How many sets should I do? What’s the best number of reps per set? Can I rest between sets?
All of these are popular questions asked by women every day – and for good reason!
Weight lifting can be used to increase strength, endurance, or muscle size by changing the number of sets and reps completed during a workout.
For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, a REP (short for repetition) is simply the act of lifting and lowering a weight in a controlled manner for a single cycle. A SET is a combination of several repetitions performed one after another without stopping for a break.
Almost all routines will be presented as “X” number of sets for “X” number of reps (i.e. 3 sets for 10 reps).
Now before we talk about the ideal number of sets/reps performed for each specific goal, let’s first review two key concepts that impact the total amount of exercise you should complete during each workout.
1. Your Age and Overall Health Status
The targeted number of sets for one workout will significantly differ for a 20-something your old athlete as compared to an obese middle-aged woman with heart problems.
Speaking of medical conditions, if you are someone who requires daily medication or has an underlying chronic condition, you should always speak to your physician before beginning a new exercise regimen. You may also need to undergo a stress test to ensure your heart is healthy enough to handle increased physical activity.
When you first start weight training, regardless of your age, begin with less sets and higher reps. After a few weeks, you’re muscles will begin to adapt and grow, which will allow you to gradually increase the amount of sets completed for each exercise.
For those with joint issues (such as bad knees or shoulders), you may want to continue with high reps at a lower weight to avoid any unwanted stress.
As we age, our bodies require more time for recovery following strenuous exercise. You may need to rotate body parts throughout the week, as opposed to working the same muscle groups each day. There’s also an added emphasis on the importance of stretching, as flexibility continues to decrease with each added decade of life.
2. What’s your current activity level?
There are a number of different training levels, ranging from untrained to advanced. If you are someone who only dabbles in occasional exercise, usually less than 3 times per week, then you would be considered “untrained” and have a lower set/rep requirement.
The recommended amount of sets/reps per workout would then progressively increase for beginner, intermediate, and advanced athletes.
In addition, to the amount of exercise, it’s also important to consider the TYPE of exercise.
For example, you may have a high activity level because you run 5+ miles each day, but have never lifted weights a day in your life. Perhaps you love taking aerobics classes every night or are on an athletic team. In these cases, you may be very active, but still benefit from starting slow when adding weight training to your routine.
Now onto the good stuff!
As you’ve now learned, the number of sets and reps you choose to complete should not only be based on your goals, but also important factors such as age, overall health, and activity level.
In general, the following number of reps and sets are used to achieve the common goals of increased strength, muscle growth, and endurance.
NUMBER OF REPS
• 1 to 5 reps for strength
• 6 to 12 reps for muscle growth
• 13+ reps for endurance
NUMBER OF SETS
• 6 to 8 sets for strength
• 2 to 4 sets for muscle growth
• 2 to 3 sets for endurance
One other important factor not yet discussed is the concept of REST or the time used for muscle recovery between sets. Similar to how changing the number of reps/sets can change your results, the amount of time can also be altered.
- 3 to 5 minutes between sets for strength
- 1 to 2 minutes between sets for muscle growth
- 30 to 45 seconds between sets for endurance
To sum up the key concept of this article just remember the following two things…
Lower Reps & Heavier Weight = Longer Rest between Sets
Higher Reps & Lighter Weight = Shorter Rest between Sets
Happy lifting =)