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Rep Range Effect for Untrained Lifters

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  • Rep Range Effect for Untrained Lifters

    It has been said that for untrained individuals high rep sets, sets of 10 reps or more, will not cause much hypertrophy because the weight is so light as to be insignificant. They should instead focus on getting strong, putting weight on the bar with a lower rep range, and by the time they are sufficiently strong then sets of 10+ will be heavy enough to provide a significantly greater hypertrophy effect. Is there any validity to this idea? Or is this just made up?

  • #2
    This is entirely made up, and represents an ignorance of (or, perhaps, a deliberate disregard for) the current body of research literature on muscle hypertrophy.
    IG / YT

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    • #3
      Thanks. That was my guess. It even seems that waiting until you are “strong” to use sets of 10+ for hypertrophy work may in fact reduce their effectiveness for hypertrophy compared to using them initially. My thinking is that in the process of getting stronger increases in muscle size generally occurs, and to the extent that hypertrophy gains follow a diminishing return curve, postponing the use of these high rep sets until later in training will lead to diminished effect, compared to if they were used at the outset of training. I’m guessing this follows from the idea that the more trained we become the more training we resistant we become, and further adaptations (in strength or size) tend to be less robust later in a training career.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by GuyFieri View Post
        Thanks. That was my guess. It even seems that waiting until you are “strong” to use sets of 10+ for hypertrophy work may in fact reduce their effectiveness for hypertrophy compared to using them initially. My thinking is that in the process of getting stronger increases in muscle size generally occurs, and to the extent that hypertrophy gains follow a diminishing return curve, postponing the use of these high rep sets until later in training will lead to diminished effect, compared to if they were used at the outset of training. I’m guessing this follows from the idea that the more trained we become the more training we resistant we become, and further adaptations (in strength or size) tend to be less robust later in a training career.
        Another consideration would be that if you do sets of 10 (or more) and get better at doing that many reps, as evidenced by using more weight, are you not stronger?
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        • #5
          Dr Jordan, why not do only singles for powerlifting then?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by onur View Post
            Dr Jordan, why not do only singles for powerlifting then?
            Would be hard to accumulate enough volume at the correct intensity if limited to only singles.
            Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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            • #7
              I actually just re-listened to the programming podcast that Dr. Feigenbaum and Dr. Baraki did and they explain this topic pretty well. It is on the youtubes channel if you are interested in perusing through it.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post

                Would be hard to accumulate enough volume at the correct intensity if limited to only singles.
                ...which brings me to a slightly different question lol. What about Dynamic Effort sets? From my understanding why those might work (if they do) is because you can accumulate a decent amount of volume using e.g. 15 singles on the minute for the deadlift compared to one 5RM set in a relatively short time. The reduced weight and increased "explosiveness" of the reps may or may not even be a factor in their effectiveness. So let's do a different but slightly more interesting comparison here:

                If one does a 5x5 on the squat using X weight and 4-5 min rest, how would that fare compared to 12 doubles using the same X weight and ~1 min rest and more or less the same amount of total duration? It would be (almost) the same volume using the same weight. Would this result in roughly the same strength/hypertrophy gainzZz from a theoretical point of view?

                To put this more generally: Does it matter how one reaches ones volume goals in a given time and using a given intensity? E.g. 3x5 vs 4x4 vs. 5x3 vs 8x2 vs 15x1 using the same weight and same total duration? The most obvious difference is that on the left end of the scale the RPE across sets will be more constant. Doing more sets/ less reps using the same weight will obviously start out with a lower RPE, while creeping up due to the accumulated fatique... to who knows what? Could be the last sets end up being the same RPE or maybe even higher than the last set of fives.

                Taking this further (and of course it's just a thought experiment once again): What would be if one could do 12 doubles in the same time as needed for the 5x5 but with more than the X weight used on the 5x5? Would it be safe to assume that it would produce better results? And again: the increase in weight here is just purely speculative, I'm not even sure one could do the 12 doubles with that weight in that time anyway.

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                • #9
                  One more thought: If you are going to make the argument that absolute weight on the bar matters for certain training outcomes, and that for our hypothetical untrained lifter a set of 10 reps is too light to cause a hypertrophic response, then using that same logic wouldn’t a set of 5 reps for this lifter be too light (in absolute terms) to cause an increase in strength?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jwls View Post

                    ...which brings me to a slightly different question lol. What about Dynamic Effort sets? From my understanding why those might work (if they do) is because you can accumulate a decent amount of volume using e.g. 15 singles on the minute for the deadlift compared to one 5RM set in a relatively short time. The reduced weight and increased "explosiveness" of the reps may or may not even be a factor in their effectiveness. So let's do a different but slightly more interesting comparison here:
                    Yea, but too light to really drive strength improvements. Higher velocity movements are worse, in general, for improving performance in slower lifts.

