It was the mid 90’s, I was a fresh-faced college graduate with a BS in kinesiology (ok, technically physiological sciences but they changed the name in my junior year) and therefore thought (no, KNEW) that I knew everything there was to know about everything. Hahahahaha.
At some point, I would go to take the USWF Olympic Lifting Level 1 Certification. Two oddities stand out from that. First was that the guy teaching it told me that his son had studied piano with my mother; and here I was, the son of two musicians taking a training certification. I have no idea what that means but it must mean something.
The second point, that is actually relevant was that Wes Barnett (then one of the US’s top lifters and hopefuls) was there to demonstrate. He was a big dude and I asked the coaches what he did for muscle growth. They told me that he would just do lots of sets of 5. This, of course, blew my all-knowing mind, I knew that the hypertrophy zone was higher than that. How could sets of 5 get it done? Clearly there was more to the topic than I then understood.
A Little History About the Hypertrophy Zone
For many years, it was generally asserted that 8-12 repetitions was the hypertrophy range. Shockingly, I never ever found an actual reference to support it. Usually it was one book citing a book by another author which would then cite a reference paper that they had written which would cite the first book; it was one big circle jerk of referencing. But bodybuilders of the day typically talked about working in that, or occasionally higher repetition ranges (because the pump is like coming and coming and coming). But that’s just broscience, amirite?
Now, I have a theory about where 8-12 reps actually came from. If you get way back into the history of the weight game, you see a lot of recommendations to do 3 sets of 10. This assuredly came out of some of the early work of DeLorme (look it up, folks) but it shows up a lot in earlier books. I suspect that what happened is that guys would sort of lose count during their sets; hell I can barely get past 8 without losing focus. So sometimes they would do 8 and sometimes they might do 12. Boom, the hypertrophy range became 8-12 going forwards.