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by Katie Hoehn October 04, 2022 5 min read

There’s no better feeling than the one you get after absolutely crushing an intense workout!

But, do you ever find yourself wondering if you have done too little, or too much, of one thing and not enough of another?

Results don’t come from random, disorganized exercise. They come from the intentional planning of your workouts.

That means figuring out the number of reps and sets you need to do to see progress. Because if you're doing too much or too little ... you could ultimately be hurting your results.

So, what are reps and sets, how many should you do, and why are they so important for your results? Here's what you need to know...

Sets vs. Reps: The Difference

What’s the difference you ask? Simple...

A ‘rep’ describes one repetition of an exercise such as one bicep curl.

A ‘set’ is a predetermined consecutive number of ‘reps’, followed by a short rest period.

10 Amazing and Effective Arm Workout Exercises

So, for example, let's say you do 3 sets of bicep curls for 10 reps each. You'll do 10 bicep curls, take a brief rest, do 10 more, take a brief rest, then do 10 more.

Pretty basic stuff. Unfortunately, figuring out the perfect number of reps and sets is more difficult.

If you're asking yourself "How many reps and sets should I do?" ... the answer is, it's going to depend. Here's why...

How Many Reps and Sets Should You Do?

Depending on what your main goal is, your reps and sets may look different than other people. On top of that, your current physical shape has a lot to do with choosing your reps and sets too.

I'll start with some general recommendations taken directly from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

These recommendations are based on their Optimum Performance Training Model (OPT Model).

Training Phase Sets  Reps Intensity (Weight)
Stabilization/Endurance 1-3 12-20 50-70% 1RM (Your 1 Rep Max)
Strength Endurance 2-4 8-12 70-80% 1RM
Muscular Development/Hypertrophy 3-6 6-12 75-85% 1RM
Maximal Strength 4-6 1-5

85-100% 1RM

Power (High Force) 3-5 1-5
85-100% 1RM
Power (High Velocity - Fast and Explosive) 3-5 8-10 30-45% 1RM

So, as you can see ... the NASM, and many others, recommend specific rep and set ranges for specific goals. If your goal is fat loss ... your sets and reps are nowhere near as important as your calorie input vs output.

So, my recommendation is to pick rep and set ranges which challenge you, but also don't put you at risk for injury.

Now, even though this is what NASM recommends, there is also new and emerging research which questions the validity of the rep continuum as a whole! You'll find this interesting...

Volume: Another Important Factor to Consider

Like I said, there is new research that challenges current research on the topic of reps and sets. The main reason for this is because of training volume. When it comes to building new muscle, and creating new muscular adaptations, volume is king.

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

Or in other words, volume is what matters most to see those results ... specifically, when talking about muscle hypertrophy (growth). This is evident amongst existing and emerging science that challenges the idea that there are specific set and rep ranges to maximize specific workout adaptations [1].

Volume is a measurement of how much work is placed on your muscles. You can actually calculate your overall volume by taking the reps, sets, and load (weight) you use for a specific muscle group.

The equation looks like this: (Reps x Sets x Load = Volume)

Most people measure volume on a weekly basis. That's because you can train a specific muscle group more than once a week. In that case, you would take the volume from those training sessions and add them together for your weekly volume.

So, what does volume have to do with choosing your reps and sets? Well, if you want your muscles to grow, you have to increase your volume on the muscle over time. You can only do this 1 of 3 ways: increase your reps, increase your sets, or increase your load (weight).

By doing this, you're giving your muscle more work than it's used to. This is ultimately what allows your muscle tissue to grow bigger and stronger ... assuming your nutrition and recovery is on point too!

So, if your goal is to build more muscle and strength, you need to increase your volume over time. That means your reps, sets, and weight need to be manipulated over time.

For someone who's just looking to lose body fat, maintain weight, or just be healthier ... reps and sets don't matter nearly as much.

Post Workout Stack

That may not be the answer you were expecting ... but it's the truth! Your reps and sets are much more important to establish if you're looking to build muscle.

Other Recommendations

Before you go out and structure your workouts based on the info I just gave you, you should also consider this...

Volume is far from the only factor at play when it comes to building new muscle. Range of motion, time under tension, intensity, rest periods, training frequency, and so many other factors also have an impact on new muscle growth and training adaptations.

So really, there just isn't enough research at this point to establish a gold standard for sets and reps.

"How many reps and sets should I do?" is certainly a simple question with some not so simple answers.

But at the end of the day, you know what I'd consider even more important? Consistency. It's the key to earning the results you want.

You can change your reps and sets all you want, but if you aren't going to the gym consistently (or wherever you train) and giving it your all ... it doesn't matter how many reps and sets you do.

Plus, if you have a specific fitness goal like building muscle or burning fat, nutrition is even more important!

Download the 1st Phorm App

I know all of this can be very overwhelming. But, the good news is, we're here to help!

You can get access to 1 on 1 coaching, custom workout programs, nutrition programming and tracking, and so much more inside the 1st Phorm App! If you have any questions, or need any help, reach out to us.

We have a team of Certified Personal Trainers (NASM-CPT), Certified Nutrition Coaches (NASM-CNC), and even some Registered Dietitians like myself here at 1st Phorm HQ who are dedicated to helping YOU reach YOUR goals.

Now, go crush some workouts, stay consistent, and let us know if there's ever anything we can do to help!

References

[1] Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel). 2021 Feb 22;9(2):32. doi: 10.3390/sports9020032. PMID: 33671664; PMCID: PMC7927075.

Katie Hoehn
Katie Hoehn

Katie Hoehn Registered Dietitian ACE Certified Personal Trainer ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist ACE Youth Fitness Specialist 1st Phorm App Advisor