How Many Sets Should You Do Per Workout to Build Muscle?

Optimise the way that you train and maximise your results.

Optimise the way that you train and maximise your results.

What are Sets in Weightlifting?

In weightlifting, sets refer to a specific number of repetitions of an exercise that are performed consecutively before taking a rest or recovery period. Sets are a fundamental component of weightlifting training and are used to structure and organize workouts.

When performing weightlifting exercises, such as squats, bench press, or deadlifts, you typically aim to complete multiple sets of a certain number of repetitions. For example, a common prescription might be three sets of eight repetitions (3×8) for a particular exercise.

Dani Speegle performs girl crossfit benchmark workoutSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Here’s a breakdown of key weightlifting terminologies related to sets:

Repetition (rep): A single complete movement of an exercise, such as one full squat or one full bench press.

Set: A group of consecutive repetitions performed without rest. For example, three sets of eight repetitions means performing eight reps, resting, then repeating this process two more times.

Repetition range: The desired number of repetitions performed within a set. It could be a fixed number (e.g., 10 reps) or a range (e.g., 6-8 reps).

Intensity: The amount of weight or resistance used for a particular exercise. It is often expressed as a percentage of your one-repetition maximum (1RM), which represents the maximum weight you can lift for a single repetition.

Rest interval: The period of time taken between sets to allow for recovery. The duration of rest can vary depending on factors such as training goals, exercise complexity, and individual preferences.

The specific number of sets and repetitions prescribed in weightlifting programs can vary based on factors like training goals (e.g., strength, hypertrophy, power), exercise selection, individual fitness level, and periodization principles. Different combinations of sets, reps, and weights target different aspects of muscular development and performance.

It’s important to note that weightlifting techniques and programming can be complex, and if you’re new to weightlifting or have specific training goals, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a qualified coach or fitness professional to ensure proper form, progression, and injury prevention.

Jeremy Ethier explains his thought process.

“One of the most common areas of confusion among lifters is figuring out exactly how many sets per workout one should do. In fact, “how many sets should I do” is a question I get asked all the time. But when it comes to how many sets and reps to build muscle, there’s a lot of different opinions. Some say to don’t need many sets per workout for muscle growth, whereas others are under the impression that you need to completely annihilate your muscles every workout. So who’s right and how many sets should you do to build muscle?”

“Well first off, let’s discuss what exactly we mean by a set. So just to be clear, a set in this case will refer to a set performed within the 6-12 rep range since this is in line with the research I’ll be going through. If you do less reps than this, you will need more sets whereas if you do more reps you will need less sets. Also, each set should be taken close to failure with high effort. A warm up set doesn’t count.”

Rich-Froning-Team-AthletesSource: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc

“With that out of the way, let’s find out how many sets to build muscle is optimal. So we know based on recent research that more volume (e.g. more sets) leads to more muscle growth. This would make it seem that the more sets the better, right? Well, not so fast.”

“There actually seems to be an upper limit to the number of sets per workout you should do before it starts to provide diminishing returns. In fact, it seems to be right around 10 sets for a single muscle group. So for example when trying to figure out how many sets for chest you should do, you’d want to be wary of this 10 set limit and avoid going too far overboard when training your chest – as that can just impair recovery and is essentially ‘junk volume’.”

“BUT – we also know that when it comes to how many sets per week you should do, around 10-20 sets per week is optimal. Which means that rather than doing all your chest sets in one workout as a chest day for example, you’d be much better off splitting that into at least two separate days per week such as with an upper/lower split. This way you stay under the per-session set threshold, are now able to get in enough sets per week for that muscle, and will now be training at the optimal training frequency of 2x/week. All leading to better gains in the long run!”

The Bottom Line

“So it’s quite simple. First figure out your target number of sets per muscle group, and then work backwards to split that up most effectively throughout the week.”

Video – How Many Sets Should You Do Per Workout to Build Muscle?

Jeremy Ethier focuses on topics such as strength training, muscle building, fat loss, and overall fitness. He often breaks down complex scientific concepts into easily understandable videos, making them accessible to a wide audience.

What Does Lifting to Fatigue Mean?

Lifting to fatigue, also known as lifting to failure, refers to performing repetitions of an exercise until you are unable to complete any more repetitions with proper form. It is a training technique commonly used in weightlifting and strength training.

When you lift to fatigue, the goal is to push your muscles to their maximal capacity by exerting a high level of effort. By reaching the point of fatigue, you’re essentially exhausting the muscle fibres involved in the exercise.

