It's important to realize that not all squat workouts are created equal. In fact, the rep ranges we use for our squats play a huge role in determining the outcome of our squat training.
So what are the best rep ranges for squats?The best rep range for squats depends on our training goal. If leg hypertrophy is the goal, then 6 to 12 reps for the squat is the best rep range. If leg strength is the goal, then 1-5 reps for squats is the best rep range. However, we should also consider Sets and Load to control the overall volume.
In this article I will…
- Discuss the best rep ranges based on your training goals
- Provide sample workouts for each of these training goals, including changing squat reps
- Mention important variables that you may be neglecting outside of the "rep ranges"; And,
- Answer some common questions about squat reps.
Best squat rep ranges for muscle growth/hypertrophy and bulking
The best squat rep ranges for building size are higher reps between 6-12 reps. This is because the higher the reps, the easier it is to accumulate more total volume - which is an important factor in muscle hypertrophy.
Studies also indicate thisother factors important for hypertrophyAre:
- Increased time under tension (how long a particular muscle is under tension)
- Metabolic stress (muscles/exercises near failure)
Both can be addressed by doing higher reps (6-12 reps), as long as you're using a weight that makes you feel close to your fatigue limit at the end of the rep range.
However, you probably won't induce much muscle growth by simply doing 1 set of 6-12 reps.
So, as you can see, not only do we have to consider reps, we also need to consider sets and loads. This is where the term "total volume" comes into play.
Why total volume is more important than number of reps
When we talk about total volume, we're referring to the equation sets x reps x load, and therefore each of these variables can be manipulated to increase total volume performed.
However, if we're trying to increase our overall volume as much as possible (without sacrificing recovery), the easiest variables to manipulate are going to be sets and reps.
For this reason, it's typical that weekly changes in sets and reps are seen more often than just changes in bar load when doing hypertrophy training.
For example, 3 sets of 10 reps at 100 pounds on week 1 and then 4 sets of 12 reps at 100 pounds on week 2. This is the same load but a higher total volume by increasing both sets and reps.
However, it's also important to understand that as long as total volume is the same, we can still achieve hypertrophy with slightly fewer reps and increased sets and/or weight.
This is because theThe main driver of hypertrophy is overall volumeand not necessarily the number of reps we do.
For example, we can theoretically induce a similar type of muscle growth with the following two workouts, as long as we feel like we're close to fatigue at the end of the rep range:
- 6 sets of 6 reps at 150 lbs (5400 lbs total volume)
- 6 sets of 8 reps at 113 lbs (5424 lbs total volume)
Bottom Line: In order to increase our potential for muscle growth/hypertrophy, we need to achieve enough total volume during the time under tension and use loads that are challenging enough that the final reps require a moderate to high effort. Accounting for repetition is only part of the equation.
To learn more about the benefits of doing higher reps, check out my other articles on:
- The Benefits of High-Rep Squats (Scientifically Proven)
- The Benefits of High-Rep Benches (Scientifically Proven)
- The Benefits of High-Rep Deadlifts (Scientifically Proven)
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Examples of squat workouts for muscle growth and hypertrophy
The goal in muscle growth and hypertrophy workouts is to manipulate at least one variable week after week to increase total volume and challenge muscle growthMuscles involved in the squatwith the amount of time under tension and metabolic stress that accumulates.
Example #1: Increasing Both Reps and Intensity (Load)
- Week 1:3×8 @ 65-70%
- week 2:3×10 @ weight from week 1
- week 3:3×8 @ 68-73 %
- Week 4:3×10 @ weight from week 3
Example #2: Increase reps
- Week 1:3×8 @ 68-72 %
- week 2:3×10 @ 68-72%
- week 3:3×12 @ 68-72%
- Week 4:3x AMRAP @ 68-72%
Example #3: Increase Sets and Intensity (Load)
- Week 1:1 × 8 @ RPE 7; 2×8 with 10% less weight
- week 2:1×8 @ RPE 7.5-8; 3×8 with 10% less weight
- week 3:1 × 8 @ RPE 8; 4×8 with 10% less weight
- Week 4:1×8 @ RPE 8.5-9; 5×8 @ 10-15% less weight
Best Squat Rep Ranges for maximum strength
The best squat rep range for those training with the primary goal of developing as much strength as possible is between 1 and 5 reps. This rep range isn't set in stone, but that's why it's usually recommendedThe rep range will allow us to lift weights that are challenging enough to generate high levels of force production.
When we train for maximum strength, we are teaching the neuromuscular system to refine its processes (increased rate of fire, more force production, better motor recruitment strategies) so our muscles can muster more force to lift heavier weights.
While hypertrophy training increases muscle mass, strength training refines the processes to allow the muscle to perform better.
In order to stimulate the necessary changes in the neuromuscular system to get stronger, we need to spend more time squatting with heavier loads (85% and up)—but we know that when working with this amount of weight, we're limited by the Number of repetitions we can do.
For this reason, we usually program strength training with a higher number of sets than repetitions, to gain more experience in teaching the muscles how to refine their processes under heavy loads without overtaxing our abilities and pushing repetitions to the point of failure .
