Which is better: more weight or more reps?

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To build muscle you have to make continuous progress in your training: progressive overload. But which is better: more reps or more weight?

The short answer: it doesn’t matter, in both ways you can achieve overload and thus muscle growth. This is on the condition that you train a set to (near) muscle failure (~2 RIR). Research supports this.

Suppose you perform a set of barbell bicep curls with a weight of 17RM and with 2 RIR (you can do a maximum of 17 reps, you stop at 15 reps, so leave 2 reps in the tank). Let’s also say that the weight you use for your 17RM set is 20 kg. Over time, your biceps grow and you get stronger. Completing 15 reps is no longer a challenge. Should you now increase to 22 kg and try to complete 15 reps with 2 RIR? Or should you keep the same load (20 kg) and do a few more repetitions?

Both options are possible and one is not necessarily better than the other. It is true that you do not want to do a ridiculous amount of repetitions per set. Sooner or later it’s time to increase the weight a bit, so that you keep operating in the range of 15 to 20 repetitions, for example.

Overload means nothing more than that a muscle is being challenged. Your body makes no distinction in which way that happens. For example, it doesn’t matter with which exercise you do it (compound or isolation, machine or with free weights), as long as sets are trained to near-muscle failure and as long as repetitions and/or weight are increased over time.


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