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To add mass to my legs, should i lift heavy with few reps or lighter with 12-15 reps?

For legs I did 5 sts of 5 reps:

  • Squats
  • Leg Press
  • Straight Legged Dead Lift
  • Leg Extension
  • Leg Curl

Every 5th rep was about to failure.

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@ Jake Miller It takes more than just reps to add mass. How is your diet, your sleeping, and the frequency of your training? –  QikMood Apr 5 '13 at 22:32
Related: fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/8238/… –  Kate Apr 6 '13 at 3:04

5 Answers 5

There's more than one type of muscle mass, and training different rep ranges emphasize one over the other:

  • Rep ranges 1-3: emphasizes myophibrilar hypertrophy (i.e. more protein pairs that actually perform muscle contractions)
  • Rep ranges 4-6: balanced hypertrophy range (i.e. both myophibrilar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy)
  • Rep ranges 7-15: emphasizes sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (i.e. more energy support systems)
  • Rep ranges 15+: emphasizes endurance

The key word in each of these bullet points is "emphasizes". You won't have any rep range that is exclusively myophibrilar or sarcoplasmic. Next, it's important to understand what myophibrilar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy do in terms of muscle mass.

  • Myophibrilar hypertrophy is dense, and doesn't necessarily lend much to size once you get past an untrained state. Muscles with a high proportion of myophibrilar hypertrophy are hard like rock.
  • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy takes up more room, and lends to more size even when you are trained. Muscles with a high proportion of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy are firm, but spongy in comparison to myophibrilar hypertrophy.

Folks who train for mass emphasize the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy range because it takes up more room. Whether you want to be bigger or you want to be stronger, you will need to emphasize both over time.

Keys to getting more mass:

  • Eat. You need plenty of protein and carbs, and the right amount of fat, to build muscle. Saturated fat keeps your testosterone levels normal, carbs put energy into your muscles after training, and protein is the raw building blocks for more muscle.
  • Supplement. You need vitamins and minerals. You also need to make sure you don't overeat, so to keep the protein up without overshooting your calorie requirements.
  • Train high volume. You'll do the bulk of your training with intensities that are 60-80% of your max. You'll do lots of reps. 3x8, 10x10, 5x20, multiple sets to failure. All of these work for your stated goal.
  • Keep it simple. Squats (both front and back) and Romanian Deadlifts will be the bulk of your leg training. Perhaps some standing calf raises with a barbell on your back to help increase the size of your calves.
  • Play with training density. More density (more work in less time) helps burn fat while building muscle. Less density helps you recover if you are feeling a bit crispy.
  • Be patient. Muscle takes time to build. The more you have the slower it grows.

If you decide to include sets of 1-3, do a lot of sets and keep the intensity the same as if you were doing sets of 8-12.

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High weight with few reps will primarily result in adaptations to your central nervous system. That is, you become better at contracting your muscles and wont necessarily add any significant amount of muscle mass.

If you do a lighter weight, with a higher rep routine one of the things that will happen is that you will deplete muscle ATP, which the body then super-compensates to by hypertrophy.

Squat is an excellent exercise for various reasons (hormonal, strength, balance etc). I would base my program around this exercise. Make sure to perform it properly - which means proper depth (upper thigh should be parallel to the ground). Don't get caught up in chasing numbers. an 80kg squat performed at proper depth, is worth much more than a half squat at a much higher weight.

just to be clear. When I'm talking low rep, I mean about 1RM - 3RM (repetition maximum). and high rep beeing about 8-12


squat depth
Effect of range of motion in heavy load squatting on muscle and tendon adaptations
Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance
Effect of back squat depth on lower body post-activation potentiation.

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@ JacobSDK Would you mind share some scientific evidence with your rationale? One with "high weight and few reps result in adaptations to your central nervous system." One with "lighter weight, with a higher rep routine deplete muscle ATP, which lead to hypertrophy." One with proper depth is much better than higher weight." Thanks for sharing your thoughts! –  QikMood Apr 6 '13 at 20:25
@Trungmanator It's good that you're enthusiastic, but answers don't need to have scientific evidence. Leaving a comment on one or two answers about that is fine, but especially with new users, you're asking for way too much. –  Dave Liepmann Apr 6 '13 at 21:08
@DaveLiepmann Good point! I just wanted to help out a little bit, and making sure we don't have any "random" answers. After all, anyone can answer a question, but it's great to share some scientific evidence. –  QikMood Apr 6 '13 at 21:20
@JacobSDK +1 for the scientific evidence and great suggestions. Thanks much! Keep up the good work. –  QikMood Apr 7 '13 at 2:37

Assuming that you're eating plenty of food, particularly plenty of protein, and assuming that you're getting enough sleep and aren't terribly stressed, the best way to add mass to your legs is with a small number of exercises--certainly squats and deadlifts, plus additional exercises like leg press and so on if you are sure that you're getting enough sleep and food.

If you're not squatting over 1.5x bodyweight, I'd stick to just the squats and deadlifts, and stick with three to five sets of five or six reps each.

If you are already squatting over 1.5x your bodyweight, I'd do at least one or two sets of 8-12 or even as many as 20 reps in a set. One good way to do this is with two sets of five or six, then a final set of as many reps as possible (with good form). Another way is to do one to three sets of twenty-rep squats.

As this post describes, the best rep scheme for mass is probably between 8 to 12, but it's important to make yourself strong enough to work with heavy weights before focusing on mass.

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To put on mass you need BOTH. Load up the squat bar with your normal 10 rep max weight. Then do 20 reps. Eat and sleep a ton for 2 days. Increase weight on the bar 10 pounds. Wash, rinse, repeat. You will put mass on everywhere.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

@ Ben I'm not disagreeing with you at all; however, would you please give us a reason why you made such a recommendation regarding your answer. Scientific evidence would be really helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! –  QikMood Apr 6 '13 at 1:27
The formula is simple, the explanation is simple. Experience is always ahead of science when it comes to exercise. If you spend time reading scientific studies you will see that they have small sample sizes, and in reality each individual has too many independent variables to do real meaningful scientific research on anything related to exercise. Also most of the people creating the "scientific evidence" are not scientists, and have no classic training in the sciences. Work hard, eat and rest. The recipe has worked for half a century, and still works today. –  Ben May 31 '13 at 18:50

Adding mass or hypertrophy happens at higher weight and lower reps. 8 is the ideal rep count. Try to pick a weight that has you struggling on 6,7 and 8.

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@ Ryan I think you are okay here with your recommendation about the reps. However, do you think that nutrition, proper sleeping pattern and the frequency of the training (volume) play a role at all when it comes to gaining mass? –  QikMood Apr 5 '13 at 22:35
@Trungmanator If you want an answer to address nutrition, sleep, and training frequency, write it instead of leaving a comment on every answer. Be sure to cite your references. –  Dave Liepmann May 14 '13 at 14:50

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