How Many Reps & Sets Should I Do?
How Many Reps Should You Do to Build Muscle? The Shocking Truth
If you’re a genetically average, drug-free guy who wants to build muscle fast it’s essential you know how many reps to do. Most of you are probably sabotaging your gains by training improperly.
If you’re skinnier and weaker than you liked to be you have to force your body to grow by providing a massive amount of overload. What do you think is going to do that more effectively?
Doing heavy weights for a set of 5-8 reps?
Or doing light weights for a set of 15-20 reps?
Obviously, the heavy set will provide more overload.
I could end this post here by telling you to train heavy, because that’s really the gist of it. But lets get into a little more details on exactly why that is.
The first thing you need to know is that each body part is different. That means it’s compromised of varying degrees of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers.
Fast twitch fibers are for high performance and respond best to low reps, lower overall training volume, more rest between sets and lower overall training frequency. These muscles have the greatest potential for growth.
Slow twitch fibers are more for endurance and respond better to higher reps, slightly more volume, less rest between sets and a bit more frequency. These muscles have less potential for growth.
If you were to train one fiber type exclusively it would be the fast twitch fibers.
I like to 80/20 everything in life and training is no different. You will get 80% of your growth from training the fast twitch fibers. Training slow twitch fibers (and using the methods best used to target them like high reps and low rest periods) will only result in 20% of your muscle gains.
The big takeaway is that, regardless of the body part you are training you should focus most of your efforts on low rep training. Natural lifters will get far better gains by doing most of their sets in the 5-8 rep range than they will from typical high volume approaches.
Training with low reps will increase myofibrillar hypertrophy. This is actual real growth of the muscle fibers.
Training with high reps is said to increase sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is an increase in the fluid volume stored in the muscles, consisting of non-contractile tissue.
It’s easy to increase the size of a muscle through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy but there are limits to it. You only get a small amount of actual size increases and it goes away rather quickly. Muscle built through low rep and heavy weight training always maintains the same dense look.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy induced through lighter, high rep training methods tends to disappear as soon as you lower your training volume or your carbs/fluid intake. And if you take a week or two off of training it can look like you lost ten pounds.
That doesn’t happen with low rep, heavy training, which is why it has to be the cornerstone of your training program.
Why Lower Rep Training is Actually Safer
Lower reps come with a lower injury risk when training the big lifts. I don’t believe in doing any of the traditional powerlifting or Olympic lifting exercises for more than 6-8 reps unless you have really solid technique and at least a year of experience.
When you go higher than that on the big lifts the injury risk increases exponentially with each rep as form starts to deteriorate. That’s because your smaller, stabilizer muscles will give out before your big prime movers.
When you squat for high reps your lower back will crap out from fatigue long before your legs do.
Remember that one of the keys to developing strength, while remaining injury free, is the ability to maximize tension. You can only maximize tension for about six reps, maybe eight, tops.
It’s easy to get tight, breathe properly and really dial in your form for a handful of reps. But when you start adding fatigue and labored breathing into the equation your form deteriorates. When that happens you form breaks down. Then you eventually get injured.
The Fatigue and Soreness Factor
When you focus on low reps in your training you will find that you suffer from less overall systemic fatigue than you do when training with traditional high rep, bodybuilding style workouts. This is huge if you are an athlete, a weekend warrior, or someone who just wants to feel great all the time.
When I stick to low rep training I feel like I’m floating down the street when I walk. When I start doing too much high rep pump work I feel like Frankenstein just trudging along the sidewalk.
There’s also the soreness factor to consider. The higher reps sets always produce more soreness even if the total reps are the same.
This means that doing five sets of six (30 total reps) will produce less soreness than three sets of ten (30 total reps). I don’t know about you but I hate being sore all the time. I love being fresh and ready for anything that life throws at me.
When you do high rep bodybuilding style training you can’t just jump into a pickup game at the park or beach because you’re usually suffering from residual fatigue or are just too damn sore.
A Guide to Slow and Fast Twitch Fibers
Some muscles are predominantly fast twitch, some are predominantly slow twitch, and others are mixed.
Let’s start from the top down. But before get into let me just state that again that newbies should always stick with low rep training, no matter what. Higher reps should only be considered after you have trained properly for at least two years. And even at that point, they should only make up about 20-30% of your overall training volume.
