To build muscles, the first major decision is choosing the right type of exercise you should be doing. Next, you need to decide how many sets and reps are necessary to build muscles.
It is common for fitness enthusiasts to push themselves by training to failure. And while this might work for bodybuilders, it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone.
How many sets and reps you need to build muscle should be based on your fitness goal.
In this quick guide, we’ll help you understand the recommended sets and reps for different training purposes.
Let’s start by defining sets and reps.
Sets and Reps Explained
To the advanced exerciser, it might sound ridiculous for anyone not to know what a rep or set means.
However, not everyone understands everything about working out, and if you’re completely new to some of these terms and concepts, you should know that you are not alone.
In simple terms, sets and reps are the number of times you do any type of exercise. Let’s break it down.
What are Reps?
Reps or repetition is one complete workout move. For example, one squat, one deadlift, or one bench press.
In other words, the number of times you perform a specific workout is the number of reps. The best you can go or how far you can do the exercise with the correct form is known as your repetition maximum (1RM).
For example, if a 10RM is your personal best during a weightlifting exercise, then you have successfully performed 10 reps with proper form.
What are Sets?
A set refers to the cycle or series of exercise repetitions performed sequentially. This can consist of any number of repetitions.
For example, if you successfully performed 10 repetitions or reps of a bench press, you have done 1 set of bench presses. Doing 3 sets of the same number of reps would mean you have completed 30 reps of bench presses.
Of course, that’s not in one go.
There is a period of rest between each set. The rest interval is what marks the end of one set and the beginning of another.
Rest is very crucial to developing strong muscles because it allows the muscles to recover and be ready for the next set.
The rest interval can range from 30 to 60 seconds or even up to 2 minutes, depending on the type of exercise.
Optimal Sets and Reps for Building Muscles
When trying to decide how many sets and reps to build muscle, you will have to consider your fitness goal. This will help you build the correct training program.
It is a misconception that more reps are better at building muscles. Even though plenty of reps are a vital process, you should understand that building muscle is a challenging (yet rewarding) process that requires dedication and consistency.
Lifting weight or performing any strength training without a set goal will make your target of building muscle a bit more difficult.
First, understand what your goal is. Next, create a plan or training program. And finally, be committed to the plan so you don’t overtrain or train too little.
To answer the question of how many sets and reps to build muscle, here is a quick rundown of the different fitness goals and the number of sets and reps you should be aiming for.
Training for Muscle Size
If you primarily want to grow your muscle size like bodybuilders, avoid the mistake of lifting heavier weights and doing too many sets.
Instead, focus on using lighter weights and fewer sets. But go with higher reps and less rest time.
Ideally, you should aim for about 8 to 12 reps of 3 sets.
Don’t forget proper nutrition and adequate rest because that’s how your muscles will repair and grow larger.
Training for Strength
This type of training requires the least amount of reps and longer rest intervals. That’s because it uses the most weight.
Consider something in the range of 5 sets of 5 reps with considerably heavier loads than if you were training to grow muscle size.
Training for Fat Loss
If you are looking to shed fat, it is usually best to use enough weight that you are comfortable with and then aim to complete 1 to 3 sets of between 10 and 12 reps.
Training for General Fitness
To stay generally fit, you need a basic fitness program that includes both muscle building and strength training workouts.
An ideal number of sets and reps to help you achieve this goal would be somewhere around 2 to 4 sets of between 8 and 15 reps.
You will get better results if you choose about 8 to 12 different workout routines that target the upper and lower body, and your core.
Tips to Remember
Here is a quick reminder: do not mistake training hard for training smart!
When building muscle, it is a smart choice to focus on volume instead of focusing on the number of times you visit the gym.
This is because you can visit the gym a dozen times per week and still not be as committed to your goal as you ought to be.
Volume is used to measure how much work you do in weight training, and the method of counting is the number of reps and sets to fatigue.
This means the higher the volume results in a greater effect of muscle fibers resulting in more increase in muscle growth.
Keep in mind that working out to failure or fatigue is not necessary, especially for a beginner.
In other words, the secret to getting the best result is finding a balance. If your training volume is not enough, your body will fail to adapt. And if you overtrain, you risk getting an injury.
Another important point to note is that there is a big difference between muscle strength and muscle growth.
Muscle strength training will make your muscles a lot stronger while muscle building tends to make them appear bigger.
What Happens If You Don’t Do Enough Sets And Reps?
If you can do 12 reps of one set but you opt to do fewer reps with the same weight, you are not providing useful stimulus to your muscles.
Your body doesn’t get any effect of training and this translates to an absolute waste of your gym time.
You may as well not even go to the gym, to begin with!
You will be finishing reps in reserve if you are not going until failure. Meaning you are ending a set even though you are still physically fit to do more.
Instead of reducing the reps, consider doing fewer reps only if you increase the weight accordingly.
Here is something to keep in mind.
If you increase your weight and your form starts to break down, the smart thing to do will be to drop the weight.
However, if you reduce the weight, be sure to increase the number of reps to what you were doing before or even a bit more.
Here’s another important thing to note.
It is also possible to lift heavier weights with a few reps and develop more strength.
On the other hand, you might perform more reps with lower weight and may have increased muscle-building activities (hypertrophy).
What Happens If You Overdo It?
When you overdo reps, does it kill muscle gains?
When you do sets until failure, you are doing it to the extent of fatigue and this means your body can no longer accommodate one more rep with proper form.
Some factors determine how much more you can go until failure, and these include:
Your choice of exercise
Your strength capacity
Even though there is a time to train to failure, when it is done too often, it results in reduced gains in strength, power, and hypertrophy (increase in muscular size).
Proponents of frequent training to failure usually believe that it is important to drive adaption and stretch limits to achieve your goals.
But the problem with this idea is that it can result in neural fatigue. It might even interrupt resting hormonal concentrations.
If this happens, you might end up not being able to properly recover and get enough strength to perform as you should over a couple of days.
You will discover that you become more prone to fatigue and may even become weaker and simply can’t move the weight required to enhance your maximum strength.
As with many aspects of working out, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sets and reps. Your fitness goal will determine how many sets and reps to build muscle.
Remember to exercise safely and always factor in your fitness level when choosing weights and performing reps and sets. This will help you avoid injury and achieve your goal.
Justin Rodriguez has spent most of his adult life inspiring people to take their fitness more seriously. He is not new to the business of providing practical solutions for those looking to set and smash their fitness goals. From sharing professional tips and tricks to recommending awesome products, Justin Rodriguez helps just about anyone who wants to get the best out of their workout routines.Having gathered a lot of experience both in and outside the gym, Justin Rodriguez uses DSW Fitness as a medium to show you exactly how to get that great-looking body with toned muscles you’ve always wanted.