Best Rep Range For Cutting Weight (Science-Backed)

the best rep range for cutting is one that allows you to sometimes train with heavier loads to preserve basic strength 5-10 reps

During a cutting phase, there is a tug of war going on between losing body fat and retaining muscle and strength. 

The calories deficit required to be in to lose body fat can also be your biggest enemy if your training is not on point, specifically how hard, heavy, and what rep ranges you train in.

So, what are the best rep ranges for cutting?

The best rep range for cutting is one that allows you to sometimes train with heavier loads to preserve basic strength (5-10 reps) and more moderate to light loads to allow you to retain as much muscle while training in higher volumes (10-20 reps). 

Here’s what you’ll learn in this article: 

  • What is the best rep range for cutting weight?
  • Pros and cons of low reps vs high reps
  • Best rep ranges for aesthetics, strength-based sports, and general fitness

Need a workout program that already optimizes your rep ranges and fitness goals? Get 3 free workouts now when you download the Fitbod app.

Should You Do Low Reps For Cutting Weight?

training in lower rep ranges is often reserved for building strength as it allows for increased loading

Training in lower rep ranges is often reserved for building strength as it allows for increased loading, neuromuscular activity, and is specific to more strength-focused training outcomes (such as powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic weightlifting). 

During a cutting phase, lifting with heavier loads is something that can be beneficial for strength retention, muscle recruitment, and sports performance for strength-sports athletes.

What is Considered Low Reps?

Lower rep training is considered anything between 1-5 reps, which is the typical range that is used during strength development cycles and competition peaking programs for powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters. 

However, if your goal isn’t to max out a 1 rep lift, a “low rep range” could be expanded to 5-10 reps, as this allows for moderate to heavy loads to occur yet still enables the lifter to accumulate more volume to signal muscle retention and growth. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the pros and cons of lower rep training during a cut.

Pros vs. Cons of Low Rep Training for Cutting

Lower rep training offers unique advantages for strength retention, muscle growth, and sport specificity performance for strength-based sports.

Research shows that in order to gain and/or retain strength, you must lift heavy relative to your needs and goals (1). 

When strength is the goal, such as when cutting weight for a strength-sport competition, you must train with heavier loads to retain your strength abilities and keep the nervous system primed. The loading and rep amounts used can vary between 1-5 reps for more strength-centric focused training, or 5-10 for more general strength retention during the cutting phase.

One major limitation of training with predominantly low reps during a cutting phase is that you are not able to train in higher volumes (total sets, reps, and volume), which is one of the biggest influences on muscle hypertrophy. 

If you are someone looking to maintain as much muscle as possible during the cutting phase for aesthetic or general fitness purposes, only training in the low rep range could result in muscle loss due to the inability to get enough training volume to sustain muscle tissue or growth. 

To combat this, you could train hard within the 6-12 rep range, which has been shown to offer the best chances to increase muscle growth and singal some strength improvements/retention (2).

Should You Do High Reps For Cutting Weight?

higher rep training is a go to for many individuals who are cutting weight

Higher rep training is a go to for many individuals who are cutting weight, however many of them misunderstand the purpose behind high rep training. 

High rep training does not mean you use light weights and train less intensely. Instead, you should use moderate to light loads and train to complete failure, hitting higher rep landmarks. 

What is Considered High Reps?

Higher rep training is generally between 10-20 reps, and sometimes can be extended to 20-30 reps. 

Most people would benefit from training in the 10-20 rep range, and training to failure with a load that allows for them to bring a muscle to complete failure.

The key to training for muscle growth with high reps is that you must use a load that is heavy enough to elicit muscle failure in that rep range. If you are using a weight that you can get 20-25 reps with, but at the end of the set could still do a few more reps, that load is too light. 

Ideally, you would use a load that is near your 20 rep max, and push all sets to failure.

Pros vs. Cons of High Rep Training for Cutting

Higher rep training is a very popular method of training during a cutting phase, however lifters must first understand the physiological processes behind higher rep training, the benefits, and the potential limitations for best results using a cutting phase.

When lifting for muscle hypertrophy (size growth), research has shown that light loads done for high reps are just as effective as heavier loads done for less reps when the intensity with high rep training is taken to near or full muscular failure (3). 

While higher rep training using less loading has shown slightly less improvements in strength, it did allow for higher training volumes to take place, which resulted in significant muscle growth without the need of heavy loads.

Furthermore, we know that more training volume is generally correlated with more muscle growth and signalling for muscle retention. 

One study determined that higher rep training (low load resistance training) allowed for greater training volume to be accumulated over an eight week training program when compared to lower rep training programs (4). 