Many people assume that since it’s a postural muscle the neck would be predominantly slow twitch, but it’s been shown that the sternocleidomastoid is actually closer to 65% fast twitch. However, due to safety issues you should train the neck with higher reps.
These are postural muscles and thus, slow twitch dominant. But that doesn’t mean you should do a dozen sets of high rep shrugs at every workout. You see plenty of powerlifters and Olympic lifter who have huge traps from deadlifts, cleans and snatches, which are all done with low reps.
The real benefit of this information is in knowing how to keep your shoulders healthy. You should do things like face pulls and incline shrugs for sets of 8-12 reps to help avoid a shoulder injury. Just don’t ever make high rep training the main focus of your training.
The shoulders are an interesting muscle group in that you should train them with both low and high reps. Pressing is all about performance and should be done for low reps. Then, to maximize the size of your side and rear delts you’ll want to add in some higher rep sets. This only applies to people who have trained properly for at least two years. Newbies should always stick with low rep training.
The chest is predominantly fast twitch and responds best to low reps and heavy weight. I generally recommend sets of 5-8 reps, but if you do enough volume, you can good results by doing sets of 4 and even 3 reps for chest work. I’d be very careful and limit the work you do in the lower end of the rep range, however, as it can be very hard on your joints.
On the other hand, if you do too much high rep pressing not only will your muscle growth suffer but you may notice an increase in shoulder pain from your chest getting too tight.
The lats are generally of mixed composition and thus respond best to medium reps. You can’t go wrong sticking with an average of 6-8 reps per set on lat work.
This is a postural muscle so it is predominantly slow twitch. If you train the lower back with movements like back extensions and reverse hypers they should be done for high reps. If you only train the lower back with deadlift and Olympic lift variations you’ll want to stick with low reps.
Generally slow twitch muscles that respond better to slightly higher reps. But again, you can build great glutes with squats, lunges, deadlifts and glute ham raises, all of which should be done for low reps.
They are performance muscles responsible for speed and power. That means they are fast twitch and are to be trained with low reps.
The quads are comprised of a nearly equal mix of fibers. That’s why Olympic lifters and power lifters get huge quads from doing sets of 1-3 reps and why speed skaters and cyclists get huge quads from the long time under tension their sport demands.
Twenty rep squat programs became popular for a reason- because they work.
All that being said I still recommend sticking with predominantly low rep strength training for quads. One reason being that it works better for steroid-free, average lifters. The second reason being that you will already be getting “high rep” leg training in at least 1-2 times per week with your HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts that consist of bike or sled sprints. No need for more than that.
Putting it All Together
The main takeaway is that you should focus 80% of your training on working in the range of 5-8 reps with compound movements. That’s how you build muscle most effectively.
Do nothing but low reps during your first two years of training.
After that sprinkle in some higher reps on:
- Neck exercises like loaded flexion and extension (10-20 reps)
- Rear delt fly variations (10-15 reps)
- Lateral raise variations (10-15 reps)
- Face pulls (8-12 reps)
- Triceps extensions and pushdowns (8-12 reps)
- Back raises and reverse hypers (10-20 reps)
- Glute bridges and hip thrusts (8-12 reps)
What About if I’m Over 40?
If you’re over 40 and have been training for many years you might want to stick with an average of 8-10 reps per set. And when you are strong and advanced you can actually get great results by sprinkling in a few more sets of 15-20 reps. Heavy weights for high reps can be very effective. But the key is being able to use enough load and to be able maintain proper form throughout the set. But that’s a whole other article in itself.
As long as you feel good and don’t have any serious injuries I’d still recommend training as heavy as you safely can.
What About if I’m a Female?
Because females generally tend to have more slow twitch fibers, I usually recommend that they bump the reps up slightly. There is still a time and place for sets of 5-7 reps, but in general, 8-10 reps should play a bigger roll in your training program.
And that’s a wrap, my friends.
Train hard, train heavy, train smart.
The Correct Number of Reps Per Set in the Gym
I have a lot of people ask me, “How many reps should I do per set?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question without a little more information. What you need to determine first is what your goals are. Some people’s goals are to lose weight, which would require a certain rep range, and others’ goals are to build muscle mass, which requires a different range as well.
