Bulking vs Cutting: Are Reps Higher or Lower? | BarBend

said Dr. Mike Israetel that science has repeatedly shown that all rep sets tend to promote muscle growth.

Sports Physiologist Dr.Mike Israete is the training expert on the Renaissance Periodization YouTube channel, often reviewing what the latest research suggests for resistance training. On December 12, 2023, Dr. Israetel on the oft-cited debate about whether lifting heavy weights for fewer reps while lifting lighter weights for higher reps for cutting are accurate training methods or a fun balance just words.

According to Dr. Israetel, science suggests that both styles of training can build equivalent muscle over time. See the full breakdown and Israel’s recommendations below:

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Debunking Traditional Approaches to Bulking and Cutting

Bodybuilders, Strongmen, and other gym-goers may have heard through the fitness grapevine that one should lift heavy weights in low rep ranges to pack on muscle mass and lift lighter weights that with higher repetitions to reduce body fat. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Mike Israetel, it’s not that easy.

Lifting heavy refers to sets that reach failure in the five to 12 rep range. Lifting lighter refers to sets where failure is closer to 20 reps. Both sets of reps can result in an adequate muscle stimulus if the lifter is close to failure, meaning they don’t complete a rep or their form is compromised due to fatigue.

Ranges of five to 30 repetitions, and even slightly outside of those ranges, have been shown in nearly every study to produce unreliable muscle growth.

TheJournal of Strength and Conditioning Researchsupports the assessment of Dr. Israel. A 2015 study found that low- and high-load resistance training produced similar muscle hypertrophy responses. However, heavier loads yielded more strength. (1)

This is good news for a habitual gym-goer because it suggests that building muscle allows for variation. Rep ranges can be adjusted per muscle group to optimize recovery time.

How Muscles Work

Commonfitness mythslike the higher-rep, lower-weight sets help with muscle details are tenets society needs to leave behind. There is no science to support that higher-rep training with lighter weights adds more muscle detail, regardless that’s what it means.

There is also a common belief that higher reps burn more calories. said Dr. Israetel that while this may be true, the actual caloric difference is very small. Dietis how lifters can make caloric changes to the greatest effect. For fat loss, the main goal in the gym is to maintain as much muscle as possible while in a caloric deficit.

Although refuted by Dr. Israetel the notion of lifting heavy to bulk and lifting light to cut, those methods can be useful tools when implemented appropriately:

  • Using higher repetitions while bulking can lead to burnout, which lifters obviously want to avoid. Through that lens, lifting in a lower rep range with heavier weights may be better for recovery purposes.
  • Lifting heavy during a cut can lead to an increased risk of injury because the body is training with less energy (ie, fewer calories). Through that lens, lifting lighter weights in higher rep ranges can be safer and more effective.

At the end of a cut, suggests Dr. Israetel trains higher reps to avoid unnecessary health risks and the potential to consistently hit PRs with lower weights. The psychological benefit can help lead to a successful reduction.

The choice of rep range should come from the stimulus-to-fatigueratio indicated by a rep range.

In other words, choose the rep range that offers the most stimulation with the least amount of fatigue. This is determined by trial and error, and is different for each exercise and muscle group.

Sometimes, there may not be a noticeable difference between five reps or 20 reps in terms of stimulus. By testing different rep ranges to determine which ones stimulate the target muscles without compromising the rest of the body, lifters can create more comprehensive training plans, whether cutting or bulking.

Dr. recommends Israetel adds reps instead of weight at the end of a cut for progressive overload. This helps with safety when the lifter is at their minimum.

Dr. wanted Israetel advises people to avoid being dogmatic about the so-called science handed down in the gym and stick to what the actual research suggests when bulking or cutting.


Schoenfeld, BJ, Peterson, MD, Ogborn, D., Contreras, B., & Sonmez, GT (2015). Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men.Journal of strength and conditioning research,29(10), 29542963. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958

Featured photo: @drmikeisraetel on Instagram

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