Bottom line: All in all, there's nothing magical about this rep range for squats. It's used simply because we can generally only do 1 to 5 reps when using the required loads (85% or more) to encourage adaptation in the neuromuscular system to gain strength.
If you are a powerlifter, read my article on:
- How many reps should powerlifters be able to do? (Full Guide)
- Do Powerlifters Do High Reps?
Examples of squat workouts for maximum strength
If we program squats for maximum strength, we'll have more variation in total volume from week to week than if we were training for hypertrophy because we're increasing the weight and sometimes the sets, but we'll most likely decrease the reps.
As such, it's common for total volume to fluctuate in strength training, with the ultimate goal being to increase our performance under heavy loads.
- Week 1:4×3 @ 80-83 %
- week 2:4×3 at 82-85%
- week 3:4×3 at 84-87%
- Week 4:4×3 @ 86-89 %
Increase sets and weight, decrease reps
- Week 1:4×5 @ 80-83 %
- week 2:4×4 @ 83-85 %
- week 3:5×4 @ 83-85 %
- Week 4:5×3 @ 85-90 %
Increase weight, decrease reps
- Week 1:3×4 @ 83-85 %
- week 2:3×3 @ 85-87 %
- week 3:3×2 @ 87-89 %
- Week 4:3×1 @ 89-93%
How to improve your squat rep ranges to avoid plateaus
In order to keep pushing our squats and avoiding plateaus, we need to challenge ourselves enough to stimulate our body to adapt—without pushing too hard and interfering with our recovery.
Continually improving our volume (sets x reps) and intensity (load) is key to presenting enough stimulus to promote muscle growth/hypertrophy or maximal strength (depending on our rep ranges/weight used).
Once we stop presenting enough stimulus, our body will stop adapting and it will result in a plateau where minimal to no progression occurs.
When a plateau emerges, despite our best efforts to keep challenging ourselves, it's often best to change our approach.
If we've been pounding the volume for a while now, it might be best to cut back on our reps and focus on strength gains over the next 4-6 weeks.
Or maybe we've been doing strictly strength-focused work and it's time to add some volume to give our body another stimulus to kick start some progression.
When a plateau occurs, it's best to increase our stimulus to challenge the muscles in new ways that are still beneficial to our goals.The best way to increase the stimulus? Alternate the rep ranges up.
Even if our primary goal is hypertrophy, we will still benefit from going through a strength phaseto increase the force this newfound muscle mass can exert, which will only help us continue to gain size in the future.
Likewise, although our primary goal is to increase strength, we will still include higher rep blocks in our programbecause we may have exceeded the amount of force our current level of muscle mass can produce. As such, we may need to build additional size to further increase strength.
For these reasons, hypertrophy and strength training go hand-in-hand.
But that doesn't mean we have to move away from our primary goal. Instead, we will include both types of training in our program, but in the right ratio (2:1) to bring about the desired changes.
For example, if our primary goal is hypertrophy, it might look like 8 weeks of squats for hypertrophy and 4 weeks of squats for strength. Or if the primary goal is strength, then 8 weeks of squats for strength and 4 weeks of squats for hypertrophy.
To learn more about beating a plateau, check out our article for9 tips to break a squat plateau.
Squatting reps need to account for total volume
Total volume (sets x reps x load) is one of the main reasons for hypertrophy, and it allows us to quantify how much we're challenging our muscles week after week when training for strength - so it's important to keep that in mind.
Tracking our total volume is important to success, whether we're training for hypertrophy or strengthbecause we need to know how much total volume (sets x reps x load) we need to introduce to progressively overload our muscles and encourage the desired adaptations.
It also gives us an idea of how much volume we can handle before our recovery is affected.
When we notice that we're approaching our maximum recoverable volume (the largest volume from which we can successfully recover), then that's a good indication that it might be time to consider a deload to Prevent injuries and promote regeneration.
If we only manipulate our reps but never consider that reps are only part of the equation, then we may limit our progress because we're not seeing the bigger picture.
Bottom Line: The best results come when we factor in the weights we're using and the number of sets we're doing to get an accurate representation of how much total volume we're currently achieving and how we're progressing.
Related article:Squat pyramid: what is it, how to do it and common mistakes
Squat rep ranges: Frequently Asked Questions
Are high reps or low reps better for squats?
One is not always better than the other; Instead, it depends on what we want to achieve with our squats. If we're looking for muscle growth or hypertrophy, we're better off with higher reps; but if we're looking for strength gains, then lower reps are our best bet.
What is the best rep range for front squats?
The best rep range for front squats depends on our primary goal with the movement. If we want to build front squat strength for weightlifting or other sports, then lower reps are a better option; but if we're using front squats as an accessory to back squats, then higher reps may be best.
What is the best rep range for goblet squats?
Cup squats are typically used as a tool to add extra volume to our legs without unduly tiring them out since they're performed with lighter weights than barbell squats. Therefore, the best rep range is typically a higher range like 8-12 reps.
What is the best rep range for squats?
The best rep range for squats depends on what we're trying to achieve with the movement - if strength gain is our main goal, then 1-6 reps is best; but if muscle building is your primary goal, then 8-12 reps is best.
About the author
Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology degree, CSCS and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with herInstagram.