A lot of coaches and trainers say you should only do lower reps for barbell movements. Some even call this a "rule." Are they right? Let's break it down.
Multi-joint compound barbell exercises are often done in the 1-8 rep range. Any more than that and you've entered a zone where social media experts start exaggerating about 10-rep deadlifts snapping discs or 15-rep bench presses blowing up your rotator cuff.
Why You Should Break It
Never leaving the lower rep ranges for compound movements will eventually cause hypertrophy (growth) plateaus.
We now know that for muscle growth it's best to train in a variety of rep ranges. Barbells might be great for training in the lower rep ranges, but pushing the limits and going for higher reps is perfectly fine too, given you adjust the load and you program them intelligently. With these parameters they're no more dangerous than standard barbell work for doubles and triples.
A Closer Look
Think of 20-rep squat workouts as well as the infamous NFL 225 pound bench press test. These aren't just things to try out as a challenge, but instead can be incorporated into your program strategically. You'll receive massive time under tension among many muscles, get to test your conditioning, and pack on lots of volume to build muscle.
We know compound movements and volume are great for hypertrophy, but why is it so rooted in our minds that it's wrong to combine the two? As a beginner you can get away with doing compound movements only in lower rep ranges, but as you advance in load, staying at lower rep ranges isn't ideal.
Here's an example:
A beginner lifter's bench press progression:
- Week 1: 5 x 5 working sets of 95 pounds (2375 total volume load)
- Week 2: 5 x 5 working sets of 115 pounds (2875 total volume load)
- Week 3: 5 x 5 working sets of 135 pounds (3375 total volume load)
- Week 4: 5 x 5 working sets of 145 pounds (3625 total volume load)
- Week 5: 5 x 5 working sets of 155 pounds (3875 total volume load)
- Week 6: 5 x 5 working sets of 165 pounds (4125 total volume load)
- 6 Week Total Accumulated Volume Load: 20,250 pounds
This is a typical beginner progression. They're able to slap on more weight each week while maintaining the same reps/sets because the load isn't extremely demanding yet. As a beginner does this with their multi-joint progression, they can still build significant muscle because the total volume increases are significant throughout their program.
A more advanced lifter's bench press progression:
- Week 1: 5 x 5 working sets of 210 pounds (5250 total volume load)
- Week 2: 5 x 3 working sets of 225 pounds (3375 total volume load)
- Week 3: 5 x 1 working sets of 240 pounds (1200 total volume load)
- Week 4: 5 x 5 working sets of 225 pounds (5625 total volume load)
- Week 5: 5 x 3 working sets of 240 pounds (3600 total volume load)
- Week 6: 5 x 1 working sets of 255 pounds (1275 total volume load)
- 6 Week Total Accumulated Volume Load: 20,325 pounds
An advanced lifter, who's lifting significantly more weight than a beginner, has to adjust sets/reps to continue to make load increases throughout a program. He's still able to make increases in load by the end of the program, but notice that his total accumulated volume load after 6 weeks is barely more than when he first began lifting, even though the bar is much heavier.
This is why, once you're past the beginner stage, it's not only wise but pretty much necessary to include higher reps in compound movements. You'll be able to accumulate significantly more volume for muscle growth, and you'll be more likely to keep the hypertrophy gains coming.