How to use varying rep ranges to build bigger legs

Is Varying Rep Ranges the Key to Building Bigger Legs?

This is a guest post by Luke Cafferty of StrengthAuthority.com. Be sure to leave your feedback in the comment section at the end of the article.

I don’t care who says otherwise, a big set of wheels is the most impressive body part ANYONE can develop.

I honestly would not be able to say how many people I know with a solid, well-built chest. More than I could count.

But people with good leg development? Well, that’s a different story all together.

A large and muscular set of pins is the physical demonstration of hard work, dedication, and someone who is comfortable with making themselves uncomfortable.

And that my friends, is why strong, muscular legs are truly so impressive.

Building a big set of wheels requires a little more effort than jumping on the leg press for 3 sets of 10. It takes consideration, programming, a lot of sweat, and on the odd occasion, a few tears.

When it comes to optimal leg development, big compound exercises are always my go to.

They work a massive amount of muscle mass, they allow us to use more load (which increases mechanical tension), and provide a greater opportunity to manipulate rep ranges without the need for a whole lot of exercise variations.

And practically speaking, it is this manipulation of rep ranges that provides the key to some ridiculous leg development. This requires hitting a number of different rep ranges within the same workout to provide the stimulus essential to triggering massive muscle growth.

Low and Heavy: 1-5 Reps

Hitting heavy reps on compound movements like squats and deadlifts can suck balls. It at times can feel as if your muscle is literally about to tear itself from the bone, leaving you broken, sad, and sore.

Fortunately, that doesn’t happen.

Our muscle tissue has an absurd capacity for physical load. And, despite the uncomfortable feelings associated, all we need to do is capitalize on it.

While low rep ranges are traditionally associated with strength development (not that this is by any means a bad thing), they can also play an integral role in developing muscle tissue.

Lifting heavy promotes muscle growth through an increase in mechanical tension. This describes the physical stress placed on the muscle tissue, and promotes hypertrophy through a slightly different pathway than that of metabolic stress (we will get to this later).

Additionally, lifting heavy requires an extremely high amount of neural stimulus.

Our nervous system is working overtime to recruit muscle fibers, ensuring that we can generate the maximum amount of force that we are physically capable of generating.

This acts as an effective way to prime the nervous system for subsequent exercises OR subsequent rep ranges - where we will continue to recruit an extremely large amount of muscle fibers for everything within the workout to follow.

This means that we will be able to lift more weight or get in more reps at any given workload, compared to if we had not primed the nervous system with some heavy lifting beforehand.

For these heavier sets I like 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps.

The Middle of the Road: 6-15 Reps

Once we have induced a significant amount of mechanical stress, and subsequently prepared our nervous system for some efficient work, it is time to chase the pump.

The other key driver for muscle growth is known as metabolic stress.

Metabolic stress ultimately describes the burning sensation you feel within your muscle tissue after a few reps, and is caused by a number of factors, each contributing to a wicked pump (and of course, muscle growth).

Working within moderate rep ranges prevents blood from escaping the active muscle tissue (the veins get restricted in response to the multiple muscle contractions occurring), which creates a build-up of lactate, creatine, and a number of other chemical metabolites, while also stopping blood escaping from the muscle tissue.

It is a combination of these factors that contributes to the pump, while also driving muscle growth through a large increase in metabolic stress.

Now, while building up some extreme metabolic stress can be uncomfortable it is absolutely key to developing a massive set of legs.

Both mechanical tension and metabolic stress will only get you so far when used alone, but when combined, they can provide an extremely potent combination to drive muscle growth.

For these moderate rep ranges I typically use 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.

The Finisher: 20+ Reps

Now while a combination of both heavy loads and moderate rep ranges can often be enough to stimulate some significant muscle growth, there is one other thing we can do to seriously maximise our ability to build some leg size.

The cherry on top, if you will.

The kicker?

They are sheer brutality.

These will challenge both your physical and mental strength.

High rep ranges are a way to seriously challenge the muscle, working well into the development of muscular endurance, while also providing an opportunity to build slow twitch muscle fibers and create an extremely large amount metabolic stress.

Now, my one rule with these when it comes to lower body lifts is no deadlifts.

While I am sure that 20 rep deadlifts would drive some significant growth, the risk of form deteriorating and getting an injury greatly outweighs the potential reward.

Instead, focus on squat variations, leg presses, and isolation exercises.

My go to with these is 1-2 sets of 20-30 reps – although I know some people who have used sets of 50 reps with great success.

An important factor here is to make sure you don’t go too light,

While it is means to be lighter than, say a 12RM, the last few reps should be a grind. You should need a few deep breaths and a couple of seconds rest between each of the last few reps.

Putting It All Together

So we now have an understanding of how each little component contributes to muscle growth by building on the what comes before it, it is time to put it all together.

Lower Body Day 1: Dem Quads

Exercise

Sets x Reps

Back Squats

4 x 4

Front Squats

3 x 12

Back Squats

2 x 25

Leg Extensions

3 x 10

Lower Body Day 2: Hams on Hams

Exercise

Sets x Reps

Deadlift

5 x 3

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

4 x 10

Hamstring Curl

2 x 30

Dumbbell Deadlift

3 x 12

While these workouts may look a little shorter than your traditional leg workouts, trust me, they will be more taxing than you can imagine.

I would recommend running a lower body program like this for 6 to 8 weeks and watch the gains come rolling in.

Summary

Let's summarize why using varying rep ranges works so well for building bigger legs (and how to put it in practice).

  • Using varying rep ranges during a single session is a great way to stimulate muscle growth through 2 key mechanisms: mechanical tension and metabolic stress.
  • Using heavier rep ranges first primes the nervous system, increasing muscle fiber recruitment for subsequent exercises. This further increases the effectiveness of work done in both moderate and high rep ranges, which should be done after the heavier sets.
  • This sort of training is brutal but effective – if you want to start stretching the seams of your pants you need to put in some hard, smart work.

About the Author Luke Cafferty

Luke Cafferty is a fitness junkie, personal trainer and blogger. He's passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a strong and well-rounded physique, while inspiring others to do the same. Luke found a passion for human performance and the ability to optimize his nutritional intake for muscle growth, better immunity and different cardiovascular benefits at a young age. This passion has since grown and he continues to deepen his knowledge on all aspects of fitness and health. To see more of his work visit StrengthAuthority.com or find him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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1 comment
Steve says March 9, 2017

For me, personally, it’s all about lifting heavy and staying in the 6-8 rep range.

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