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.


7 Answers 7


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.


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.

  • @ 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, 2013 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. Apr 6, 2013 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, 2013 at 21:20
  • @JacobSDK +1 for the scientific evidence and great suggestions. Thanks much! Keep up the good work.
    – QikMood
    Apr 7, 2013 at 2:37

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.

  • 1
    @ 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, 2013 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. May 14, 2013 at 14:50

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.

  • 3
    @ 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, 2013 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, 2013 at 18:50

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.


To build muscle mass and to increase strength, lower repetitions(try to shoot for about 2 to 6), are more effective. So yes, do low reps to gain mass. The squat is especially important, and work at least half of the major muscle groups on the body(legs, abdominals, back), but still primarily lower body muscles. I hope this helps and good luck with increasing your leg growth.


To keep it simple:

Follow Supercompensation:

1.Do reps until you cannot do more, multiple 8-15 times a move. So body notices that you need more strength.

  1. Give your body enough time to recover. Not same muscle training every day. Wait until your normal pulse is low again.

  2. Continue at the right time again. Waiting longer means muscles will be reduced again if not used.

Don't do big mistakes:

About eating: too many proteins will just be burnt like carbs. Same happens if you eat not enough carbs, so do not do any extreme diet. Follow WHO minimum amounts, and - if you like - add one time per day a bit protein powder or a good food mixture biological value to keep proteins not too low. Cornflakes with milk, or spinach with eggs and potatoes, or lens soup are examples. Too many proteins won't help, not enough will make it impossible, so find an easy middle. No need to buy protein powder mixed with 1% exotic berry powder, just be reasonable.

Same with sleep. Not enough is bad, very simple but no one pays enough attention to that. Try to sleep and get up at similar times, and to have enough sleep (feel ok/well when getting up). Better 30-90minutes more sleep after an intense workout day.

Some hints:

It 'costs' 1-2 hours per day. 15-30 mins preparing 30-60 workout, 15-30 shower and some food, and 30-60 more sleep. Plan the time or you will not have it.

And since leg muscles are 1/3 of all muscles, you will need to do some cardio as well (should happen automatically).

If you try workout programs, use some with varying intensity, to 'surprise' your body. But don't buy expensive ones. Ask friends if you like to try one of those.

Liquid: Also drink enough during training, 'magical water' maybe green tea, with a tip of salt and maybe 10% fruit juice and some magnesium powder if you can get it cheap. It is just an isotonic "sweat water". Don't buy expensive powders, its just salt and sugar for isotonic electrolyt solutions.

Motivation: Write down your reps to see how you improve. You should get better numbers in 1-2 weeks. Getting feedback about improvement is very important. It will only work if you stay motivated.

And don't overdo: Don't do more than 1h of intense workouts per day. Your carb storage lasts for 60-120 minutes, but just refills 30-60minutes per day. If no carbs are left then your body will burn muscle. Most marathon runners need a heart operation because of that (constantly rebuilding heart muscles leads to blood flow disorders in it). So 30-60 mins intense workout, cardio, strength, HIIT, and 1 day yoga/stretch. To do the right amounts of breaks: 1 day off per week 1 week off per month 1 month off per year Should do that to not push your body too much.

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