How Many Sets Should I Do? You may have plenty of gym experience, but do you know how many reps and sets you should be doing for each muscle group?
We do! And, we’ve got the info right here.
The sets and hard work you put into them during a training program are the foundation for any future benefits.
But how many sets per muscle group do you really need to be doing?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions in the fitness industry. You will see dozens of answers. Each answer will have a different spin from the experts. The truth is, there is no wrong answer unless the person giving you the info is either clueless or intentionally giving you an answer that just makes no sense at all.
The best thing for you to do is get an idea about sets, reps and the amount of resistance being used. They all work together synergistically when properly used to create a workout program.
Let’s take a deeper look at this issue and give you the info needed for the answer to this question.
Strive For Equality For All Muscle Groups
There are big muscle groups and small muscle groups. Each of these groups has to be targeted with equal amounts of volume through proper use of resistance, sets and reps.
The reason for this is because you want your muscles to all grow equally as strong throughout your body.
The only exception is for those who are at least in the intermediate phase and who are noticing that certain muscle groups are not progressing as well as others. For example, your shoulders and chest and tri, but your chest muscles are not. This means that you need to give more attention to your chest to help it to catch up so that it has a chance to become equal in strength with your shoulders.
Unless you’re in need of specialized training, you should not be skipping sets for any muscle group simply because you want one muscle group to look better than another.
This, in the long run, is going to weaken your progress and make your body look awkward. A great example of this would be targeting your upper body exclusively, but skipping leg training or doing very little for them.
Don’t do that!
Modern Method For Creating Sets Per Muscle Group
The most recent standard for sets per muscle group still focuses on the primary regions. These are chest, shoulders, back and legs. Abs and arm muscles are not really primary regions, but one or two sets per workout isolating them is common. Back to the primary regions, the routine way to insert sets depends on reps.
Eight to 10 reps are used when you plan on doing three or four sets per muscle group. This is the most common method used to increase strength and muscle gains.
Meanwhile, four to six reps are now being used mainly for sets using x5 sets. With that said, we often notice people having great results with only x3 sets of this many reps since it pertains to heavy lifts. Some experts will say this amount of sets are useless. But, you can’t really deny the results that many experiences.
People seeking to do about x5 sets or more are using one to three reps. Some even use x1 reps and perform x10 sets. The resistance used is basically 90 to 95% of their one rep max for that particular compound lift such as barbell squats and deadlifts.
So is there a final verdict on how many sets are used per muscle group?
As you can see there are many different approaches to training programs. There really is no definite answer on how many sets you should perform per muscle group, and there probably never will be.
It really depends on your goals.
Disrupting this even further is the fact that bodyweight training is quite different. So you may search for hours to find an answer to this question and just never find what you are looking for. To save you time and effort, we have info that will help you from a training perspective when using moderate resistance. Of course, that means 8 to 10 reps per set.
More To Sets Than You May Think
Simply inserting a certain number of sets for an exercise into a training program is not going to cut it 90% of the time. You have to think about reps, as we stated, along with resistance and your goals whether it is for muscle gain, definition or even just to maintain your body.
The most basic concept that most people want to follow is to focus on strength training. Boosting your strength could lead to muscle mass gain as well if you consume enough calories to support that type of change. Strength training is beneficial for all people who are physically and medically capable of doing the movements.
The benefits include more than just muscle strength. The reason why so many doctors recommend this type of training, even for older men and women, is because it helps keep bones strong. It also keeps energy supply to the muscles heightened to decrease unhealthy body fat.
This type of training revolves around using moderate resistance. That means you will most likely be able to finish every set and rep. You may just find that you will be struggling in the final set. Moderate resistance would hint towards the use of three or four sets with 8 to 10 reps.
Given this info, you have the choice to follow a volume program that seems to work for many trainers who create programs. Volume simply means the amount of exercises, sets, and reps used for training per day or week.
A training program without proper volume is not very effective.
