How many reps per set is best for older men

When it comes to us older lifters there really is only two things that separates us from younger lifters. One we have had more time to develop chronic injuries that can hamper our training and two as a whole we require a little bit more time for recovery.

We are going to keep these points in mind as we go through our discussion today on muscle growth and the best number of reps we should do per set in order to maximize potential muscle size.

Traditionally rep ranges broken into three groups 1 to 5 reps for strength. Next is the hypertrophy or muscle growth group with a range of 6 to 12 reps and it is this group that is in question.

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I used an article by Greg Nuckols as a reference in which he reviewed all the current studies on these rep ranges, with regards muscle hypertrophy and in it he extends the size of this group to 15 reps. Leaving the final group of 15 to 20 or more reps for developing muscular endurance.

In order for these groups to be compared equally you need to have equal intensity. Which you would accomplish by training to very close to failure.

The reason there is even a question as to what is the best rep range to build muscle, is that it is harder to quantify. Building muscular endurance and strength are performance goals and are easy to measure based on results. Muscle size on the other had is a more visual goal.

When you look all the studies done on rep ranges what you end up finding is that when it comes to muscle growth as long as you equate volume and intensity the rep range doesn’t really matter much.

There are a lot of practical applications we need to look when deciding which rep range is the right one we should be working in, including our muscle fibre type.

The biggest advantage to high rep training is that you are using lighter weight reducing the risk of injury and making it easier to perform your reps with good form. This is how I start out most of my clients with slightly higher reps to give them time to get used to the movements and perfect their form.

One of the biggest disadvantages to high rep training is that you can become aerobically fatigued before we fully fatigue all our different muscle fibres. Your muscles will start to get sore and it gets hard to complete the reps.

In order for these 3 groups to be viewed evenly you must be able to train close to muscular failure. One last advantage to having good muscular endurance is that sometimes it is that endurance that helps you push through the last rep when training heavier.

Next we have the one to five rep range. One of the biggest advantages when it comes to lower rep training is we are always working with a heavy enough load to create enough mechanical tension, resulting in muscle growth. But muscle growth doesn’t just come from heavy weights it needs to be equated with volume as volume is the major driver of hypertrophy. And for many their central nervous systems start to fatigue before they have gotten in enough volume to maximize hypertrophy.

Heavy rep training also tends to be hard on our joints especially if we have a long term injury we are dealing with. One last advantage to heavy low rep training is it gets us used to moving heavy weight and how that weight feels.

This kind of puts the 6 to 15 reps at the top of the list, but there is one more consideration. Predominant muscle fibre type, fast twitch muscle fibre tend to respond better to low rep heavy weight training. Where as slow twitch fibres tend to respond better to higher rep training. Most of us have a fairly even mix of muscle fibre types overall and will benefit from mixing up our rep ranges.

One way we can do this is through concurrent periodization. And for us older guys this will also give us more recovery time from the heavy low rep training to spare are joints and it increases our overall weekly training volume. If your full body training,then what you would do is have one day a week as your heavy day. Your second training day would be your medium rep day and finally your third training day would be high rep.

What I do with my clients and myself is I break up the rep ranges a little differently with 5 to 10 reps being my low rep phase, 10 to 15 reps the middle and 15 to 20 being the high rep block.


    48 replies to "How Many Reps Per Set Is Best For Older Men"

    • L Mc

      I was doing alot of 5×5 and focusing on hitting the highest weight on the last set didn’t see big muscle growth though. Just switching over to 12×5 at medium weight or light cables. Still want to get a higher max for hex bar over next year

      • Fit and 50

        When it comes to muscle growth and low rep, heavy weight training you need to do more sets in order to match volume. Which is why most people will get stronger with lower rep training but still not see the muscle growth.

    • Lose Fat Get Jacked

      I couldn’t agree more about thinking we’ve hit failure with higher rep sets and being surprised how many more reps we can do when we dig deep. Solid discussion and fantastic advice as always.

      • Fit and 50

        Appreciate it Scott, So many different ways we can train. It really is a matter of finding what works best for us personally.

      • Lose Fat Get Jacked

        @Fit and 50 absolutely!

