The Correct Number of Reps Per Set in the Gym

I have a lot of people ask me, “How many reps should I do per set?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question without a little more information.  What you need to determine first is what your goals are.  Some people’s goals are to lose weight, which would require a certain rep range, and others’ goals are to build muscle mass, which requires a different range as well.

What you need to figure out is what you really want to accomplish.  Think about sprinters versus marathon runners.  A sprinter is built for power and speed in short bursts, so their training sessions exist in small increments (10 second races).  A marathon runner is built for endurance, which means their training sessions are much longer (hours at a time).  Working out is no different.  Decide below what you want to get out of a workout, and then read how to get there:

  • Muscular endurance – Your sets should be greater than 12 repetitions.  Aim for a range from 12 to 20 reps.  Obviously you won’t be able to lift heavy amounts of weight for 20 reps, so you’ll be lifting lighter loads.  Also, because you’re going for endurance, you want to decrease the amount of rest between sets.  30 Seconds to a minute, but certainly no more.
  • Muscle Size (Hypertrophy) - This is for you guys looking to build muscle size (hardgainers).  Hypertrophy is essentially the enlarging of cells, which means when it happens to your muscles, they get bigger! Yay.  Now, if this is what you’re looking to accomplish, you want to keep the number of reps per set in the 6 – 12 range.  I find this is best accomplished by doing between 3-5 sets, each time increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. (12 reps at 200 lbs, 10 reps at 220 lbs, 8 reps at 240 lbs, etc.)  Rest time between sets should be short, not as short as for endurance…between 60 and 90 seconds.  I wait 1 minute between sets.
  • Strength and Power – If you’re happy with your size, or you’re training for specific sports and just want to get stronger with more power, this is for you.  Your reps are going to be less than 6 with each set, and an increased amount of time waiting between sets (2-3 minutes).  You’re going to be lifting crazy amounts of weight for sometimes just 1 repetition, so you need to have a spotter and absolutely perfect form or you could severely hurt yourself.   This is how powerlifters train.  Low reps, high weight, long time between sets.

So, now that you have “edumacated” yourself on how your specific goals influence the number of reps per set, you can design your program around this info.  Remember in my article last week talking about plateaus and how your muscles can get “used” to working out and slow down growth?  If that’s something you’re battling, here’s a way to keep them guessing.  Spend a week in a different rep range with different amounts of weight to throw them off.  Generally doing the 12-10-8-6 reps per set routine?  Bump up the weight and do sets of 6-3-1, waiting much longer between sets (and using a spotter).  After a week of mixing it up, go back to your regularly scheduled routine and you’ll be right back on track.

Make sure you know what you want, and then design a plan to get there.

-Steve

Get The Rebel Starter Kit

Enter your email and we’ll send it right over.

  • The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
  • The most effective diet and why it works.
  • Complete your first workout today, no gym required.
  • These are the tools you need to start your quest.
  • http://www.colintimberlake.com/ Colin Timberlake

    Hey Steve,
    Good post. Not enough people actually think about how many reps they are targeting or why. Granted, sometimes just getting to the gym is the first victory for many people, but once you’re there to stay, it is definitely time to start honing your program.

  • http://www.colintimberlake.com Colin Timberlake

    Hey Steve,
    Good post. Not enough people actually think about how many reps they are targeting or why. Granted, sometimes just getting to the gym is the first victory for many people, but once you’re there to stay, it is definitely time to start honing your program.

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Thanks for the comment Colin.

    Agreed. If you’re just starting out, just getting to the gym and exercising regularly is a big step. However once you get past that point, it’s important to recognize what you want out of your time there. I worked out for probably 6 years, doing what the books said but never really understanding why I did a certain number of reps. I figured “if 10 reps of this weight is good, then 4 reps of THIS more weight is even better!” when in reality because I was so skinny I should have been sticking in the 6-12 rep range to build size.

    Now I know, and knowing is half the battle (G.I. Joooooooooooooe)

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Thanks for the comment Colin.

    Agreed. If you’re just starting out, just getting to the gym and exercising regularly is a big step. However once you get past that point, it’s important to recognize what you want out of your time there. I worked out for probably 6 years, doing what the books said but never really understanding why I did a certain number of reps. I figured “if 10 reps of this weight is good, then 4 reps of THIS more weight is even better!” when in reality because I was so skinny I should have been sticking in the 6-12 rep range to build size.

    Now I know, and knowing is half the battle (G.I. Joooooooooooooe)

    -Steve

  • samarth

    hey…i’m 19 yrs old and weight around 85 kg and my height is 6ft 2inchies…i want to lose weight in the gym but i dont want to get a bulkier physique…plz suggest me..how should i train..

  • samarth

    hey…i’m 19 yrs old and weight around 85 kg and my height is 6ft 2inchies…i want to lose weight in the gym but i dont want to get a bulkier physique…plz suggest me..how should i train..

