3 December 2017 How Many Sets And Reps Should You Be Doing?
Novice fitness enthusiasts commonly ask the question, “How many sets and reps should I be doing?” Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and the question needs to be answered on an individual basis. The effectiveness of a resistance-training program to achieve a certain goal (i.e. maximal strength, power, endurance, or muscle size) depends largely on manipulating these variables.
Generally, low repetitions (high load) should be used when training for strength and high repetitions (low load) for muscular endurance. (1) With regards to hypertrophy, recent evidence suggests low loads and high loads are equally effectual. (2) What repetition recommendations mean, is during your sets of a given exercise, you should reach fatigue within the advised repetition range. To fatigue within this repetition range, you can adjust the difficulty of the exercise by choosing harder or easier progressions with bodyweight training or by adding or removing resistance with weight training. Note, training benefits are not exclusive to one outcome and are blended in any given program design. (1)
For those doing bodyweight strength training with the goal of achieving feats of great strength, such as planche push-ups and the one arm chin-up, primarily lower repetitions should be used. When progressing, you should focus on increasing the difficulty of the exercise, rather than increasing the number of repetitions. Training for high repetitions will not optimize maximal strength, which is imperative for these skills. Time should also be dedicated to improving hypertrophy, as muscle size is one factor influencing strength.
Those training for aesthetics and muscle size can use a variety of repetition ranges, and moderate intensities coinciding with 6-15 repetitions are generally well tolerated.
Beginners are encouraged to start with lower loads (higher repetitions) and gradually increase the intensity with experience. This provides a good method to optimize technique and reduce injury risk.
Now to the question of how many sets should you be doing? Volume describes the total amount of work performed within a period of time (i.e. repetitions x sets x load). Increased volume results in greater gains, up to a limit where it plateaus or potentially even declines. High volume training is particularly important for maximizing hypertrophy. (3)
I would love to be able to give a golden set and rep range for you to use, but as mentioned previously, there is no one size fits all approach. There are many ways to split your training up that will achieve the same results. For example, how many times a week you train will impact how many sets you perform each session. Further, different people training for the same goal will respond differently. However, to provide some direction, loose guidelines for different training goals follow:
Strength: the maximal contractile force that can be produced by a muscle or muscle group.
Novice individuals: Train with loads coinciding with 8–15 repetitions or 3–4 sets per muscle group, 2-3 times weekly.
Advanced individuals: Train with higher intensities of 1–8 repetitions for 4-12 sets, 2-3 times weekly. Time should also be dedicated to hypertrophy training. This can be done in a periodized manner, with 6-8 week blocks dedicated to hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy: An increase in the size of a muscle due an increase in the size of its component cells.
As long as enough volume is accumulated, both high and low loads can be equally effectual. From a practical standpoint, traditionally recommended moderate loads coinciding with 6-15 repetitions can be used for 4-8 sets per muscle group, 3-4 times per week.
Athletes should increase the number of sets as they advance to increase total volume.
Power: the ability of a muscle to produce as much force as possible, as quickly as possible.
Muscular power is a function of both speed and strength, or the product of force multiplied by speed. Heavy loading is necessary for increasing force, and light to moderate loading (0–60% of 1RM) performed in an explosive manner is necessary for optimizing fast force production. The proportion of light versus heavy training should depend on where individual deficits lie. (4)
Concurrent to a typical strength training program, a power component of 1–3 sets for 3–6 repetitions using light loads to moderate loads can be incorporated into each session. (5) The focus should be to perform the movement as fast as possible and sets should stop short of failure.
In summary, the choice of how many sets and repetitions you perform should reflect your training goals, experience, and ability to recover.
(1) Bird SP, Tarpenning KM, Marino FE. Designing resistance training programmes to enhance muscular fitness: A review of the acute programme variables. Sports Med. 2005;35(10):841–51.
(2) Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low- versus high-load resistance training: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(12): 3508-3523.
(3) Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082.
(4) Jiménez-Reyes P, Samozino P, Brughelli M, Morin JB. Effectiveness of an Individualized Training Based on Force-Velocity Profiling during Jumping. Front Physiol. 2017 Jan 9;7:677.
(5) American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687–708.