    • Carlos Morris

      6-10 reps per set, I’ve found, is the sweet spot for me – as this rep range tends to hit the fast twitch muscle fibers the best… While any higher tends to become more endurance-focused; less anaerobic. But I’ve heard that going higher – in the range of 15-20 reps – every once in awhile, creates a ‘synergistic effect’… Once you come back to the moderately heavy weights, your slow twitch muscle fibers (strengthened from the previous lighter work) will give you somewhat of a strength boost – enabling you to hit your fast twitch muscle fibers even harder. Thus, quicker muscle gains can be made this way (and safely) – at least so I’ve heard.

      • Fit and 50

        I think most people after a while find a rep range that they are most comfortable in. Switching up that rep range is a good way to provide a fresh training stimulus. To get complete muscle growth we do need to increase the size of our slow twitch fibers too. Granted they don’t grow as large as fast twitch fibers, but they do grow.

      • Carlos Morris

        @Fit and 50 makes sense.

    • Kenneth Moulder

      Consistency, progression, mind muscle connection, the right diet, quality sleep and a lot of discipline = results.
      58 yrs old natty 220lb. Both high reps and low rep but always to failure. Start a 6-8 reps per set and work up to 15 or over reps on my first set, 3-4 demonising sets 2 times a week per muscle group. No aches, no pains, apart from mild doms. I find if I don’t work to failure I don’t progress so well. Going to 15 reps gives me the strength to handle the next heavier progression. Always listen to my body.
      It doesn’t matter what rep ranges and sets you do, it’s consistency with progression that will always show results.

      • Fit and 50

        Absolutely consistency and progression and rule one.

    • Alex Garcia

      I like the info, thanks for sharing. I am 52 and have been lifting for 2yrs now (after labrum surgery and a torn bicep) I lift alone, so I do intervals of lower weight higher reps, which for me would be about 15-20 reps and 5-6 sets and mix in heavy weeks where I will challenge myself a bit see what I have in the tank so to speak in terms of strength. Those reps do not really get higher then 5-10, still not killing myself but still pushing the limits a bit and about 4 sets depending on my energy levels, which vary at my age LOL!

      • Fit and 50

        As long as your making it progressive you will do well. Great to hear your back at it, not letting an old injury hold you back.

    • Encourageable

      Appreciate the video. I’ve been working out for many years (decades) so I’m well aware of the number of reps and sets for a given goal – but as I’ve gotten older my goal is simply to use gym time as a replacement for the activity I would be getting if I didn’t have an office job. So that means 5 sets for each lift with reps til failure on all – each set going up in weight. So for bench press it may be 12 x 135, 11 x 155, 9 x 175, 6 x 185, then 4 or 5 more x 185. Seems to work for me – I also do a ton of cardio – have to because I have a bad sweet tooth and life’s too short here to give up some of those indulgences lol.

      • Fit and 50

        It is great that you have been able find what works for you. We haven’t talked for a while, but if I remember right we a pretty close to the same age. So if you wanted to you could still progress.

    • Alan O'Brien

      Any thoughts on how you would incorporate your low rep/medium/high rep advice alongside a push/pull/leg structure? I do five days a week, with the weekend off. One Back/bicep day, one Chest/shoulders/triceps day and one leg day and repeat. It averages out at twice per body part over a 7 day period albeit not a calendar week. Do I need to do specific days on reps or could I mix it up a bit? EG Low strength reps for chest and medium reps for Tricep growth?

      • Fit and 50

        I would look at it more by the workout grouping one cycle push/pull/legs heavy, the next a more moderate rep range say 10 to 15 and the final push/pull/leg days high rep. Then repeat so over the course of 3 weeks you would have gone through the 3 rep ranges twice.

    • Fit and 50

      If you are interested in losing body fat and adding muscle, please email me at 1shark1bite@gmail.com for information on my personal training services.

      • C. Anthony

        You should be called fit and funny at 50😋😆

      • John C

        Sir. You need to wear a tee shirt because I can’t hear what you’re saying!

      • RA!

        Good advice from a retired Chip and Dale (bow tie) performer as per My girlfriend. Thanks.

    • Dicky H

      Rep range is an art. You feel your way. See how your body react. Great video. Keep them coming.