Lifting to fatigue can be applied in different ways depending on your training goals and the specific exercise being performed. Here are a few examples:

Repetition fatigue: This involves performing a specific number of repetitions until you are unable to complete another repetition with proper form. For example, if you’re performing bicep curls, you might continue the exercise until you cannot lift the weight for another repetition.

Set fatigue: With this approach, you continue performing sets of an exercise until you reach a point where you can no longer complete the desired number of repetitions with proper form. For instance, if you’re doing three sets of push-ups, you may continue until you’re unable to complete the required reps in a set.

Drop sets: In drop sets, you start with a heavier weight and continue lifting until you reach fatigue. Once you can no longer lift the heavier weight, you reduce the weight and continue the exercise without rest. This allows you to extend the set beyond the point of initial fatigue.

Lifting to fatigue is believed to have several benefits. It can help stimulate muscle growth and strength gains by recruiting a larger number of muscle fibres and inducing metabolic stress. Additionally, it can enhance muscular endurance and mental resilience.

Phil Toon at Granite GamesSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

However, it’s important to approach lifting to fatigue with caution. Proper form and technique should always be prioritized, and it’s advisable to have a spotter or trainer present, especially when working with heavy weights or performing complex movements. It’s also essential to listen to your body and avoid overtraining or pushing yourself to the point of injury. Consulting with a qualified fitness professional can help you determine the appropriate application of lifting to fatigue within your training program.

What are Dropsets in Weightlifting?

Drop sets are a weightlifting technique used to increase muscle fatigue and promote muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth). In drop sets, you perform a set of an exercise to near-failure or failure, and then immediately reduce the weight and continue the set without rest.

Here’s how drop sets typically work:

  1. Start with a weight that allows you to perform a certain number of repetitions with good form, usually around 8 to 12 reps. This weight should be challenging but manageable.
  2. Perform the exercise until you reach a point where you can no longer complete another repetition with proper form. This is usually close to muscular failure.
  3. Without resting, reduce the weight by a certain percentage (usually around 20-30%) and continue the set immediately with the lower weight.
  4. Perform as many repetitions as you can with the reduced weight, taking the muscles to fatigue once again.
  5. If desired or appropriate, you can repeat the process by further reducing the weight and continuing the set until reaching fatigue once more.

Drop sets are often used as a training method to intensify the workout and push the muscles to their limits. By reducing the weight and continuing the set after reaching initial fatigue, drop sets allow you to extend the duration of the set and recruit additional muscle fibres.

This technique is commonly employed for exercises targeting specific muscle groups, such as bicep curls, bench press, or leg extensions. Drop sets can help increase metabolic stress, stimulate muscle growth, and enhance muscular endurance.

It’s important to note that drop sets can be physically demanding and may lead to greater muscle fatigue and soreness.

As with any training technique, it’s crucial to use proper form and listen to your body to avoid overexertion or injury. Additionally, drop sets are generally recommended for intermediate or advanced lifters who have developed a solid foundation of strength and technique.

What are Supersets in Weightlifting?

Supersets are a weightlifting technique that involves performing two exercises back-to-back without rest. In a superset, you alternate between two different exercises, targeting either the same muscle group or opposing muscle groups.

Here are the two main types of supersets:

Same muscle group superset: In this type of superset, you perform two exercises consecutively that target the same muscle group. For example, you might perform a set of bicep curls immediately followed by a set of hammer curls without taking a break. This allows you to work the biceps from different angles or with different variations.

Opposing muscle group superset: Here, you pair exercises that target opposing muscle groups, such as the chest and back, or the quadriceps and hamstrings. For instance, you might perform a set of bench press followed by a set of bent-over rows. This allows one muscle group to rest while the other is being worked, increasing overall workout efficiency.

The main benefits of incorporating supersets into your weightlifting routine include:

  1. Time efficiency: By performing exercises consecutively, you can save time during your workouts, as you eliminate the rest period between sets of a single exercise.
  2. Increased intensity: Supersets can enhance the intensity of your workout by keeping the muscles under continuous tension. This can help stimulate muscle growth, improve muscular endurance, and increase calorie expenditure.
  3. Variety and muscle balance: Supersets allow you to incorporate a wider range of exercises, variations, or angles within a single workout. This helps in targeting different muscle fibres and improving muscle balance.

It’s important to note that while supersets can be an effective training technique, they can also be physically demanding. Ensure that you have proper form and technique for each exercise before incorporating supersets into your routine.

Additionally, if you’re new to weightlifting, it’s advisable to gradually introduce supersets and seek guidance from a qualified trainer to ensure safety and optimize results.

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