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Hey Samarth,

    Doing the conversion, that means you weigh about 190 lbs, which is a very reasonable weight for a guy that’s 6’2″. You say you want to lose weight in the gym, so I’m going to guess you have probably a gut or something along those lines…I can’t imagine you being very big. If you’re interested in losing weight, I think a better idea would be to do some weight training in the gym, so you can maintain the same weight, just have it redistributed to your shoulders and arms and away from your stomach.

    Email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly help you come up with a good routine/diet.

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Hey Samarth,

    Doing the conversion, that means you weigh about 190 lbs, which is a very reasonable weight for a guy that’s 6’2″. You say you want to lose weight in the gym, so I’m going to guess you have probably a gut or something along those lines…I can’t imagine you being very big. If you’re interested in losing weight, I think a better idea would be to do some weight training in the gym, so you can maintain the same weight, just have it redistributed to your shoulders and arms and away from your stomach.

    Email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly help you come up with a good routine/diet.

    -Steve

  • Pingback: How to Look like Ryan Reynolds in Blade 3 | Nerd Fitness

  • Randy

    Hi Steve I need some advice. I started weight training in January and I am 5 foot 6 inches and about 135 pounds. My goals are Muscle Size (Hypertrophy) but not too bulky and have cuts so you can see them. Now my question is when should I increase my weight, currently I still am benching 105 pounds 3 sets and 8 reps but I can also do 115 pounds 3 sets 5 reps. Is it good to switch up the weight and rep ranges to break the plateau I have, because especially for my biceps I want them to get bigger but not too big but then if i increase the weight I can do 5 reps rather than 8 help would be appreciate cheers!

  • Randy

    Hi Steve I need some advice. I started weight training in January and I am 5 foot 6 inches and about 135 pounds. My goals are Muscle Size (Hypertrophy) but not too bulky and have cuts so you can see them. Now my question is when should I increase my weight, currently I still am benching 105 pounds 3 sets and 8 reps but I can also do 115 pounds 3 sets 5 reps. Is it good to switch up the weight and rep ranges to break the plateau I have, because especially for my biceps I want them to get bigger but not too big but then if i increase the weight I can do 5 reps rather than 8 help would be appreciate cheers!

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Hey Randy!

    Thanks for the comment. If you’re looking to gain muscle size, the best advice I can give you is to vary your reps and weights each time you go into the gym. For example, bench 100 for 12 reps, then 105 for 10 reps, then 115 for 8 reps. Keep the time between your sets to about a minute (so after about 40 seconds lie down and start to get ready). To really increase your muscle size, you want to keep your range of reps between 12 and 6, and increase the weight while decreasing the reps with each set. You might have to drop the weight if you’re used to waiting 3 minutes between sets, but you’ll definitely see size increase in those muscles if you stick with this tactic.

    As for when to add weight, you can bump your weight up 5 lbs after you can do the 115 for 8 reps with ease. Either that, or add a 4th set and do 120lbs. for 6 reps. You want your muscles to practically fail by that last final rep of your last set. This is where you’ll see the most success, which is why it helps to ask a spotter to help you get through the last few.

    If you want bigger biceps, do a similar tactic with bicep dumbbell curls. Curl 10 lb. dumbbells for 12 reps, wait a minute, 15lb. dumbbells for 10 reps, wait a minute, 20 lb. dumbbells for 8 reps, wait a minute, 25lb. dumbbells for 6 reps.

    Hopefully this makes sense Randy. If not, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly go more in-depth and help you out!

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Hey Randy!

    Thanks for the comment. If you’re looking to gain muscle size, the best advice I can give you is to vary your reps and weights each time you go into the gym. For example, bench 100 for 12 reps, then 105 for 10 reps, then 115 for 8 reps. Keep the time between your sets to about a minute (so after about 40 seconds lie down and start to get ready). To really increase your muscle size, you want to keep your range of reps between 12 and 6, and increase the weight while decreasing the reps with each set. You might have to drop the weight if you’re used to waiting 3 minutes between sets, but you’ll definitely see size increase in those muscles if you stick with this tactic.

    As for when to add weight, you can bump your weight up 5 lbs after you can do the 115 for 8 reps with ease. Either that, or add a 4th set and do 120lbs. for 6 reps. You want your muscles to practically fail by that last final rep of your last set. This is where you’ll see the most success, which is why it helps to ask a spotter to help you get through the last few.

    If you want bigger biceps, do a similar tactic with bicep dumbbell curls. Curl 10 lb. dumbbells for 12 reps, wait a minute, 15lb. dumbbells for 10 reps, wait a minute, 20 lb. dumbbells for 8 reps, wait a minute, 25lb. dumbbells for 6 reps.

    Hopefully this makes sense Randy. If not, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly go more in-depth and help you out!

    -Steve

  • Randy

    Excellent Advice Steve thank you so much!!!!
    appreciated.

  • Randy

    Excellent Advice Steve thank you so much!!!!
    appreciated.

