It’s the age old question that’s been surrounding the exercise community for decades… how many sets and reps should I perform?
Rep ranges should be based on the primary goals of the individual.
For example, if my goal is hypertrophy (bigger muscles) and my 1RM of the bench press is 300 pounds, then I will need to lift 67-85% of those 300 pounds; 300 – 65% = 201 pounds, which I should be able to lift for around 12 reps.
If one the other hand a person desires more strength, than performing max reps of 6 or less should be implemented in his or her current program. This is preciously why most strength and power lifters albeit stronger than bodybuilders don’t necessarily have that defined muscular look.
Most people in general want to look more muscular and toned which is why rep ranges of 8-15 are ideal.
Training Goal, Load (% 1 RM), Goal Repetitions
Strength, 85, Less than or = 6
Power, 80-90, 1-2
Hypertrophy, 67-85, 6-12
Muscular Endurance, 67, Greater or = 12
It’s important to keep in mind all reps should be performed using full concentric (shortening of muscle) and eccentric (lengthening of muscle) movements.
How many sets should I perform?
The training status, goals, and age of the individual effect how much volume should be implemented in a given program.
Studies show that beginners (3 months or less workout experience) display gains in muscular strength and hypertrophy when performing single set exercises (one exercise per body part). When the neuromuscular system adapts to the stimulus a higher volume of 3-6 sets per exercise for the intermediate (3-6 months workout experience) and advance (1+ year workout experience) trainer is advocated.
How many exercises per body is enough?
The intermediate and advanced trainers have the luxury of being able to personalize their workouts because they have more experience. Trial and error run the ship here. Try experimenting to see what works best for you. Some individuals do well with 3-4 different exercises per body part, working 3-5 sets; others perform only 2 sets of 2 exercises for each body part. The saline idea here is getting past the beginner status, so that the neuromuscular system has had time to adapt to resistance training, and runs less of a risk of overtraining and injury. Once the body has adapted more sets, and more intense training methods can be implemented into an exercise program.
How many times a week should I lift weights?
Frequency should be based on training experience:
Resistance Training Frequency Based on Training Status
Training Status, Frequency Guide Lines(sessions/week)
Beginner, (3 months or less experience) 2-3
Intermediate , (3-6 months experience) 3-4
Advanced , (1+ year experience) 4-7
How long should I rest between sets?
Rest period lengths are based on training goal:
Strength and power movements which use heavy loads require full rest periods of 2-5 minutes. Hypertrophy training is based on the concept of starting a set before the previous muscle fibers have recovered. If exhausted muscle fibers have not recovered than new muscle fibers will be recruited which will result in bigger more defined muscles. This is one of the reasons why power lifters don’t look like body builders. The more muscle fibers that are recruited in a muscle will result in the muscle becoming bigger (hypertrophy). Muscular endurance training as the name implies allows your heart rate to remain elevated. Resting less than 30 seconds between sets should accomplish this goal. Due to the cardio nature of these workouts the loads are not heavy enough to produce true hypertrophy results.
Training Goal, Rest Period Length
Strength, 2-5 min
Power, single/multiple effort 2-5 min
Hypertrophy, 30s-1.5 min
Muscular endurance, 30s
The following guide lines should be followed for the youth and older adults
• Older (over 65) and younger (under 17) individuals should perform fewer sets (no more than 12 per workout) compared to adults
• Warm ups and stretching should be performed before and after workouts
• Learning proper technique with light loads(50% or less of 1RM) should be implemented before increasing loads
• Workouts should not occur in succession, allow 48-72 hrs between sessions.
• Seniors should be pre-screened by a medical doctor before any type of exercise program.
• Youth should be encouraged to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
Although some in the fitness field may advocate one system over the other. I have learned there are no absolutes when it comes to exercising. Take for example the person who performs 3 sets of 10 repetitions to get bigger muscles (hypertrophy). Although not performing the ideal rep range of 6 for strength, this person with proper nutrition will no doubt still get stronger. Again the tables and advice located in this article are only broad views and are not written in stone. Try different ranges of sets and reps, every couple of weeks to see what works best for you.
• Concentric: A muscle contraction in which a muscle shortens and overcomes a resistance, as in the upward movement of the biceps curl.
• Eccentric: A muscle contraction in which a muscle is lengthened by the resistance, as in the downward movement of the biceps curl.
• Hypertrophy: Increase in both gross muscle size as well as individual muscle size resulting from training. The most sort after effect of exercise (bigger muscles).
• Isometric: A muscle contraction in which tension in the muscle increases but there is no shortening or lengthening of the muscle.
• Muscular Endurance: The ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions (usually 12 or more) against a resistance. Getting the burning feeling in muscles best describes it (designed for the toned muscle look).