      • Fit and 50

        Everyone seems to have a favorite rep range to train in. But there are advantages to moving out of our comfort zone and trying something new. I appreciate your comment.

    • Old Duck

      I’ve switched to more reps with lighter weights because my joints can’t handle the heavier weights. I’m talking about maxing at 50 reps before raising weight. I’m not looking to be a body builder, I just want to stay in shape. Endurance is more important to brute strength for me as well based on the work I do.

      • Fit and 50

        At 50 reps you are going to have some amazing endurance. I occasionally do 30 rep squats and those are a killer 50 just can’t be fun.

      • ralph holiman

        Same here. I’m 64 and I’ve been lifting my whole life. Every time I have been injured in the last ten years, it has been from working out like I did in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. If someone is in their 60’s and can still lift really heavy weights without injury, more power to them and good for them. But, I’ve learned my lesson. Lighter weights, higher reps for me.

      • Kirstin Strand

        I’m older than you, female, I’ve been working out hard a couple months now. Because I have no injury issues, I seldom feel any pain, yet I must be overdoing it due to lack of good quality sleep. Is sleep a good gauge to evaluate time and energy output?

    • Don Quixote

      In regards to the idea that it’s more difficult to reach muscular fatigue at higher reps, to me that’s only the case at first until you gain the necessary conditioning. After that, you’ll find it to be a much safer experience. And btw, even at lower reps, you still never reach complete muscular failure unless you literally rip the tendon off the bone. Otherwise, how are people able to do extended sets of any kind (forced, rest pause, drop, doubles, triples, quadruples, etc.)…?

      • Fit and 50

        I would agree and a lot of us older guys would benefit from improved work capacity and conditioning higher rep training provides.

    • iranjackheelson

      Such great delivery! What about starting out with high-intensity for your first few reps than switching to lower intensity as you can’t do the next one. And doing this for every workout instead of having high/med/low intensity days separately? Would this confer just as much benefit?

      • Fit and 50

        I don’t usually mix up rep ranges for the same muscle group in the same workout. I do know of those who like to work heavy with lower repetitions then finish off with a pump set of high rep work. It might make sense too, to start with a high rep set then each set go heavier and lower rep as that could save you some warm up sets.

    • SEAKPhotog

      There’s also a psychological component to this. For me, I just plain enjoy 6-8 reps of fairly high weights. If I go above 12-15 reps I find it tedious. But I do agree that as we get older and have to deal with nagging injuries and limitations, slightly higher reps and lower weights makes a lot of sense.

      • Fit and 50

        It certainly helps when we are doing what we enjoy.

    • AkSmiffs

      At almost 67 I combine a 50 rep-low weight set as a warm up for each target muscle group before switching to low rep (5-10)-heavy weight. The 50 rep set gets blood pumping to those areas and really loosens everything up for me…especially old injury sites. Most people get bored calling the high rep tedious but it doesn’t phase me and I believe it keeps me injury free. If I feel an old injury start to shout out I either drop some weight and continue or simply back away from it for a few days to let it calm down. At my age I’m into maintenance and have adapted my routines around what my body can take. I’ve had young body builders tell me I’m not doing an exercise correctly so I thank them but also inform them I have modified the exercise to accommodate my body limitations.

      • Fit and 50

        Awesome, great to hear from another member of the Fit and Sixty Crew. I got five more years to get there, but you can bet I’ll still be working out when I do.

      • Earl Martin

        Thanks for that info. It might be helpful to me.

      • Haussegger

        Thanks for the tip about the 50 rep warmup. I’m in your age group and trying to recover from a torn rotor cuff. The body needs more help to recover and the increased blood flow from the cardio warmup sounds like the key.

    • Making Waves

      I have always incorporated all kind of rep ranges. I always warm up with light weights for a couple of sets. Then I go heavy, that is in the range 4-8 reps. At the end of the workout session I do some sets to failure in the range of 10-20 reps.

      • Damon Wolf

        This^ Exactly… Mix rep ranges during the same workout or during the week. Work both fast and slow twitch fibers!

