How many reps should I do to get in great shape?
Q: I’ve read many articles on weight training and have spent my fair share of time in the gym, but the one thing I’m still unclear on is how many sets and repetitions are best for getting in shape. There seem to be a lot of different opinions out there, wondering what your thoughts were on this issue.
A: There are many things to consider when designing a winning program, such as experience level, genetics, nutrition and lifestyle, but before you can make any intelligent decisions on how many sets and reps would be best, you must first determine your goals. Most people fall somewhere in between strength, size and general fitness. Determine which category works best for you by following the suggestions below.
Strength (power lifter)
- Six to nine sets per body part and one to eight reps per set.
If your sole purpose is to get strong and you couldn’t care less how you look, you’re better off concentrating on six to nine sets per body part and one to five reps per set. This set-rep scheme can be divided into a variety of different combinations to allow you to lift heavier loads to increase strength. It generally focuses on core lifts that work larger groups of muscles, such as bench press, squats, deadlifts, barbell rows and dumbbell presses. Since strength athletes are only concerned with how much weight they can move, it’s better to break sets into smaller rep ranges (5×5, 4×3, 3×3, 2×2), and rest periods between sets can be as long as two to five minutes, so one can properly recover to maintain strength. A good example would be three sets of bench presses for three reps each with five-minute rests between sets.
- Eight to 12 sets per body part and eight to 10 reps per exercise.
Most people associate size and strength together, but those who have spent time doing some serious strength training realize there is definitely a difference. Don’t get me wrong; strength training will definitely get you bigger, but it is not the best way to put on size. To gain quality muscle mass, you have to up the set-rep range to eight to 12 sets and eight to 10 reps per set.
This set-rep range works great for building bigger muscles for two main reasons. First, it allows for more time under tension, causing the muscle being worked to recruit and break down more muscle fibers and force them to adapt by growing larger.
Second, the higher volume of sets and reps increases the body’s testosterone and growth hormone production. These key hormones help feed and repair muscles, allowing them to grow to optimum size. Rest periods should range from one to two minutes between sets on average.
Fitness (athlete/fitness buff)
- Nine to 12 sets per body part and eight to 15 reps per exercise.
If you’re looking for a combination of size, strength and fitness, you’ll want a set-rep scheme that falls between nine and 12 sets per body part and eight to 15 reps per exercise. This allows you to work through a variety of different set-rep ranges while training for size, strength and endurance, keeping your body off balance and continuously achieving results. For example, you can cycle your repetitions by doing three weeks of eight to 10 reps, three weeks of 10-12 reps or three weeks of 12-15 reps. I do, however, suggest keeping sets mostly between eight and 10, as anything more than 12 sets for long periods of time can cause overtraining.
As mentioned previously, there are many other factors that contribute to a successful program, but it makes good sense to find the set-rep range that matches your goals and design a program that works best for you.