Volume That Seems To Work Best
What follows is training volume that a lot of people see effective results with. But, this does not necessarily mean everyone will follow the same pattern.
After all, we are all different. The volume given takes into consideration that you only train each muscle group once per week. Let’s take a look and pay close attention to see if this appears familiar to any of the programs you may have tried at some point.
There are the big muscle groups: Chest, back, shoulders, hamstrings, and quads. These body regions are worked on with 60 to 120 reps per week. The small muscle groups do not need as much focus. Plus most of these muscles are used as secondary muscle groups for other big muscle movements anyways due to indirect volume. You should do 30 to 60 reps per week.
Yes, there is quite a range for selecting the amount of reps you wish to perform. But, that’s a good thing.
Simple, because it gives you the chance to see what type of volume works for you. We’re all different. Your body may work well with 80 reps per big muscle groups while a few others need the 120 reps instead. No person’s body is the same as someone else’s. Genetics do play a role in all of this.
There is no actual amount of sets per muscle group that is right for everyone. With that said, the info provided is still quite effective for the vast majority. And, it’s backed by many studies that suggest it is a pretty accurate volume range to follow.
What About The Set Count In Volume?
The main mistake about any info that is given with respect to the right number of reps per week is that nothing is ever really mentioned about the sets. Of course, you will be doing the volume rep ranges broken down into sets. It will not be all at once. So if you decide the lower end of the volume for big muscles will work for your body, then you should consider breaking it up into x6 sets.
For example, on chest day you need to do x6 sets of reps that focus on your chest. The best course of action would be splitting the sets into two groups. These groups are your exercises. Considering that you have two exercises to choose, you now know that you will perform x3 sets for each exercise totaling 60 reps for your chest that week.
The higher end of the volume range is going to end at 120 reps. This could be divided into x3 exercises with x4 sets of x10 reps. This is based on the use of moderate resistance since heavy lifts are not going to be performed with this many reps. Your sets are essentially based on a lot of different factors for each muscle group.
Use Different Volume For Different Goals
Novice lifters are usually going to see quick results because their body has never been through training like this before. As a result, fat loss and muscle gain is actually possible during this phase. If you are new to training, then sticking to the lower end of the rep range may best suit you until you have gained some experience. This would mean 60 reps for each big group and 30 reps for each small group.
Those that have a few years of experience, and even advanced lifters, generally require the higher end of the volume range when it comes to muscle gains. Following a novice based volume would only be good for muscle maintenance. With that said, you should not expect much muscle development with more reps each week.
Fat loss is about the same for all types since you are not necessarily looking for significant muscle gains while trying to lose fat. That is why the lower end of the rep volume range applies to everyone with this goal.
Strength gains are generally the best with middle volume ranges, but low amounts will work well to start off with until you feel the need to get in more reps. This would include all groups, regardless of gender.
This might sound like a lot of info, but it does not have to be hard to include it in your training. To put into simple terms, a novice or fat loss approach means 60 reps for big and 30 reps for small. Intermediate or advanced trainers that are out for muscle gains should do 120 reps for big and 60 reps for small.
You now have the basic concept behind creating an effective workout with sets and reps. There really is no definitive approach to it since there are so many different methods used in the fitness industry. The good news is that most of the methods do work when created by a trainer with experience. It should take about a month before you actually start noticing results. Just be patient with each new program and wait to see if it works for you.
If you are new to training, then always start off in the lower range of the reps given so that you give your body the chance to adapt and progress slowly like it was intended to. Rushing into an advanced workout could lead to excessive strain on your joints. And, you don’t want to do that because of the risk of injury. Stretching properly for five minutes before each workout could lessen the chances of this happening.
Always keep in mind that your goals, body type, resistance and even training form all play a role in the effectiveness of a workout. That is why nobody can really tell you to do a specific amount of sets per muscle group and be certain that their program will work for you.
Everything is merely trial and error until you find what works best for your body. To even better your chances of success, you need to make sure that your diet matches your goals.
By Brian Pankau, CPT