                    Originally posted by jwls View Post
                    If one does a 5x5 on the squat using X weight and 4-5 min rest, how would that fare compared to 12 doubles using the same X weight and ~1 min rest and more or less the same amount of total duration? It would be (almost) the same volume using the same weight. Would this result in roughly the same strength/hypertrophy gainzZz from a theoretical point of view?
                    Maybe, but the intensity is likely relatively light for a 1-5RM strength performance improvement.

                    Originally posted by jwls View Post
                    To put this more generally: Does it matter how one reaches ones volume goals in a given time and using a given intensity? E.g. 3x5 vs 4x4 vs. 5x3 vs 8x2 vs 15x1 using the same weight and same total duration?
                    Not really, but the intensity that you can use varies greatly, which has a large impact on outcomes.

                    Originally posted by jwls View Post
                    Taking this further (and of course it's just a thought experiment once again): What would be if one could do 12 doubles in the same time as needed for the 5x5 but with more than the X weight used on the 5x5? Would it be safe to assume that it would produce better results? And again: the increase in weight here is just purely speculative, I'm not even sure one could do the 12 doubles with that weight in that time anyway.
                    You couldn't do 2 reps EMOM x 12 minutes at a higher intensity than 5 sets of 5 reps.

                    Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GuyFieri View Post
                      One more thought: If you are going to make the argument that absolute weight on the bar matters for certain training outcomes,
                      I would not make this argument.


                      Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post

                        Yea, but too light to really drive strength improvements. Higher velocity movements are worse, in general, for improving performance in slower lifts.
                        Fair enough... I just remembered DE when you mentioned the singles and the next points where really where I wanted to get at.


                        Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post
                        Maybe, but the intensity is likely relatively light for a 1-5RM strength performance improvement.
                        Even if it's the same weight as for 5x5? What causes the difference in improvement given that the weight, total volume and (let's just define it that way total time to perform all sets is the same.


                        Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post
                        Not really, but the intensity that you can use varies greatly, which has a large impact on outcomes.
                        Do you think the intensitiy is higher at the 3x5 end of the range or the 15x1 given the same total time to perform those sets? Wouldn't be easy for me to tell but I'd guess it could be relatively similar but with a relatively equal RPE on the 3x5 sets and a steady increase of RPE on the 15x1 sets, with the last few probably being grinders.


                        Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post
                        You couldn't do 2 reps EMOM x 12 minutes at a higher intensity than 5 sets of 5 reps.
                        To be fair I meant more like rest periods resulting in a similar total duration for the 12 doubles vs. 5x5. I'd think 4-5 min rest on the 5x5 would probably take around 25 min. With the 12 doubles I'd calculate roughly 1 min rest and around 1 min unracking the bar, bracing, performing the reps, reracking etc. taking another minute (so not EMOM) and resulting in roughly the same total duration. Basically what I meant before (to have a base for comparison) is to perform those different rep/set schemes with an equal total duration and not exactly EMOM or so. So the more sets, the shorter the rest periods but with the same total volume. Hope I explained it better this time.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by jwls View Post

                          Even if it's the same weight as for 5x5? What causes the difference in improvement given that the weight, total volume and (let's just define it that way total time to perform all sets is the same.
                          The total time to perform the sets is irrelevant to the performance outcome. You don't have access to the intensity range you can use for 5x5 if you're doing an EMOM.

                          Originally posted by jwls View Post
                          Do you think the intensitiy is higher at the 3x5 end of the range or the 15x1 given the same total time to perform those sets?
                          The time doesn't matter for strength outcomes outside in that context. It seems like you're very concerned with "work" being done per session an under the impression it is directly correlated with strength outcomes. It's not.

                          Originally posted by jwls View Post
                          Wouldn't be easy for me to tell but I'd guess it could be relatively similar but with a relatively equal RPE on the 3x5 sets and a steady increase of RPE on the 15x1 sets, with the last few probably being grinders.
                          But RPE =/= intensity. They cannot be used interchangeably.

                          Originally posted by jwls View Post
                          To be fair I meant more like rest periods resulting in a similar total duration for the 12 doubles vs. 5x5.
                          But why is this the arbitrary construct? If you're limited in time to train, doing a DE type setup can be useful for strength and hypertrophy. So can myoreps, sets with short rest periods, etc. None are particularly good for strength in the 1-5RM range because the intensity is compromised AND the high threshold motor units aren't going to be trained in the same ways as they would with longer rest periods.

                          Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
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