What you need to figure out is what you really want to accomplish. Think about sprinters versus marathon runners. A sprinter is built for power and speed in short bursts, so their training sessions exist in small increments (10 second races). A marathon runner is built for endurance, which means their training sessions are much longer (hours at a time). Working out is no different. Decide below what you want to get out of a workout, and then read how to get there:
- Muscular endurance – Your sets should be greater than 12 repetitions. Aim for a range from 12 to 20 reps. Obviously you won’t be able to lift heavy amounts of weight for 20 reps, so you’ll be lifting lighter loads. Also, because you’re going for endurance, you want to decrease the amount of rest between sets. 30 Seconds to a minute, but certainly no more.
- Muscle Size (Hypertrophy) – This is for you guys looking to build muscle size (hardgainers). Hypertrophy is essentially the enlarging of cells, which means when it happens to your muscles, they get bigger! Yay. Now, if this is what you’re looking to accomplish, you want to keep the number of reps per set in the 6 – 12 range. I find this is best accomplished by doing between 3-5 sets, each time increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. (12 reps at 200 lbs, 10 reps at 220 lbs, 8 reps at 240 lbs, etc.) Rest time between sets should be short, not as short as for endurance…between 60 and 90 seconds. I wait 1 minute between sets.
- Strength and Power – If you’re happy with your size, or you’re training for specific sports and just want to get stronger with more power, this is for you. Your reps are going to be less than 6 with each set, and an increased amount of time waiting between sets (2-3 minutes). You’re going to be lifting crazy amounts of weight for sometimes just 1 repetition, so you need to have a spotter and absolutely perfect form or you could severely hurt yourself. This is how powerlifters train. Low reps, high weight, long time between sets.
So, now that you have “edumacated” yourself on how your specific goals influence the number of reps per set, you can design your program around this info. Remember in my article last week talking about plateaus and how your muscles can get “used” to working out and slow down growth? If that’s something you’re battling, here’s a way to keep them guessing. Spend a week in a different rep range with different amounts of weight to throw them off. Generally doing the 12-10-8-6 reps per set routine? Bump up the weight and do sets of 6-3-1, waiting much longer between sets (andusing a spotter). After a week of mixing it up, go back to your regularly scheduled routine and you’ll be right back on track.
Make sure you know what you want, and then design a plan to get there.
How Many Reps Should You Do?
Want to build size, strength, or endurance? Then you need to know how many reps to lift! Here's how to match your goals to the best rep range and weight.
Look around any gym, and you'll see people committing various training mistakes—a guy on the bench press bouncing the bar off his chest, someone doing curls with more motion in his hips than his biceps, another person pressing her flyes. These visual blunders can hamper your training progress, to be sure, but they're not the only thing you need to worry about. What about the mistakes you don't see?
None of those mistakes will undermine your training efforts as much as confusing hard training with smart training. Training hard is easy, but training smart gets you closer to your goals. For example, let's say you want to build muscle. You can choose a light weight and rep it 50-60 times, or grab a heavier weight and push it maybe 10 times. Both examples are hard, but one method is superior for building muscle.
Effort is important, but it has to be applied correctly. To optimize your effort in the gym, you need to understand which specific rep ranges can best help you reach your goals. Thankfully, researchers have already weighed in on the topic. Here are the basic rules of choosing the right reps per set for your fitness needs!
THREE GOALS, THREE REP RANGES
TRAINING FOR MUSCLE SIZE (HYPERTROPHY)
If you're training for muscle size, choose a weight at which you reach muscle failure in the 8-12-rep range. In other words, after your warm-up sets—which are never taken to failure—you should select a load with which you can complete at least 8 reps but not more than 12.
That means if you can do only 6-7 reps, the weight is too heavy, so reduce it on subsequent sets. It also means that if you can do more than 12 reps, but simply stop at 12, that's not a "true" set. A true set is one in which you fail—the point at which you can't do another rep with good form on your own—within the target rep range of 8-12. If you can easily do more than 12, add weight on your next set so that you're failing in the target range.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LOAD FOR YOUR MUSCLE-BUILDING GOAL EFFECTIVELY TARGETS THE FAST-TWITCH MUSCLE FIBERS, WHICH ARE MORE PRONE TO GROWING BIGGER AND STRONGER IN RESPONSE TO RESISTANCE TRAINING, WITH ENOUGH VOLUME TO STIMULATE GROWTH.
