Sets and Reps: What’s the “Right” Amount to Stimulate Muscle Growth?


Just like many other bodybuilders, I used to perform four sets of every single exercise when I first started training years ago. Why did I choose four sets? I don't really remember. Maybe the reason why was because the first person who I started training with passed along that philosophy. Doing four sets; for four different exercises; for every body part must be written in  "Unofficial Beginner's Bodybuilding Handbook" somewhere, don't you think? We all seem to have done so at one time or another.

Let me explain why I think doing four sets is not an efficient way to train. Have you ever noticed that, when you get yourself in the "training warrior" mindset, you can pump-out more reps on the last of your four sets of an exercise than you can with the first one?

Isn't that true? Let's just say you plan to do four sets. Your goal is to do eight reps in each of those sets. On the first set, you get eight reps-just as you planned. The second, you get eight again. During the third set, you also eight reps. Getting all of them during the third set may have been a little more difficult than the first two, but you did it. If you do happen to get more than eight reps in any of those first three sets, you usually don't get many more than one or two more.

But isn't it strange that, when you know you only have one set remaining, you can magically pump out three, four, or even five more for an amazing total of 13? All of a sudden, you become a true training warrior! You are now a determined madman in the gym like Dorian Yates!

If you think about it, shouldn't it turn out to be just the opposite? If you were really giving your all like you thought you were during the first couple of sets, there shouldn't be nearly as much energy left to meet or exceed that rep range during the last set. There's no way!

If you were truly training with the utmost intensity (like we all think we do, myself included), we probably should have gotten 12 on the first one; 10 on the second one; eight or nine on the third one; and about six on the fourth one.

As I have stated many times before, training with intensity is the key to getting the big gains you want in the gym. You need a sense of urgency to train with the highest level of intensity. Planning to do only one or two sets creates that sense of urgency. That why I choose to train the way I do. Oftentimes during my workouts, I implement what I call, "one-hit-wonders". One-hit-wonders are exercises that include only one set.

After warming up sufficiently and doing two heavy sets of a particular exercise, I'll usually only do one set (two sets maximum) for three more exercises to complete my smaller body part workouts.

Many lifters give themselves three and even four sets of a particular every exercise to get the job done. If you give yourself four chances at anything, there will be less of a sense of urgency to do it right the first couple of times. It's only human nature.

Anything less than 100 percent effort is a wasted set in my opinion.

I can't tell you how many sets you should use to train your each body part effectively--neither can anyone else. It all depends on that ever-evolving, ever-changing, constantly re-defining level of intensity.

If you truly train like Dorian Yates, a warrior, or a true animal, then you will need to do fewer sets to build muscle for each body part. If you train like, let's say "less than an animal" you'll need more sets. Be honest with yourself! Only you can figure this out.


How many repetitions per set is the "right" amount to bolster your power, strength, and performance in the gym? Is it twelve reps? Ten? Eight? Four? Two?

Different bodybuilders, all of whom may be considered successful in their training efforts, seem to have differing philosophies on this matter. Some people say you should do 12 to 15 reps during each set while others insist 8 to 10 is the proper amount. 

The less time you are forced to focus and concentrate, the better your focus and concentration will be. That's why I aim for 4 to 6 repetitions per set. It's easier for me to train at a higher level of intensity. Also, if I only have to perform four reps, as opposed to 12 to 15, I will surely be able to lift a heavier amount of weight. My power, strength, and performance will surely improve over time.

If I can do more than six reps during a particular set, then I have picked a weight that is too light. Conversely, if I can't properly perform four repetitions, the weight I chose was too heavy. Either way, I will make the proper adjustments, not only for the next set, but for every single set of every single workout in the future as well.


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