  • Randy

    Hey Steve thanks so much for your help greatly appreciated. Hey um I get what you told me but a quick question. I realize you say to vary the weights and rep ranges correct? But can I do it a different way. Like I work one week all heavy rep ranges say 5 reps (115) and then next week I do my usual 8 reps for the moderate heavy weights Im used to(105) and then 3rd week I can do light weights for about 15+ reps for say (50-80 pounds). Can I also imply the same concept drill for biceps too , to make them bigger? Rather than combining it all in one workout, or is the one u suggest better for me? thanks for your help I really appreciate it!!!

  • Randy

    Hey Steve thanks so much for your help greatly appreciated. Hey um I get what you told me but a quick question. I realize you say to vary the weights and rep ranges correct? But can I do it a different way. Like I work one week all heavy rep ranges say 5 reps (115) and then next week I do my usual 8 reps for the moderate heavy weights Im used to(105) and then 3rd week I can do light weights for about 15+ reps for say (50-80 pounds). Can I also imply the same concept drill for biceps too , to make them bigger? Rather than combining it all in one workout, or is the one u suggest better for me? thanks for your help I really appreciate it!!!

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Check your email, and I’ll give you a much easier plan that will get you equal results.

    Cheers!

    Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Check your email, and I’ll give you a much easier plan that will get you equal results.

    Cheers!

    Steve

  • Randy

    Hey Steve I receive your previous email
    thanks so much and guess what I tried your method today and I felt much more intensity being involved which hopefully will give me bit of muscular endurance size and strength.
    Thanks mate cheers

    Randy

  • Randy

    Hey Steve I receive your previous email
    thanks so much and guess what I tried your method today and I felt much more intensity being involved which hopefully will give me bit of muscular endurance size and strength.
    Thanks mate cheers

    Randy

  • Rob

    Het Steve, Hopefully you still sign on to your page. Im 175 pounds, and benching at a max of 205. I have such skinny arms in my opinion and I would love to get them bigger. How do i get my arms bigger, while raising my bench. I hear pyramid workouts, 5×5 workouts. All sorts of different rep numbers. What do I do?

    Rob

  • Axelkas1

    hey steve i ws wondering how long the rep should take in the negative’s and positive’s

  • Me Romitt

    I am a 21 year old i have a normal body, my body is nt like under buildup but nt even a great buildup but i want normal body nt a huge build up so please suggest hw shud i keep my reps ?

  • lucky
  • Pingback: Your Quick Guide for Selecting Resistance Training Variables | COACH CALORIE

  • Rojam_020492

    Look, I’m pretty much training for tennis and I kinda need to gain weight (mass). I am 145 lbs. All of my workouts consists of 4 sets of 10 reps. I workout twice a day, and rest of my weekends are tennis conditioning/training and rest. On Monday, I do chest, shoulders, and triceps. On Wednesday, I do legs, back, and biceps. On Friday, I do cardio and abs. Do you guys think this is right? Or I need a little bit of adjustment?

  • Rojam_020492

     Forgot to mention I am a college student and I am 21 years old. Help please!

  • Ryan

    The last thing you’d wanna do for tennis is to gain mass. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic; are any of them bulky? Low reps for strength and/or really high reps for endurance.

  • MikeSoertsz

    Steve’s right on all this. Its commonly known as ‘Pyramid sets’ or ‘Power Sets’. Main thing is to shock the muscles with each set so you tear new muscle fibers. Changing grip angle at the wrist helps with this too (while also activating more eccentric muscles). Use the different grips on a Curl bar (Preacher Curl for example) to see what I mean.

    I have a rule when strength building that I have to add minimum 10-20% weight for each consecutive set while decreasing reps and making sure to use full range of motion (so many guys waste thousands of reps due to incorrect form). I usually follow up with a 1-rep failure test (also known as the “Goddammit just one more you p#$$^!!!” test). If I can’t push/pull/lift that last 1 with multiple tries, I know I’m done.

    Doing pyramids is also good cardio if you manage your rest cycles effectively. Keep the baseline heart-rate up the entire workout. I see a lot of guys just lumbering around from machine to machine, sitting for 5 minutes to catch their breath etc. Keep your energy and mental acuity up while working out and the results’ difference is staggering. We’re there for a purpose so move with purpose.

    Thanks for all the info Steve. I can attest that its all correct and results driven from what I’ve read so far! I’m currently getting back into shape after 4 years focusing on building my company. Awesome to see so many of the body hacks now collated here.

    I’ll try contribute when I can!

  • Vik

    Hey I don’t know if anyone is going to read this because this article is kind of old but I just have one question, the time between the muscular strength and power sets are said to be 2-3 minutes in this article, however personally I find it hard to sit still or idol between sets and just keep on going with my routine, I start with super or triple sets and work my way down to super or singular sets in the gym, hitting 6-1 reps with 5 sets per exercise spending 1.5 – 2 hours of a high intensity at the gym, will the lack of time between sets affect my definition?