It is important to note that this relationship is not linear, however, as research indicates that while training volume is one of the most effective variables for muscle growth, there is a clear dose response relationship between the two (5). 

This dose response relationship indicates that higher volume training is effective to a certain point, to which then it can become counter productive or detrimental if recovery is not sufficient enough.


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What Is The Best Rep Range For Cutting? (15 Tips)

the best rep ranges based on your goals during a cutting phase

Now that we have discussed the basics of rep training for cutting, let’s discuss the best rep ranges based on your goals during a cutting phase.

If your goal is aesthetics

If you are looking to shed body fat and maintain as much muscle as possible, then this is most likely your best option for rep training while cutting. 

Some muscle loss is going to occur during any significant cutting phase, as well as some temporary decreases in strength. 

That said, using the below guidelines will help minimize those losses, especially if your cut is not overly aggressive.

Best Rep Range for Aesthetics While Cutting

Most lifters should aim to train in a variety of rep ranges to get the best out of both low rep and high rep training. Ideally, you would train 50% of the time in the 8-15 rep range, and the other time could be spent training between 3-8 reps and 15-25 reps. 

One research found that the best rep range for universal strength training during a weight loss phase is between 9-12 repetitions (6).

How Intense Should You Train (Relative Intensity)

Training intensity during a cut should be relatively hard, taking most moderate and higher rep sets to near failure or complete failure (technical failure, which means you have zero good reps in the tank). 

The exception may be with lower rep training, in which failing or going to full failure with heavy loads (typically above 85% of max) could lead to neural fatigue, which during a cutting phase could have a greater negative effect than other times due to you eating less calories than you brain and body desires.

How Frequent Should You Train (Training Frequency)

During a cutting phase, you want to be sure to accumulate high amounts of training volume, however you also are often low on energy and stamina (due to not having enough calories). By increasing your training frequency you can train the muscle more often, yet do less work in a given workout, and still have a positive effect on muscle growth and retention. 

One study concluded that higher volume training is correlated with more muscle growth, however increased training volume did have less of an effect on strength development and retention (7). Ideally, you would train each muscle group 2-3 times a week.

How Many Sets Should You Train (Training Volume)

The total amount of sets per exercise can vary depending on the reps performed. Generally speaking, you are far better doing 2-3 high quality, highly stimulating work sets than doing 4-6 total sets that are sloppy, just tiring, and don’t get a lot of muscle pump and soreness. 

Aim to train 2-4 total sets per exercise focusing on taking those sets to failure using perfect form and get a great muscle pump and contractions.

What Types of Exercises and Reps Should You Do?

Exercise selection does not need to be different during a cutting phase, however you may find that doing compound exercises for high reps can be highly fatiguing on the body as a whole, which is not what you want when looking to optimize your training during a cutting phase. 

Machines and isolation work may make the most sense when training higher reps as you are not limited by systematic fatigue and also may not have as much neural stress on the body. 

For example, doing Romanian deadlifts for 15-20 reps may hit your hamstrings, but also blow up your lower back and zap all your energy (which is already depressed due to your calorie deficit). 

In this case, it may be better to do 2 sets of heavier Romanian deadlifts in the 5-10 rep range, then isolate the hamstrings with machines or hamstring curls for a few higher rep sets.

If your goal is strength-based sports

As a strength-based sport athlete, you need to ensure you are maintaining or increasing max performance during a cutting phase. 

Most of the heavy lifting at this point should have been done weeks and months ago, however now is the time to train your body and nervous system to express your true abilities. 

Take a look below at how to properly train during this phase by manipulating your sets, reps, volume, and intensity.

Best Rep Range for Strength-Based Sports While Cutting

If you are a strength-sport lifter, you are probably cutting to make a weight class and compete. 

If this is the case, you want to train heavily to ensure you peak your strength, yet not too often to overtrain and deplete your nervous system. 

Generally speaking, you want to train the competition lifts (squat, bench, deadlift for powerlifters and snatch, clean and jerk for weightlifters) for 1-3 reps using heavy loads (85-100%). 

Your accessory work can be done using moderate rep ranges, or higher rep ranges based on preference, as both seem to work well when movements are taken to near fatigue.

How Intense Should You Train (Relative Intensity)

Research shows that strength production and force development is load dependent, meaning that if you are wanting to lift heavy, you need to be sure to train heavy (8). 

This applies to a greater extent the more advanced you become, with one study finding that while low load and high load training both stimulate muscle hypertrophy, only high load training elicits strength improvements in more advanced lifters (9).

