Muscle building 101 | Part 5 – How Many Sets and Reps To Do?

Female performing dumbbell lateral raises

If your goal is to build muscle, odds are you are wondering what rep range and how many sets you should use for best results.

There is no concrete answer. Rather, there are options that lead to slightly different end results.

In this article, we’ll have a look over those different options and help you choose what to focus on, relative to your goal.

Consider Intensity

If you look at a workout objectively, the level of intensity is what determines how many repetitions you can do.

Intensity means the working weight you use during your sets and how close it is to your maximum strength capabilities.

For instance, if you work at 85-100% intensity, you will be able to do 1-5 repetitions.

The lower the training intensity, the more repetitions you can do.

However… More isn’t always better because you can’t grow a big chest by always benching 40 kilograms, right?

Your sets have to be challenging and as a matter of fact, they have to be PROGRESSIVELY more challenging.

If your goal is to gain as much strength as possible, your main focus should be on the 1-5 rep range, also known as the powerlifting training rep range.

On the other hand, if your main goal is to have a bodybuilder-like physique, you are best off focusing on the 6-15 rep range.

The higher rep ranges will allow your body to tap into its muscle glycogen reserves, leading to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and thus, increased bulk muscle growth.

Consider Volume

Intensity is a training factor that determines how challenging your workouts are.

It also has a close relationship with your training volume.

Training volume is basically the total amount of weight lifted, for a given set, exercise, or workout.

The more intensity grows, the more volume decreases, because you can do fewer repetitions.

For instance, if you do 5 repetitions with 100 kg, that would be a volume of 500 kilograms.

However, if you use 75 kg and do 10 repetitions, that would yield a volume of 750 kilograms.

Ultimately, both types of work can be utilized, to create a stimulus for different types of development.

Number of sets – Beginners

If you are just starting out in the gym, you are blessed to experience what is referred to as novice gains.

This is basically the period when you progress quickly, even if you are new to training.

If that is the case, then take this advice – Start off with 5-6 working sets per muscle group, per week.

Make those sets challenging and allow each muscle to rest at least 48-72 hours before you train it again.

Number of sets – Novice/Intermediate

As you exit the novice gains phase, you will notice that you have to be more mindful of your workouts to achieve good results.

This is when you have to give the body a new challenge, which can be created by manipulating your training variables.

One of the best ways to do that is to bump up your training volume and intensity.

As you advance, increase the number of sets to 10+ per muscle group, per week.

Again, make the sets challenging, use different weights for both low and high reps and overall, diversify your workouts!

Number of sets – Advanced


As you gain more and more training experience and physical improvements, you will start to notice that the total amount of muscle gained significantly decreases over time.

Especially if you are a natural athlete, you won’t see massive changes in your weight like you did during the novice gains phase.

This is when you continue giving the body new and new challenges in the workouts, even if that means doing one more repetition or one more set.

As an advanced trainee, you should also consider that visual changes can appear even if you are not gaining much weight.

The more your muscles go through those challenging workouts and the more workouts they go through, the more they mature.

A mature musculature is well-defined, separated, and round.

So just give it time and make sure to do challenging workouts throughout that time.

Conclusion

The number of sets and reps you should do in your workouts depends on your goals.

If you want to gain maximum strength and build muscle, you should focus on the 1-5 rep range.

Adversely, if you are more bodybuilder-minded, you should focus on the 6-15 rep range, while still incorporating the 1-5 rep range to stimulate strength gains.

Training volume forms at 5-20+ challenging sets, per muscle group, per week, depending on your training experience.

That volume grows the more you advance in your training, as it is one of the best ways to realize the main principle of muscle growth, which is progressive overload.