Any strength or resistance training workout will have you perform a certain number of sets and reps. You don’t have to think much about these numbers when following a written workout, but what if you want to create your own workout? You might wonder, “how many reps and sets should I do?”
The number of sets and reps you should do will vary based on your fitness goals, your preferences, the type of training you want to do, and other factors.
The answer of how many reps and sets you should do is not the same for everyone and every situation. So, let’s cover what you need to know. After reading this article, you’ll understand the function of sets, reps, and how to create an ideal workout with them.
What Are Reps?
Let’s start with the basics. What are reps, exactly?
Reps, or repetitions, are the number of times you perform a single exercise movement before resting.
For example, say your workout calls for 12 reps of bicep curls. You would complete 12 bicep curls, then rest. That would be one set of 12 reps.
This brings us to the other term of the hour: sets.
What Are Sets in a Workout?
A set is one round of a certain number of reps.
For example, an exercise might call for three sets of 12 bicep curls. Twelve is the number of reps. Three is the number of sets.
So, you’ll perform 12 bicep curls, rest, do 12 more curls, rest, then do 12 curls a third time. That’s a total of three sets.
You might see this written as 3x12 bicep curls. Three sets of 12 bicep curls.
How Many Reps and Sets Should I Do Per Workout?
The number of reps and sets you should do is not one-size-fits-all. The ideal numbers for you will depend on your fitness goals and circumstances.
Here are the ranges based on what you want to achieve with your workouts.
Number of Reps and Sets for General Fitness (Including Newbies)
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), a good range for those new to training or interested in general fitness is 12-20 reps per set.
Movements during exercises should be slower, and the weights will be lighter than lower-rep workouts. The goal is to tone, get stronger, and improve posture and coordination.
Reps and Sets for Muscular Endurance
Training for muscular endurance is typically the next step for those who fall into the above category. You’ll start getting your muscles used to heavier weights and higher workout intensity.
In the muscular endurance phase, reps stay high at 8-12 reps per exercise. That means your weights will be lighter so that you can complete the higher rep ranges.
Supersets are also common here. A superset is when you go directly from one exercise to another without rest in between, and the two exercises are often working opposing muscle groups. For example, you might do 8-12 reps of a chest press followed by 8-12 reps of bent-over rows.
Super setting exercises will increase the challenge on your muscles, improve endurance, and have you spend less time working out.
Number of Reps and Sets to Build Muscle
Do you want to build large muscles — to “bulk up”? If so, this is where you’ll spend most of your time.
Muscular hypertrophy is the growth of muscle cells and an increase in muscular size. Reps should be in the 6-12 rep range to achieve hypertrophy and build muscle. You’ll also want to keep your rest short, around 60 to 90 seconds, between sets.
Intensity and training volume (e.g. weight or resistance) should be in the moderate to high range. These parameters combined with shorter rest periods are also great for building muscle while losing weight or body fat.
Reps and Sets To Increase Muscular Strength
Those who want to increase strength without necessarily bulking up should most focus on this training strategy. It’s another type of muscle hypertrophy.
Training for maximum strength and power should be in the 1-5 rep range. And since the reps are small, you’ll want to challenge yourself with heavy weight or resistance.
The weight you use should be somewhere in the 85 to 100 percent range of your one-rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift/press for one rep).
Developing strength depends on regularly overloading your muscles. You’ll need to train consistently and focus on progressing in how much you can lift.
Also, you’ll typically need to have longer rest periods between sets (around 2-4 minutes) to have the energy to lift heavy each time.
How Many Reps and Sets to Increase Muscular Power?
NASM says high-force and high-velocity workouts are best for building your power. Using supersets with different rep ranges and loads is an effective way to increase power.
Remember, supersets are two different exercises performed back-to-back. Here’s the best way to perform superset exercises for power:
- The first exercise should be 1-5 reps at close to your maximum strength.
- The second exercise should be 8-10 reps using lighter weights and moving as quickly and explosively as possible.
Here’s why this likely works: The maximum load of the first exercise activates many different muscle fibers at once. Then, the second exercise is about speed, training your muscles to contract quickly during explosive movements.
Number of Reps and Sets to Lose Weight
So, what if you just want to work out because you’re trying to lose weight? When your goal is simply weight loss (and perhaps just to get in better shape overall), any of the above methods are options.
How many reps you do doesn’t matter as much when trying to lose weight as long as you’re following a balanced workout regime. Other than that, you’ll need to make sure you’re:
- Eating enough calories
- Eating high-quality foods
- Getting enough protein
- Consistently eating an excess of healthy calories along with weight or resistance training
Building strength will help your body burn more calories daily, which will help with weight loss. A good range for those trying to lose weight and not experienced with exercise is 12-15 reps.
How Many Sets You Should Do Per Workout
Now that we’ve covered rep specifics, let’s talk sets. How many sets should you do of each exercise?
Remember that a set is a group of reps. If you’re doing 12 push-ups at once before resting (or moving to another exercise), those 12 pushups are one set.
Most of the time, 3-5 sets per exercise are ideal. This maximizes time under tension no matter how many reps you’re doing. However, 2-3 sets can be sufficient for some days. It just depends on the workout structure.