How Frequent Should You Train (Training Frequency)

When lifting heavier, less total volume and sets are needed to maintain strength or even improve it, therefore performing 1-3 total work sets with heavy loads would suffice for most lifters. 

The more advanced lifter you are, the less training volume you may need with very heavy loads to maintain top end strength. 

For technique purposes, you should train the competition lifts 2-3 times a week, with the exception of the deadlift, which sometimes is trained every week or even week and a half in stronger lifters. 

It is important to note that you should not train the competition lifts heavy every time you perform them, but rather do some heavier sessions and some lighter sessions.

How Many Sets Should You Train (Training Volume)

This varies greatly based on the individual and their abilities, however less is often more when it comes to strength development and retention. 

Generally speaking, train the movements for a total of 3-6 sets per week when you are lifting with 85-100% intensities. 

What Types of Exercises and Reps Should You Do?

For the competition lifts, aim to perform 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps during a cutting phase to ensure neural drive and strength retention. 

You can train higher rep ranges similarly to the other subgroups, however your overall training volume may be slightly less to allow for more adequate recovery from the supra-heavy loaded competition lifts training.


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If your goal is for general fitness

If your goal is to improve your body competitions while still being able to preserve lean muscle mass and general strength, your guidelines are very similar to those of lifters looking for pure aesthetics during the cutting phase. 

There are some slight differences however, which we will discuss below.

Best Rep Range for General Fitness While Cutting

Generally speaking, your repetition ranges will be similar to that of the aesthetics subgroup, with most of your training occurring between the 8-15 rep range to allow for some heavier loads and lighter loads (increasing training volumes). 

You can also lift in the 5-10 rep range for a lower amount of sets, and also train in the 15-25 rep range as well for more muscle endurance and metabolic stress. 

How Intense Should You Train (Relative Intensity)

Training intensity should be high when working with lighter loads, and effort should be taken to lift with roughly 15-20 rep maximums, taking most sets to near failure to elicit muscle fatigue. 

Lower rep sets can be done in less training volume and to a hard effort where you are training near failure, but not to failure.

How Frequent Should You Train (Training Frequency)

Generally speaking, you want to prioritize weight training as your main form of training if you are looking to maximize muscle retention, strength, and body fat loss during a calorie restricted period. 

Research has repeatedly shown that resistance training plays a significant role in muscle preservation during a calories deficit (10).

How Many Sets Should You Train (Training Volume)

Most exercises should be performed for 2-4 total sets, making sure to perform 4-8 total sets per muscle group in that session. 

For example, if you are looking to train the legs, you could choose two hamstring exercises and two quad exercises, and perform 2-4 sets per exercise in a variety of rep ranges.

What Types of Exercises and Reps Should You Do?

Your exercise selection does not need to change while cutting, however like the aesthetics group discussed above, some movements may allow for higher quality and more targeted reps to be performed when done with free weights or machines/isolation movements. 

Generally speaking, more compound movements can be trained in the lower to moderate rep range, whereas machines and isolation movements may be best used in the moderate to higher rep range.

Are you looking for a training program that incorporates proper rep ranges and training volume to help you maximize your results in a cutting phase? If so, download the Fitbod app and get 3 free workouts!

Other Training Considerations When Cutting

other training considerations you should be aware of when cutting that can impact your workouts, performance, and success

Below are two other training considerations you should be aware of when cutting that can impact your workouts, performance, and success.

Monitor Training Volume

Be sure to monitor your overall training volume, track your progress, and record your recovery. 

When you are in a calorie deficit, it may be difficult to increase training volume week to week and push hard the deeper you go into a cut, so you may find that you begin to do too much volume as you go on. 

If that’s the case, decrease your training volume and prioritize high quality reps and sets, rather than sheer volume. 

Quality trumps quantity.

Cardio Considerations

Cardio is not an essential part of the cutting process, however it can be a useful tool for some who are looking to burn a few more calories and place themselves in a deeper caloric deficit. 

Be careful not to overdo cardio or prioritize it over your diet (you can’t out train a poor diet) or weight sessions, as too much cardio can have a severe impact on muscle retention and strength during a cutting phase. 

If you are to do cardio, be sure to choose low impact, lower intensity cardio, especially peaking for a strength competition is your goal.

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Final Thoughts

Cutting weight is a straightforward process that should be done primarily through diet modification. 

Your training regimen should revolve around lifting weights and training hard so that you can ensure you can retain as much muscle and strength as possible. 

To do so, you need to understand how to manipulate your sets, reps, training volume, and training intensity to suit your individual training needs and goals.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.

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