Of course, the guy who is bouncing the bar off his chest and the one who is using every lower-body muscle group to heave up a set of curls are using bad form. If you're exercising with poor form, the weight is probably too heavy, regardless of when you're failing. Learn and practice textbook technique.
Choosing the right load for your muscle-building goal effectively targets the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are more prone to growing bigger and stronger in response to resistance training, with enough volume to stimulate growth. However, these fibers fatigue fairly quickly, which is why you can't lift a very heavy weight very many times.
Train like a bodybuilder: If you're looking to maximize muscle size, target 8-12 reps per set (on average) and choose multijoint movements like the bench press, squat, overhead press, bent-over row, and deadlift, which recruit more total muscle mass than single-joint moves, thus allowing you to lift heavier weights.
Hit a target muscle from multiple angles with high volume (sets and reps) to stimulate growth. In general, your rest periods should be in the 1- to 2-minute range.
TRAINING FOR STRENGTH
While choosing a weight at which you can do just 8-12 reps builds muscle, it also builds strength, no doubt. But that weight is not optimal for strength building. When focusing on maximizing your strength, you want to train with even heavier loads, ones you can lift for just 1-6 reps. These very heavy weights provide the stimulus needed to grow stronger.
In fact, that's how the biggest and strongest men and women in the world train—especially powerlifters. They throw around superhuman weights in competition, and you can bet they practice in a similar fashion.
TRAIN LIKE A STRENGTH ATHLETE: STRENGTH TRAINERS DIFFER FROM BODYBUILDERS, IN THAT THEY TYPICALLY AVOID TAKING SETS TO MUSCLE FAILURE, WHICH COULD ADVERSELY AFFECT THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.
Most of these individuals don't train heavy all the time, however. They cycle high-intensity periods (heavy training) with low-intensity periods to save their joints, reduce the risk of injury, and peak at the right time for competition. Hence, they typically follow a 12- or 16-week periodized program that gets progressively heavier. That means doing sets of 5 reps, 3, and finally 2 and 1. The strength trainer also targets the fast-twitch fibers. His focus isn't just on building and strengthening the muscle fibers themselves, but also training the nervous system.
Train like a strength athlete: Strength trainers differ from bodybuilders, in that they typically avoid taking sets to muscle failure, which could adversely affect the nervous system. Rest periods between sets for main lifts are fairly long—up to 3-5 minutes—so that incomplete recovery doesn't inhibit succeeding sets. After the main multijoint exercise, additional movements are included to strengthen weak links in the execution of the main lift.
TRAINING FOR MUSCLE ENDURANCE
Your eye may be on getting as big or as strong as possible, but not everyone wants to pursue that goal. The classic example of the marathon runner, who runs at a steady pace for 26-plus miles, is one geared toward improving muscle endurance. In the gym, that translates into using a lighter load for 15 or more of reps.
Low-intensity training is typically considered aerobic exercise, since oxygen plays a key role in energy or production. This allows you to maintain your activity level for a longer period of time. This energy process occurs primarily in slow-twitch muscle fibers, so performing low-intensity, high-repetition training builds up the mechanisms within the muscle cell that make it more aerobically efficient.
This type of training enhances the muscle's endurance without necessarily increasing the size of the muscle. Highly trained aerobic athletes can do lots of reps for long periods of time without fatiguing, but you won't typically see a sprinter's body on a marathon runner.
Focusing on muscle endurance means choosing fairly light weights that can be done for 15-20 reps or more.
Train like an endurance athlete: Most endurance sports aren't gym-based, so it's hard to duplicate their motions with weights. Low-weight/high-rep lower-body multijoint exercises and even Olympic lifts can be done to improve muscular endurance, so long as form is never compromised in an effort to keep a set going.
Rest periods should be kept fairly short, since oxygen intake and lactic-acid removal shouldn't be limiting factors as you exercise.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN REPS AND WEIGHT
Discovering how many reps you should do also tells you how much weight you should lift. The two are inseparably linked. If you were to plot a graph, you'd discover a near-linear inverse relationship between the two: add more weight and you can do fewer reps; with a lighter weight, you can do more reps.
I'm always amazed when I train with a new partner who has been stuck at a certain weight-and-rep scheme—say, dumbbell bench press with 80 pounds for 8 reps. I'll tell him to grab the 90s, to which he'll respond, "I can't do that!" Well, yes he can—just not for 8 reps. Invariably, he'll handle the 90s, and with that newfound sense of strength even give the 95s and 100s a try.
