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How Many Sets Should You Do Per Exercise?


This article was submitted by Mehdi, author of the strength training blog StrongLifts.com

Israel invited me to make a post about how many sets you should do per exercise. For a lot of people going to the gym, the amount of sets you should remains unclear. This post will help you out.


Benefits of Sets.
What is the purpose of a set anyway? What is it good for?

  • Improved Technique. The more sets you do, the more you can practice your technique. If you’re new to weight lifting, 5 sets leads to technical proficiency faster than 3 sets.
  • Increased Stress. If you Squat 60kg for 3 sets of 5 reps, you have lifted 900kg. 5 sets of 5 reps with 60kg amounts for 1500kg volume. Volume stresses your body: it forces it to build muscle & strength.


The Problem with Sets.
Your body needs to recover from all that stress. You can’t do high amounts of sets for a long time without overtraining. Some symptoms you might experience:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Strength loss
  • Problems sleeping
  • Injuries


How Many Sets Should You Do?
Best is to shoot for 15 to 25 reps per exercise depending on how many reps you do. Your warm-up sets don’t count. Examples:

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  • 3 sets of 5 reps. Build strength, power & myofibrillar hypertrophy.
  • 5 sets of 5 reps. Same as 3 x 5, but more stress & technical work.
  • 3 sets of 8 reps. Less strength, more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
  • 2 sets of 12 reps. More endurance & sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

All rep ranges build muscle, strength & endurance. But some do it better than others. Start light, learn to do your exercises correctly & add weight each workout.

Unless you understand how sets & reps affect your body and thus the results you’re getting, stick to a routine proven to work. If you don’t know which one, check out StrongLifts 5×5. It takes 3x30mins per week.

This article was submitted by Mehdi, author of StrongLifts.com. Check out his blog for more tips on how to Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press, gain weight & lose fat.

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About the Author

My name is Israel Lagares. I used to be the kind of guy that was always in shape, but over the last few years I've fallen off tremendously. This site is my final attempt to get back into shape. So far I've lost 70.4 lbs. Check out my weight loss chart, weight loss videos and progress pics. Follow my journey, those of others, and read our thoughts on various health topics. Share your thoughts, experience, and journey here on FMU.

Community Thoughts (12)

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  1. MaryNo Gravatar says:

    Good information, thanks for sharing.

  2. Allyn PaulNo Gravatar says:

    I do 5 sets to complete failure per exercise. This means that, with bench presses for example, I will use a weight of 165lbs and in the first set, I might get in 18 reps. I rest for 3 minutes, and do another set at which time I may be able to do 15 reps…etc. By the time I get to the last set, I can only do 1 rep.
    Don’t know where I learned this, but I like it.

  3. Allyn PaulNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, I learned that in HS also, I just don’t know who introduced it. I’m a little guy (height wise), so it works for me and doesn’t take too long because I start at a weight that will knock me out fairly quickly.

  4. jimNo Gravatar says:

    I just lost 30 pounds and won a contest! The thing to do is constantly challenge yourself by changing exercises.

  5. SaraNo Gravatar says:

    Too bad warm-up sets doesn’t count..

  6. Melt It OffNo Gravatar says:

    Each person is different, and so is each workout! thanks for the tips though.

  7. jayfeNo Gravatar says:

    Uhm, actually body builders do 45 sets of reps of 8-10. Idk what u guys are smoking, but this guy is bigger then all of u guys would imagine, so u guys stick with your puny sets,

  8. CommanderNo Gravatar says:

    yes that’s true
    3 sets of 8 reps worked best for me and my muscles became bigger

  9. AJENo Gravatar says:

    It’s so hard to define the most effective number of sets and reps because it varies so significantly due to a variety of factors. 3 or 4 sets of core compound exercises (bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.) can have very different effects than the same number of sets and reps of accessory exercises. When you figure in differences in body types, fitness levels, experience, typoes of exercises, etc., then it becomes impossible to have a one-size-fits-all answer. You’ve got to experiment and find out what works for you and your goals.

  10. It really depends on what your goals are. For fat loss and weight loss, 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps is a good way. Structure the exercises into supersets with very little rest.

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