The number of sets and repetitions is a fundamental part of any training plan, although it is often left to chance.
Usually there are 2 or 3 sets per exercise and between 10 to 12 repetitions. For everything.
Although there is no magic number, we will present you with a guide to help you organize your plan effectively, and above all, adapt it according to your situation.
Before moving on to the number of sets and reps, there is one factor that we need to address first.
So let's get started.
Number of weekly workouts
First, you need to define the number of times you are going to train weekly.
Only then should you decide the number of sets and reps you are going to do.
Imagine two friends, António and José.
They both want to gain muscle mass, but while António decides to go training five times a week, José has little time available and can only go three times.
They talk to Joaquim, the gym instructor, and take him with the same ABC training.
The exercises are the same and the number of sets and repetitions as well.
António would have a much higher training volume, and if he was well organized, probably better results.
This does not mean that José is condemned to have less results than António, or that António will necessarily have better results than his friend.
This means that it is essential to know the number of workouts per week to decide the number of sets and repetitions to use.
In other words, José who will train less times per week, should do more repetitions and sets per training session, while António can more easily distribute the necessary volume per week.
When reaching a similar volume per week, José would be able to obtain similar results to António, going to the gym less often, but with greater effort for training.
António, on the other hand, was not at risk of giving up after two weeks because he was unable to recover between each training session.
In short, to define the number of sets and repetitions you will be doing per workout, you need to know how many workouts you are going to do per week.
Number of repetitions
After setting the number of times you want to go to the gym, you can now move on to the number of repetitions.
First of all, don't forget that there is no magic number, but there are numbers that will give you a good basis to build your plan.
For hypertrophy the ideal is to use between 80 to 210 repetitions per week for each muscle.
Attention, this is the number of repetitions per week, and not necessarily per training.
The more advanced you are, the more repetitions you will need, but if you enter the gym now, 80 repetitions is a good starting point.
You can divide these repetitions into two workouts, and according to studies, it is superior to train the muscle twice a week instead of just once.
This does not mean that it is mandatory to do so, and it is possible to have good results training only once.
Finally, bigger muscles like the legs need more training, while smaller muscles like the biceps, less.
You'll see one of the reasons below.
Now that you know the number of repetitions you must do per week, the number of sets remains to be defined.
Again, there is no right number, but for hypertrophy the ideal is to use between 6 to 12 repetitions per set in most exercises.
This is equivalent to about 70% to 80% of your maximum repetition.
In practice it means that you will be using a load that will give you some difficulties in the last repetitions, and in which in the last repetition you were able to do at most one repetition, and sometimes, no more.
For more accurate results, you can also calculate your maximum repetition for the various exercises.
This will ensure that you are training with a good intensity to evolve.
Attention, although going to failure can sometimes be used, it should not be a constant, and you should not go to failure in all sets of all exercises.
Pedro has been in the gym for 6 months and has already noticed some results.
He will now start a new plan, and has chosen to do 120 repetitions a week to work his chest, and use 10 repetitions in each set.
This means that Pedro can choose to do 3 exercises, with 4 sets in each of them or 4 exercises with 3 sets for each.
This can be done in just one weekly workout, or divided into two workouts.
The 10 repetitions are just an example, and the idea is to reach 120 repetitions within 6 to 12 repetitions, to achieve a good intensity.
Although the recommendation is between 6 to 12 repetitions, this does not mean that you cannot go above or below this number, just that a large part of your training should be done in this number of repetitions.
You can sometimes use lower repetitions, to work with strength, and sometimes higher repetitions, which also have some advantages.
Finally, if you like to do a warm-up series at half the weight before, that set does not count towards the weekly total.
80 to 210 repetitions per muscle, is that it?
Yes and no.
There is another important factor to take into account.
What does this mean?
You must take into account the muscles used by the exercises you choose.
When you do a back bar workout, you also work your biceps, but when you do a sit-up curl, you don't work your back.
This does not mean that you do not need, or should not, work on the small muscles, only that you must adapt your training, and reduce the amount of repetitions for these muscles.
There are no magic numbers, but as you can see, there are bases to help you build an effective training plan.
Depending on the time you have in the gym, you should bet on 80 to 210 repetitions per muscle, and take into account the muscles worked in each exercise.
In addition, the ideal is to work most of the time in the field of 6 to 12 repetitions per set, and find out what works best for you.
There are muscles that respond better to low repetitions, while others to higher repetitions.
Finally, you still have the question of how many times you should train each muscle a week, and studies indicate that twice is better than once.
There are those who prefer one, and there are those who prefer two or even three.
The truth is that the more advanced you are, the more training volume you need, and spreading that volume over two workouts has several advantages.
Use these numbers as a reference to create your training plan, but don't forget to evaluate what works best for you, and use it to your advantage.