How many Sets and Reps should I do to gain muscle?


How many Sets and Reps should I do to gain muscle?

One of the more confusing aspects of weight training comes in the layout of a training program (i.e., the sets, reps/repetitions, and exercise choice). To more seasoned individuals this might not be an issue, but for those who are new or are looking to start their weight training journey, this is an important concept to cover to make sure training is optimal.

The first distinction to make is the difference between Multi-joint (Includes more than one joint, such as a squat or bench press) and single joint exercises (isolation exercises like bicep curls where only one joint is used). Multi-joint exercises produce the greatest strength gain, are most metabolically taxing and pose a higher risk of injury. Single-joint exercises are useful in injuries or bringing up a weak muscle. Therefore, there is a need to include both types of exercises in one’s training program.

Most basic recommendations for beginner lifters include 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps for each exercise chosen. 1 set has been shown to produce significant strength gains, however, 3 to 4 sets produce the most gains. In terms of how many exercises per muscle group should be performed, evidence suggests 1 exercise is sufficient to produce significant results. Therefore, you should limit exercise selection to 1 to 3 exercises per muscle group. Furthermore, the number of exercises you can perform depends on the intensity in which you performed the exercise and whether you are able to perform another. Listening to your body is the best way to see whether you should perform another exercise. 4 to 8 difficult sets (out of breath and cannot perform another rep with good form) per muscle group is the recommendation if gaining strength and muscle are desired.


Rest between sets varies depending on what you want your body to elicit. Rest periods determine how much recovery you have between sets. Rest periods affect the total training duration and perceived difficulty of the exercise one is performing. For multi-joint exercises, it is recommended that the individual rests 2 to 3 minutes and for single joint exercises they should rest between 1 and 2 minutes between sets. If strength is the goal, longer rest periods are suggested. If muscle size is the goal, shorter rest periods should be used.

The speed with which you perform exercises has not been shown to impact gains significantly. The importance is to control the weight through the motion (i.e., try not to use momentum move weight up because it defeats the purpose). If strength is the goal moderate speeds should be used and when muscle size is the goal, slow repetitions should be performed (focusing mostly on the negative/eccentric of the exercise since this has been suggested to cause the most hypertrophy).

In conclusion, there are multiple variable that affects the number of sets and reps you should perform but there are evidence based recommendations that one should use if you are new to the gym.


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