WITH TIME, YOU'LL UNDERSTAND YOUR PERSONAL STRENGTH CURVE AND THE RELATIONSHIP OF WEIGHT TO REPS FOR EACH EXERCISE YOU DO. JOTTING YOUR NUMBERS DOWN IN A LOGBOOK OR ON BODYSPACE WILL HELP YOU KEEP TRACK OF YOUR REPS AND WEIGHTS USED.
This brings up an important point: You don't need to train in one rep range all the time. You might start a workout with a heavy compound exercise for 5 sets of 5 reps. To focus on building muscle, you could follow that with a few exercises in the 8-12 range. To finish the workout, you could even tap into your slow-twitch reserves and finish the session with an isolation exercise in the 15-20 range.
With time, you'll understand your personal strength curve and the relationship of weight to reps for each exercise you do. Jotting your numbers down in a logbook or on BodySpace will help you keep track of your reps and weights used. This is important because as you get stronger, you'll want to lift more weight in the same rep range. When building muscle, once you can do more than about 12 reps on a core lift, it's time to increase the resistance by about 5-10 percent.
The weight you choose along your strength curve should correspond to the number of reps you want to achieve, which matches your training goals. In that sense, your workouts should never be random, where you just grab any old weight; there is a best weight and optimal number of reps you should be doing. It just depends on which goal you want to prioritize!
How Many Sets & Reps Should You Do?
How many sets and reps should I do? To understand how to answer this question some simple questions have to be asked. Find out more right here.
It is a very common question to ask: How many sets and reps should I do? To understand how to answer this question in the most appropriate way relates to some very basic personal information. Some simple questions have to be asked of anyone who is training.
They are in order of importance. Whether you are a trainer, coach, or a client, or if you are just training on your own, it is very important that you completely understand these basic principles for developing your own workout protocol.
If you are an experienced exercise enthusiast, do not become discouraged with the slow pace of this article. I would challenge you to read this beginning information to allow you to have a scientific basis for helping other people with their exercise programs. Let's face it, if you are in the gym, or if people know that you exercise, you are likely to get asked some questions by someone with less experience than yourself.
It would be nice if you could direct that person towards this article, but it would really be fantastic if you understood the context of this article and could help explain it to them.
Each of these has a direct bearing on the answer of how many sets and reps you should do. I will start with the very first statement and analyze each one to help you better understand its importance.
During the context of this article it is important that you understand that the intensity will increase as you ask each question. Make sure that you have accomplished the minimum of each level before advancing.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRAINING?
This is a very straightforward question. Common sense has a lot to do with your response. To consider that you have been training would indicate that you have been participating in an active exercise program for at least 45 minutes a day for at least 3 days per week.
If you have not been participating for that time period, then you must consider that you have not been training at all. To begin any exercise program it is important to have some aerobic/breathing capacity. For most individuals it is important to begin walking or doing some activity that is repetitive for at least 5 minutes everyday.
You can think of that as one set for how many reps it takes for 5 minutes. In most healthy individuals, you can add 5 minutes every 3 days, and continue on until you have established a daily exercise program of 30 minutes per day for two weeks.
It is important not to become too eager and jump into an exercise program to quickly. Many times, individuals become very distressed because their training has caused them to become too sore to participate.
Exercise is beneficial because it allows the body to adapt to physical stress. If you over-exercise, then you will become injured. This happens more commonly than many people realize. Some uninformed and uneducated trainers may train an individual to the point that walking is almost impossible.
Some soreness may be manageable, but excessive soreness is unnecessary for the beginner. Small microscopic tears may form in your tendons and ligaments and begin the irreversible damage that may later lead to a more significant injury. The body requires time to rest and recover.
Submaximal effort is necessary for the beginner to recover from the physical stresses exerted on their bodies. For the first 3 to 4 weeks of exercise, it is important that you leave the gym with the attitude; "That was nothing, I could have done more." Too many people begin an exercise program and expect overnight results, but only produce overnight injury.
WHAT IS YOUR AGE?
Again common sense is the rule of thumb here. And don't lie. The extremely young athlete can recover from a significant amount of exercise in most cases.
Someone who is elderly will likely enter into the exercise program with a completely different set of needs to achieve their fitness level. For example, if someone is over the age of 40, 50, they will likely need to spend time building up some cardiovascular fitness. Flexibility is lost at an alarming rate when someone passes the age of 35.
