set in the 12+ range and one set in the 20+. I was also heavier - while dieting. “

Dismissing high reps as just causing swelling can prevent you from seeing long-term gains.

Solution: Understand that muscle growth from high reps is real. Trust the process and stay consistent. Swelling from inflammation is temporary if you manage recovery. 


Claim 3: High Reps Are Harder to Recover From

It's often said that doing more than 10 reps is harder to recover from. Recovery is important. But, high reps doesn’t necessarily mean more soreness or longer recovery, unless you overdo it. This is especially true if you’re a well-trained lifter and are used to this type of training.

Both high and low reps can be tough, but your body can adapt to handle both with the right training.

Avoiding high reps due to recovery fears can limit your long-term progress and muscle development. It can create bottlenecks in your bioenergetic chain and physiology. 

Cardiovascular training also works according to the same principle—endurance sports benefit from lifting weights. Lifting weights also benefit from better cardio.

Solution: Balance your workouts with both high and low reps. Listen to your body, evaluate progress, and adjust as needed.


Studies On High Rep Training

There is indeed some science showing that high-rep training can cause more fatigue, but does that mean it reduces results?

Let’s take a closer look:

Study 1 (PMID: 25753776):

  • Experiment: Participants performed a high rep set at 20% of their 1RM (one-rep max) before doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • The group saw almost doubled gains in strength (1RM), muscle size, and endurance, compared to those who only did 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

Study 2 (PMID: 15574075):

  • Experiment: Participants did a high rep set at 50% of their 1RM after completing 5 sets at 90% of their 1RM.
  • Results: This approach led to greater gains in strength (1RM), muscle size, and endurance compared to doing only 5 sets at 90%.

The studies show that adding high rep training before or after low rep training can greatly boost your strength and muscle growth. This is true even if it causes more fatigue.

Is it just the extra volume?

Maybe, but would going from 3 to 4 sets of 8-12 reps or from 5 to 6 sets of 90% loads increased the gains by the magnitudes reported here?

I doubt it.

Even with the science, how do the claims that high reps are ineffective stand up to the real-world check?

Let’s have a look.


Real-world Check of High Reps

Science rarely uses experienced lifters.

So we should look around for success - or lack of - in the real world to see if high reps are as ineffective as the claims say.

I didn't have to search for long.

I found two compelling examples, although there are many more.


Example 1: Swedish Bench Press Monster Josef Eriksson (@josef_eriksson)

Josef Eriksson was doing typical powerlifting training, heavy weights with low reps. 

He maxed out his bench press at 130kg in 2010. At the time, he weighed 78kg. Despite doing everything "right," he was stuck.

So, he started doing high-rep training. 

After a year he benched 175kg (a 45kg gain), at the same bodyweight and gained significant chest size.

Josef said, “I’m not the best bench presser anymore. I taught my methods to others, and they are now better than me.”


Example 2: Spanish Bench Presser Jesús Varela (@bilboteam)

Jesús Varela is one of Spain's top bench pressers. He was lifting with 3x3 and 5x5 routines, reaching a 140kg bench press at 82kg bodyweight. But, he struggled with aches, pains, and stagnant progress.

He then created the "Bilbo Method." It starts with a single set of 15-50 explosive reps. Then, do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Finish with 2 sets of 1-2 other chest exercises. Do this twice a week.

In a few months, Jesús increased his bench to over 200kg.

Today, he benches 240kg at 90kg bodyweight.


How To Implement Effective High-Rep Training:

Having said all that, why believe me or anyone else claiming “what works” - when you can just try it out for yourself?

  1. Mix It Up: Combine high-rep sets with low-rep sets in your workouts.
  2. Stay Consistent: Make high-rep training a regular part of your routine.
  3. Progressive Overload: Gradually introduce it by adding a single set of 15-25 reps before or after your normal sets, or by replacing a lower rep set. Are you able to consistently do more reps at the same load, or more load at the same reps? If a small change to your training can take you from stagnation to progress, it’s working regardless of what any science or influencer may claim. I’m seeing renewed progress in my pecs and delts where I have introduced a higher rep set prior to - and replacing - lower rep training. I had to drop my lower rep loads at first, but I have now surpassed them. So far, so good.
  4. Listen to Your Body: Adjust your training based on how your body feels and recovers. If high-rep training makes you tired and under-recovered, look at your overall workload. Scale it down until you progress again. I don’t think removing it completely is a good idea, for the reasons I have provided in this article.

Finding Your Own Way

I believe individualization is the key to reaching your full potential.

I also believe in following a systematic approach, using the strategies I outlined here. Although I believe in using your intuition, we can’t always trust our feelings…but the logbook doesn’t lie. 

If you want to learn more about maximizing your progress, my Myo-reps e-book has all the info you need. 

Readers have told me “it’s the best book on the topic I’ve ever read” and that “it truly over-delivers in every way”, which makes all the work of writing it truly worth it!

Don't miss out on the chance to improve your knowledge - and gains!

All you need to do is go to


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