Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How Many Reps And Sets To Build Muscle?

One of the questions I get asked the most while training others is how many reps and sets of an exercise are needed to gain the most muscle mass and strength possible.

Well, let's tackle that question head on.


The desired rep range for both men and women for just about all exercises is four to six reps for your last, heavy sets. That doesn't include warm-ups or acclimation sets, just your last sets.

There's one and only one reason a muscle has for getting bigger and stronger....

....Progressively increased overload.

You need to progressively "force" the muscle into growing and getting stronger or it will not. In other words, you need to always be stressing it into growing.

In order to increase overload, you need to increase resistance. In order to increase resistance, you need to increase the amount of weight, or work, you're doing.

Lower reps will allow you to increase the overload to that muscle instantly. This forces the stimulation of new muscle fibers that will be recruited to handle the additional stresses placed upon the muscle.

The rep range for optimal muscle fiber stimulation will be between four and six repetitions for just about every heavy set of an exercise you do.

By the way, low reps will not cause women to "bulk" up. Low reps will strengthen and "tone" your muscles quicker than higher reps.

Lighter weights and higher reps will basically keep you from making optimal gains. If you can do ten reps of an exercise, the weight is too light to achieve max overload.

How do you know what weight to use?

If you can do more than six reps on your heavy sets, the weight is too light. If you can't do at least four, the weight is too heavy.

So the low down on reps is 4 to 6 for all heavy sets. Warm up sets can be 8 to 10 reps, but to get the muscle stimulating benefit of weight training, you must use lower reps to create enough of an overload.


The amount of heavy, intense sets per exercise will be between one and three sets, depending on the order of the exercise.

When you're warmed up, the number of all-out, intense sets will be three at the most, and on some exercises, just one or two sets is all that's needed.

It's the overload that causes the muscle to grow, not the amount of sets you do. There's no "law" that says if you double the amount of sets you perform, you also double the results.

The key is to stimulate, not annihilate, the muscle into responding and growing. You do this with two, very intense sets of four to six reps. This will efficiently stimulate the muscles more than doing more sets with more reps at a lighter weight.

If you were doing bicep curls, you'd do your warm-ups and then two heavy, intense sets of four to six repetitions. This exercise is now done. You've effectively overloaded the bicep muscles and will then proceed to the next exercise, if there is one.

As you can see, it's all about quality over quantity when it comes to producing results.

It is so much better to do one or two heavy sets at maximum intensity than 3 or more at an easier level.

More is not better....better is better.

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