If someone is over the age of 60 or 70, balance, flexibility, coordination, and cardiovascular fitness become obstacles that must be overcome prior to that individual beginning a weight resistance program.
For anyone who has joint problems, and most individuals who are over the age of 50 have some form of joint problem; it is better to focus on higher repetitions and use less weight. Advance your exercise program by reducing the rest time needed between sets instead of trying to use more weight.
Learn to flex your muscles while you train, or exercise on a vibrating surface. Both of these techniques will result in more muscle stimulation with less pressure on your joints.
For most people, it is best to start with one set. The repetitions should be high on any exercise. That means somewhere between 20 to 30 repetitions for approximately the first two weeks. This is necessary to build muscular coordination and allow specific chemical reactions to occur in the supporting tissues.
You should always choose a weight that provides resistance but allows for all of the repetitions to be completed. Make sure that you can do one set of every exercise for every body part for 20 to 30 repetitions for at least two weeks before advancing to the next level.
Children under the age of 18 should never lift over 50% of their bodyweight until they have achieved their tallest parents' height. Children who do lift heavy weight, risk the chance that they will traumatize their bones growth plates and likely stunt their height growth.
WHAT IS YOUR BASIC FITNESS LEVEL?
Have you been participating in an exercise program at least 3 times a week for 45 minutes daily? If your answer to the following question is yes, then you will be described as a beginner. If your answer to the previous question was no, then you will be considered untrained. It is important that you go to the paragraph about how long you have been training and begin there.
If you train, 4 to 6 days in a row, for approximately 45 minutes a day, then you are someone who be referred to as a novice exercise enthusiast.
If you are participating in exercise greater than 4 to 6 days a week for longer than 45 minutes a day, or you are participating in a competitive sport, then you are considered an advanced exercise enthusiast.
If you are training 4 to 6 days a week longer than 3 hours a day, you are likely suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. That may seem rather harsh, but it is likely very true. The human body does not respond favorably to exercise that is longer than 60 minutes on a daily basis. It will elevate your stress hormone levels and likely cause more harm than you are aware of.
At this point you should be able to determine what fitness level you are currently participating:
It is important that you also consider a few other important statistical pieces of information. Approximately one third of all children in the United States are considered overweight. Most individuals who are over 40 years of age require a stress test to determine their cardiac fitness level.
If you have any type of physical condition that requires an ongoing medication, it is important to speak to both, your doctor and pharmacists, prior to beginning an exercise program. This statement does not qualify the allopathic/MD, Osteopathic/DO, Chiropractic/DC physician as an expert; however, they do help you understand your risk factors before beginning exercise.
Most children who are simply overweight can participate in any exercise program; however, children that are overweight should consider nutritional guidance prior to beginning an exercise program. Most trainers can offer general suggestions for eating habits, but they cannot indicate a specific diet for someone to follow. Only the above physicians and/or a registered dietitian are licensed to be able to carry out this duty legally.
It is important to understand that diet has more influence on your body's appearance than exercise. A half of a bagel is approximately 200 calories. Most individuals would have to run a mile at an intense rate to burn just 200 calories. Don't take a pill to make up for poor eating habits.
The biggest mistake that most people make when they begin an exercise program is that they do not increase their daily diet of protein. Remember that your diet and rest should directly reflect the amount and intensity level of the exercise that you are participating in.
Consider that world-class bench press athletes eat approximately three times their body weight in grams of protein every day and only train heavy on the bench press four to five times a year, everything else is submaximal. The basic person exercising should eat at least 3/4 of their body weight in grams of protein per day. If you weigh 160 pounds = 120 grams of protein per day minimum.
WHAT IS YOUR BODY TYPE?
Our bodies come in 3 basic shapes: skinny, muscular, and plump. They actually have 3 scientific names, but for the purpose of this article, we will keep it simple.
Most individuals who are muscular will benefit from performing 6 to 8 repetitions. Most individuals who are skinny will benefit by only by doing 6 repetitions. Most individuals who are plump will benefit by performing 12 to 20 repetitions.
It is important to understand that your body type is a genetic code and that specific factors influence how many repetitions you should be doing for the improvement of your general physique.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?