• One rep max (1 RM): the greatest amount of weight that can be lifted for only one repetition. A percentage of 1 RM is used to determine the number of reps one can perform.
• Overtraining: A state in which fatigue during exercise bouts causes a reduction in physical performance. The root of overtraining is likely excessive frequency of volume or intensity coupled with poor nutrition and lack of proper rest.
• Power: Measured by the formula work equals force times distance divided by time. A combination of strength and speed.
• Repetitions: An individual completed exercise movement that includes the concentric and eccentric portion of the exercise.
• Set: A group of repetitions of a given exercise movement done consecutively, without rest.
• Strength: The use of muscular force to move an object, speed and distance are not factors of strength.
“To set goals is to constantly remind yourself of where you’re going and what you’re doing. All goals need to be reviewed regularly. You need to asses whether goals are adequate in the face of changing circumstances or sometimes even realistic or possible. You may need some smaller goal steps along the way that gradually approach where you want to go.” -Don Talbot
First Published in 2009
Some graphs are From Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning by National Strength & Conditioning Association. Copyright 2000 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. http://www.humankinetics.com/
While cardiovascular training is important for burning calories and maintaining a healthy heart(maybe). The best training protocol is a combination of both weight resistance and cardio training. Studies in which subjects who participated only in endurance training displayed an actual transformation of type 2 muscle fibers into type 1 muscle fibers. This is a big deal when you consider type 2 muscle fibers are the fibers responsible for bigger muscles. Type 1 fibers are endurance fibers, which lack the ability to enlarge. Bigger muscles will translate to burning more calories. This is due to the fact that a certain portion of your calories are needed to maintain muscle mass. That muscle mass comes from training the entire body with weight resistance training in a rep range of 8-12. When using the prescribed rep range you enlarge type 2 muscle fibers. When only cardio is performed you are only training legs and only recruiting type 1 muscle fibers.
It’s also important to keep in mind that when cardio is at an elevated level (over 60% of max heart rate) it only burns glucose not fat. This depletes your glucose levels which results in your body finding other ways to make glucose (the only energy substrate used by muscles for force contraction). Fat (triglycerides) and protein (amino acids) can both be broken down to make glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis (making glucose from non carbohydrate sources). It’s not really known what will be broken down first, fat or protein; the body will use what ever is available at the time. The concern is when the body does decide to breakdown protein and use the amino acids for fuel; it comes from muscle tissue, which is never a good thing.
Again, I’m not against cardio as if it’s all evil, but weight resistance training should be a priority while cardio should be kept to a minimum. Bigger, stronger muscles are the key to a fitter you. Let’s say you only train cardio and reduce your calories. After 2 months you lose about 15 pounds. Most studies show that when weight loss is due to a reduction in calories at least 25% of the weight loss comes from muscle. Now when you stop dieting, you will gain the weight back, but this time it will be 100% of a fat gain. You have done nothing to build back up the lost muscle tissue, so it adds up as you having more fat on your body. Now let’s add weight resistance into the equation. You have lost 15 pounds but this time you have lost 15 pounds but actually gain 5 pounds in muscle that will ultimately lead to an increase in metabolism. So on paper you only lost 10 pounds but in reality you spared muscle loss and actually gained new muscle.
This is one of the reasons why some people get disappointed when weight training for the first time. The scale can be deceiving if you don’t under stand the physiology of weight resistance exercise and how it effects the body. I mentioned an increase in metabolism through weight training. Studies show that weight training in the 8-12 range can increase metabolism up to 36hrs after exercising. That means if you worked out Monday morning at 7 am you will still be burning calories at 5 pm after work on Tuesday. Cardio displays no such effects, it only increases metabolism during the actual exercise, not after. Here are some guidelines that will help you not over do it as the summer season is upon us:
· Limit cardio to no more than 1-3 times a week
· Cardio is best performed on non weight resistance training days, this prevents overtraining
· Sessions should not go past 45 minutes, anything longer and amino acids from muscle tissue might be used for fuel
· Cardio, dieting and calorie reduction without weight resistance training, spells a loss in muscle tissue which actually lowers metabolism
· If you enjoy cardio and want to do more, you must consume adequate amounts of calories from carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
My take, stick with strength training and use cardio as a way to break away from the normality of the weights…3x strength + 1x cardio weekly….
Things turn out best for those people who can make the best out of the way things turn out. It’s not the situation, it’s your response to the situation. The reality in your life may result from many outside factors, none of which you can control, or can you? Your attitude, however, reflects the ways in which you deal with what is happening to you. Life at any time can become difficult. Life at any time can become easy. It all depends upon how you adjust yourself to life. You cannot always control your circumstances. But, you can control your own thoughts. There is nothing neither good nor bad, only your thinking makes it so. -Shelley Taylor Smith,
First Published in 2008