    • Ron M

      I’m in my 60’s and have been working out since my 20’s. Number one rule of working out is “Don’t get injured!” #2 rule is don’t compare yourself to anyone else and keep a journal to chart your progress!

      • Fit and 50

        Those are a good top two rules

      • Ronald Cassidy

        65 been lifting since I was 15 for football played in NFL.You learn how to train no doubt,But in ur 60s ur a fool if u lift anything HEAVY!!!The gyms in Palm Springs always show a old guy dead lifting like 375lbs.i comment right some clown from there gym says “oh its not heavy to him”??!! Laughing. About it. That old man in 10 yrs will regret he took that Tess or HGH foolish.do reps don’t lift too much n don’t take JUICE!!!

    • Oggi Oggi

      I’m doing HIIT style workouts using calisthenics and resistance bands. I’m doing 6 to 8 sets one after the other in quick succession 20 reps per set. This is working well for me. I train this way 5x per week and 2x rest days when I walk a lot.
      I avoid heavy weights now because I’ve seen so many older guys become finished due to injuries. Mainly tendon problems.
      But I agree that whatever suits you is good for you. There are a lot of different answers down in the comments and people are adopting different approaches.
      As older men we should keep going think maintenence and avoid injuries.

      • Fit and 50

        Avoiding injuries should be number one. I have a tough time settling for maintenance right now, though, as I keep improving with continued training

    • Roy Schultz

      I’ll be 65 in a couple of months. Been lifting off and on since I was 11. Whenever I start again after a break I begin with 1 set of 5 reps of every exercise 6 days for a week with a light weight, plus time on treadmill. Second week I add a rep a day per set. Third week, same until I hit 20 reps a set. I then split into two sets of 10 reps and add a rep a day until |I’m back up to 20 per set. At this point I increase the weight 10-20 lbs and start back at 2 sets of 5 reps ,and work my way up to three sets of 20 reps. At this point my body is used to working out again, and I go to a slit routine, upper body one day, lower the next, treadmill and abs 6 days a week. I do this gradual method due to heart problems and a lot of injuries over the last half century. It’s always worked well, whether rehabbing from going through a car windshield or wrecking a motorcycle at high speed.

    • TJ Thompson

      I find your info for a guy my age (57) the best. Dropped 20lbs, clothes fit and now concentrating on building additional solid muscle. Women in my life are constantly remarking how amazing I look. Not bragging, hoping if you’re starting out you’ll borrow some confidence from what I’m saying. It’s an amazing feeling to get gains

    • Dennis Campbell

      I am 76, an amputee permanently confined to a wheelchair, with degenerative arthritis that has destroyed my shoulders. Constant pain, no strength. I am in a skilled nursing facility because I cannot care for myself, but I am determined to maintain some level of fitness. I use a peddling machine, like a stationary bike that I can use from my wheelchair, and do 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon. Thirty years ago I was a lifting fanatic and could easily do curls with a 65-pound dumbbell, but really damaged my body through ignorance — I was not allowing any recovery time between brutal workouts and developed scar tissue and adhesions and had to stop. Since losing my leg seven months ago and being confined to this facility I have taken up weight training again, but am very limited in what I can do. Twice per week (three days rest in between workouts) I do what I call chair dips: Like doing bar dips. I lock my wheels and raise myself up. I can’t use the arm rests because they are too high. I do sets, 10/20/50/50/50/25, resting about two minutes in between. On alternate days (two days rest from the chair dips) I do curls with a 10-pound dumbbell, 35 reps, switch to a 15-pounder and do three sets (15/12/10) and then finish with two sets of high reps with the lighter weight. I have no idea if I am doing it right, but I feel good and hope to see results (I am getting stronger) in a couple of months. As a younger man, I had huge arms and now look like a 12-year-old boy. I know I will never be that big again, but hope to see some growth. Mike Tyson said to achieve greatness you have to consistently do what you don’t feel like doing, so I do it even if I don’t want to. I don’t want to be great, just better. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

      • Fit and 50

        if you have access to a physiotherapist where you live they would be the ones who could give you the best advice about what you could do. keep up the great work! Very inspiring.

      • Rob Lewis

        Looks like you’ve made and continue making great progress, keep up the great work!

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