When setting a goal it is best to consider achievable changes that you would like to see over a 30 day period of time. Gaining or losing 2 pounds per month is considered a safe level. Individuals who are just beginning or are untrained are likely to notice a much more drastic change in the first 60 to 90 days.
As time goes on, the percentage of change is much more difficult and the adherence to the 2-pound per month rule will take on a much more realistic meaning. Consider that if you want to lose 20 pounds, it is likely to take you approximately 10 months to achieve that goal.
If you are trying to gain 10 pounds, and are a novice or advanced lifter, you will not likely gain that weight as lean body mass in anything less than 5 months. No matter what your goals, keep them realistic and realize that it is safer in the long run to achieve them slowly.
WHAT SPORT DO YOU PLAN ON PARTICIPATING IN?
The age-old question about how many sets and reps to do is best answered by what sport you participate in. If you play tennis, consider the average time spent for each point. If you are a high school wrestler, consider that each period last approximately 2 minutes, whereas if you are a college wrestler, these will last approximately 3 minutes each.
If you play football, the average length of any play is approximately 6 to 16 seconds. Depending on the speed of the exercise that you are performing, the number of reps that you should be doing should directly relate to the amount of time required by your particular sport.
Football players will often train with 6 to 10 repetitions, depending on the time of the season and their particular position on the field. A tennis player will usually play between 10 and 20 seconds before a short pause. This means that the exercise should last between 20 to 30 reps.
A wrestler may participate in an exercise that will require 25 - 100 repetitions, this is why calisthenics are often the exercise of choice for the in-season grappler. Advanced training techniques will produce a series of exercises that are performed at different speeds, and the offer some dynamic explosive movements, while others will produce a more static and stable format.
For most people who have been training for a while and are considered a novice or advanced lifter, the common format of 8 to 12 repetitions is standard. Depending on your body type, age, health conditions, and other factors we have discussed here today, variations of that standard will be noted.
EXERCISE QUANTITY AND SPEED
Another question is related to how many exercises for any particular body part? If you are a bodybuilder, then it is likely that you will need 4-6 exercises per body part. If you are participating in any other sport, usually two to 3 exercises per body part are sufficient. If you are untrained or a beginner, then one or two exercises per body part is sufficient.
One of the final topics that we will discuss is related to how fast you will perform each repetition. Contracting the muscle is considered the positive movement, and returning to the starting point is known as the negative for most exercises.
If you are performing the bench press for example, the weight typically is held away from your chest, and the negative part of the movement relates to a lowering of the weight to your chest.
It gets kind of confusing, but consider that any time you shorten a muscle it is considered the positive portion of the exercise, stretching the muscle back out is considered the negative portion of the exercise. Most exercises are performed with two seconds for the positive direction and two seconds for the negative direction. This is a good safe speed that most individuals who are untrained or beginner's should follow.
Various health conditions may require an individual to use a slower speed. The faster that you train, the more of an effect you will have on the tendons and the ligaments associated with the associated joints. Variations of intensity may be experienced by altering the speed of the positive and negative motions in the exercise.
Finally, the intensity of the exercise will also be based on the amount of rest in between sets. The untrained individual should rest approximately 60 to 90 seconds between sets. The beginner should rest approximately 45 to 60 seconds between sets. The more intense a set is, determines the amount of rest necessary to recover to perform the next set.
Some powerlifters have been known to rest approximately 5 minutes between sets. Most individuals who perform at a novice or advanced level should rest approximately 30 seconds between sets. Football players who participate in, "hurry up offense" will often rest no more than 10 to 15 seconds between sets.
Rest time is always a variable to reduce to a minimum before attempting to do additional exercises or to increase the weight from the previous exercise session. Weight lifting with rest is the true form of interval training. If we didn't rest, it would be one big set with about 1000 reps for a bodybuilder.
If you are just starting out, you can do one set per body part, performed 20 to 30 repetitions per exercise, and train all your body parts in one day.
To achieve general fitness, there is no need to separate body parts on any given day. You can train your entire body, 3 to 4 times a week, performing two to 3 exercises per body part, with 12 to 15 repetitions per set. This will produce a trained fitness individual and give you the basic level of fitness that you would need to maintain or establish, prior to obtaining higher fitness goals.
How Many Sets & Reps Should You Do Per Exercise Each Workout?
At this point you should have a pretty good understanding of why properly planning your weight training volume (the amount of sets, reps and exercises you do) is so important.
