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To build muscle you need to lift weights, train hard, eat and rest. Those are the basics, but to step things up to the next level you need to look at the minor details, such as your set and rep schemes.

Spend any amount of time in the iron game, and you’ll come across hundreds of different approaches to building muscle, burning fat and getting big and lean. One aspect of training that most seem to agree on and for which the guidelines tend to be fairly uniform is the set and rep schemes needed for building muscle.

Traditionally, three sets of eight to 10 repetitions has been the norm. There can be some variance in this, but most bodybuilders stick somewhere between two and four sets of eight to 10 reps, occasionally dropping to six or seven reps, and sometimes going as high as 12.

Who’s going to argue with this approach? It’s been the cornerstone in developing thousands of amazing physiques, so it clearly works.

The issue is however, that while we always see the guys who it works for – the pro bodybuilders, top class athletes, cover models and Mr Olympia winners, there are so many more people for who this approach isn’t optimal.

It seems extremely simplistic to categorically state that three sets of eight to 10 reps is the best way to build muscle.

For a start it poses the question – “What if I only do seven reps per set, or go up to 15 on an exercise?” It’s unlikely that this would lead to no muscle growth at all, yet this sort of training doesn’t fall within the bodybuilding guidelines.

Secondly, there are plenty of powerlifters and sportsmen who train with extremely heavy loads, yet make some bodybuilders look small. You only have to take a glance at an Olympic weightlifter’s quads to know that you can get big without the bodybuilding rep ranges. Olympic lifters typically lift extremely heavy weights with explosive power and rarely perform more than five reps per set, often dropping as low as just one or two reps.

The trouble with having such strict guidelines is that it leaves little room for leeway. Also, from a combination of scientific research and real world experience, it’s also apparent that there are is more than one way to skin a cat. Or in this case, more than one way to build big muscles.

Just like Olympic lifters and powerlifters, old-school bodybuilders used different rep ranges, often incorporating ultra-high rep sets on certain exercises, as well as blending in low rep strength work.

To take your training to the next level, look further afield than your standard three sets of eight to 10 reps that you took from the latest bodybuilding magazine, and start adding in different rep ranges, changing your weight percentages and varying your training a little more. By incorporating different methodologies you’re setting yourself up for your best size and strength gains ever.

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