Friday, April 2, 2010

Building Muscle Strength and/or Size

Last week, one of my lovely readers asked a question about specifics for repetitions/sets for increasing strength or muscle size. This post will answer that question and hopefully generate more questions!

Before discussing the issue at hand, I want to quickly explain what a repetition and a set actually mean. Let’s say you’re doing bicep curls. The number of curls you do without stopping would be the number of repetitions, or reps. When you stop, take a little break, then resume, that would be a new set. So if you did 10 reps, took a break, and then completed another 10 reps, you would have completed two sets.

Now, what I am about to say will surprise most of you. Doing a high number of reps (10-15) actually causes hypertrophy, or an increase in muscle size. If you were to do a lower number of reps (5-8), you would be increasing your muscular strength. Both scenarios will increase muscle size and strength to a degree, but the results I just explained are the primary results that occur with that number of reps.

You may be thinking, from personal experience, that I am wrong because your results were different. Remember that whether you are doing low or high reps, you should be working to volitional fatigue. Simply, your muscles should be so tired that you couldn’t possibly produce one more rep. So if you are doing 15 reps, but could still do more, you need heavier weights. If you are wanting to focus more on your strength, you should use even heavier weights so that you can not do more than 8 reps. If you are not working to volitional fatigue, you will not achieve the results you are looking for.

For those of you who are looking for a well-rounded exercise routine, both of the above methods are good to include. Some days you may do higher reps, and others, lower reps. If you are female, don’t fear the hypertrophy. It is very unlikely that your muscles will become much larger than they are. Estrogen prevents hypertrophy and higher amounts of testosterone are necessary for muscle building.

For those of you who like to medicate with ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and pain after a workout, you may want to rethink that. Studies have found that NSAIDS, which include ibuprofen and naproxen, interrupt the process of muscle fiber damage and repair. This process is necessary for increases in muscle strength and size.


  1. That's interesting about high vs. low reps; it does seem counter-intuitive.

    She called me a "lovely reader," *blush*.

  2. Great article...very informative. Good info for all about ibuprofen as well. Keep em coming Erin. I'm learning a lot!!!!
    Yes, you are quite lovely Busy-Dad-E...