And, you should also be familiar with what I consider to be the optimal volume range for most people, which is the total amount of reps you should do for each muscle group per workout and per week.
From here, the next logical step is to break this optimal amount of volume down in terms of how many sets and reps you should do per exercise each workout.
So, let’s do just that.
How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do Per Exercise?
Simple. You should do exactly enough to allow you to fall within the optimal volume range for each muscle group.
Honestly, as long as that happens, then exactly how you divide your volume up among exercises becomes a little less important.
Of course, that’s just the quick and simple answer. You’re probably going to want to know the most common and all around proven ways of doing it. So, here we go…
The Most Common Set And Rep Combinations For An Exercise
Below are the most commonly used and prescribed combinations of sets and reps you could do per exercise along with the total amount of volume each one produces.
Also included is the level of intensity each rep range falls into as well as what fitness goal that combination of sets/reps/volume is most ideal for.
8 sets x 3 reps = 24 reps
Most ideal for strength related goals.
6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps
Most ideal for strength related goals.
3 sets x 5 reps = 15 reps
Most ideal for strength related goals.
5 sets x 5 reps = 25 reps
High to moderate intensity.
Most ideal for strength goals, but also suited for building muscle.
4 sets x 6 reps = 24 reps
High to moderate intensity.
Equally ideal for increasing strength and building muscle.
3 sets x 8 reps = 24 reps
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.
4 sets x 8 reps = 32 reps
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.
3 sets x 10 reps = 30 reps
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for muscular endurance.
4 sets x 10 reps = 40 reps
Moderate to low intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.
2 sets x 12 reps = 24 reps
Moderate to low intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.
3 sets x 12 reps = 36 reps
Moderate to low intensity.
Equally ideal for building muscle and improving muscle endurance.
2 sets x 15 reps = 30 reps
Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance, but also suited for building muscle.
2 sets x 20 reps = 40 reps
Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance.
As you can see, based on your specific goal and what rep range is most ideal for it, you have quite a few set/rep combinations to choose from for each exercise you do.
As you can also probably tell, there are a few principles these very different combinations have in common. The 2 most worth noting are:
- The fewer reps you are doing per set, the more sets you do. And, the more reps you do per set, the fewer sets you do. While this isn’t an absolute rule, it is what should be happening the majority of the time.
- The total volume being done per exercise is pretty similar despite the different amount of sets/reps being used. For example, 10 of the 13 popular combinations shown above produce between 20-36 reps total. The take home message? Most of the time, that’s probably how much volume you should end up doing per exercise.
How To Put This Information Into Action
Alright, so you now know the most popular and proven combinations of sets and reps that can be used for an exercise.
In order to put this information into action, you need to apply it to your optimal training intensity, volume and frequency.
A Practical Example
Let’s take an example person named PersonA.
Let’s pretend PersonA is an intermediate or advanced trainee whose primary goal is building muscle (or really anything related to improving the way their body looks rather than performs).
Based on PersonA’s experience level and goal, they previously learned:
- Their ideal frequency is to train each muscle group about twice per week.
- Their ideal rep range is 5-12 reps per set.
- Their ideal volume is 30-60 reps per big muscle group per workout (half that for smaller muscle groups), with about 2 workouts per week for each muscle group (since that’s their optimal frequency).
Now, based on this, a chest workout for PersonA could potentially break down like this:
- Bench Press: 4 sets of 6 reps (24 total reps)
- Dumbbell Flyes: 2 sets of 12 reps (24 total reps)
- Total Volume Done For Chest During This Workout: 48 reps
In this example, PersonA chose to do 2 exercises. For both exercises, the set/rep combination they picked has them working in their optimal intensity range (which is 5-12 reps per set for this example person).
And, these 2 set/rep combinations also combined to put them right in the middle of their optimal volume range per workout (which in this example was 30-60 reps for bigger muscle groups).
This amount of volume (or whatever amount of volume is optimal for you, your goal, your experience level, and your training frequency) could have been reached just the same using various other set/rep combinations from that list above as well as a different amount of exercises.
This was just one example of how to do it.
(If this was at all confusing, don’t worry. It will make perfect sense when you see the sample workout routines later on.)
Now that you know how to apply your optimal amount of volume to the exercises you do, it’s time to actually figure out what exercises you’re going to be doing. Let’s get to it…