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.