Focus on Progressive Overload
No matter how many reps and sets you do, you should always keep it challenging. Track which weights you use each workout, and aim to progressively increase the amount of weight you’re lifting or the number of reps you’re doing each time.
Most importantly, you need to challenge your muscles enough to reach muscular fatigue. This matters more than the nitty-gritty, like how many reps and sets you should do.
Best Rep and Set Ranges for Working Out
Now, let’s summarize everything we’ve just talked about.
Here are the rep ranges you should do based on fitness goals:
- General fitness: 12-20 reps
- Muscular endurance: 8-12 reps
- Building muscle: 6-12 reps
- Muscular strength: 1-5 reps
- Muscular power: lower reps (1-5) at a high weight, then higher reps (8-10) at lighter weights moving quickly and explosively
- Losing weight: any of the mentioned ranges depending on the workout
And for set ranges:
In general, three to five sets are good. However, some workouts might have anywhere from 2-6 sets.
Performing Exercises with Resistance Bands
Now, let’s take a second and talk about resistance bands and how they can fit into a varied workout plan. Resistance bands have a unique advantage over regular strength training.
While traditional lifting exercises tend to work bigger muscle groups, resistance bands can help you work your smaller stabilizing muscles and strengthen your core. These muscles support your body in staying upright, maintaining good posture and alignment. When your stabilizers are strong, you’re protecting yourself against the risk of injuries and pain.
And what about reps and sets for resistance band workouts? You can use the same guidelines outlined above based on your goals. In general, though, resistance band exercises tend to include higher rep counts to ensure muscle overload.
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What if I Need More Help Creating My Own Workouts?
Figuring out the best program for you can be challenging. In fact, decision fatigue and intimidation are common factors in hesitancy about working out or going to the gym.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone. You could hire a personal trainer, although that can be pricey. Another option is to join an online community and program. Gorilla Bow All Access provides live and on-demand workouts videos you can use anywhere.
You can easily choose workouts by category, such as Beginner, Strength, Functional, and HIIT. Plus, you get access to a complete exercise library (showing you how to perform exercise movements), and workout classes led by certified personal trainers. Get 30 days free here.
Remember: It’s Not Just About the Workout
Exercise is just one part of the equation. Many of us know this by now, but it’s still a fact some people forget.
Here are some other factors that matter when getting and staying fit.
Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition
You’ve probably heard some version of phrases like:
- “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet!”
- “You can’t out-train poor nutrition.”
- “Muscle building/weight loss is 80 percent nutrition and only 20 percent fitness.”
If you’re trying to build muscles and get fit, you must eat enough calories and protein to fuel and grow that lean tissue.
Fitness and weight loss goals are achieved most often with a combination of exercise and healthy nutrition. What you’re eating in between workouts is more important than exactly how many reps you do.
Also, if you have been working out for a while without seeing reasonable results, it’s time to look at your nutrition.
Doing More Each Workout
As you pay attention to how many reps and sets, make sure you’re continually challenging your muscles. We already mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating: always strive to do more than your last workout.
That could mean, compared to your last workout:
- Using a weight that’s five pounds heavier
- Doing one more rep
- Performing one more set
- Increasing the frequency of your workouts
Gradually increase the stress on your muscles with each workout.
Taking Sufficient Rest Days
How often you rest is just as critical as consistent workouts. Your muscles need time to relax and repair in between workouts.
When you lift weights or use resistance bands, the exercise creates micro-tears in your muscle tissue. These tears are essential for muscle growth, but they also need time to heal and become stronger. Taking rest days is the way to optimize this process and ensure you’re getting the most out of your workouts.
When you’re strength or resistance training, it’s important to let a muscle group rest for 1-2 days after working it. This will give the muscle group time to recover and help prevent injuries.
Sometimes, it’s challenging to recognize when you need to take a rest day. Here are some signs that your body needs one:
- Continual muscle soreness or fatigue
- Mood swings or irritability
- Muscle or joint pain, often from overuse
- Workouts have been feeling more difficult than usual
- Results have plateaued
- Trouble sleeping or resting properly
Start paying extra attention to how your body is feeling. You’ll need to listen carefully and take rest days as needed. It can be hard to stop when you’re inspired to make a healthy change, but always remember that rest is part of the process.
You need rest days to achieve the fitness results you desire, whatever those are. You can also replace your typical workout with something less intense, such as low-impact movement, yoga, or massage.
Getting Enough Shuteye
Besides rest days, you’ll also want to prioritize sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial for supporting proper diet and exercise.
Your body restores itself as you sleep, and that includes muscle growth and recovery. Plus, your body secretes growth hormone during sleep, which is necessary to build lean tissue.
The sleep recommendation for active people is between seven and nine hours per night.
Summing It Up: Reps and Sets Per Workout
In conclusion, the number of reps and sets varies based on your fitness goals and the type of workout you’re doing. Use the above information as a guide when creating your own workouts.
Also, remember that how many reps and sets you should do is just one factor. You’ll also need to exercise consistently, eat enough high-quality calories and protein, rest sufficiently, and sleep well as much as possible.