To understand your recommended rep range and training volume, you have to first identify what your goals are and what you’re training for. Whether you’re training to build size, strength, or improve endurance each training modality requires a different range of reps and sets, to help improve your athletic performance. Performing the standard three sets, of ten reps can become monotonous and seem like you’re not making any progress with the same routine. The fact of the matter is, each type of training requires a specific amount of reps and sets to optimize your athletic performance.
We’re going to cover the basic fundamentals to help you choose the right amount of sets and reps, to crush your fitness goals.
What Does It All Mean? Reps, Sets, Intensity, Tempo, Volume
For you all you newbies just starting your fitness journey a “rep” simply means one repetition of an exercise. This can be considered a single bench press, or squat from the beginning of the movement, to the end of the movement. A set is a group of consecutive repetitions performed of a certain exercise. For example 3 sets of 10 reps, 4 sets of 12 reps, or 5 sets of 12,10,8,6,4 reps. Two other important variables when designing your training program are tempo and intensity. Tempo is the speed with which each rep is performed, and intensity is defined as your level of effort compared to your maximal effort (I.e. Training at 60% of your max effort or one rep max). Next up is rest interval. A rest interval is simply the time you take between sets or rounds of exercise. Lastly, training volume is defined as the total amount of work completed in a certain amount of time.
Each component of your training has a dramatic effect on your outcome and your overall result. Even breathing techniques, which is an often overlooked component can have a dramatic effect on your performance outcomes.
RELATED ARTICLE The Quick Guide To Breathing During Exercise
Now that you know the basics, let’s get started with what each training program looks like.
Periodization And Performance Adaptations
When you first begin training, your body undergoes specific adaptations to training capacity, volume, and load. You may not be able to perform recommended amounts of reps and sets at first, but as your body adapts to your training program, you will gradually increase workout volume and efficiency. When this happens, your body will undergo physical changes in its ability regarding strength, power, speed, and performance. As you progress, you will need to adjust to these training adaptations, to further optimize performance. Periodization or cycling workout programs will vary the focus of training at specific planned periods of time. Adjusting workout type, tempo, intensity, and rep/set range as you assimilate to performance changes will allow for bigger gains and better results over time.
Training To Build Strength
Strength training focuses on the ability to increase maximal muscle strength. This requires more stress or an increased weighted load to be used during training to improve strength adaptations.
How many reps?
Strength training requires a lower amount of reps ranging between 2-6 with increased intensity at 85-100% max effort and longer rest intervals. Training for strength does however require more than just heavy loads. Strength training is usually cycled to help save your joints and improve workout capacity. Periodization is recommended for strength training, to train under heavy loads and moderate loads cycled at 12-16 weeks. Fast-twitch muscle fibers, which produce quick bursts of energy are recruited during strength training, to produce short bouts of power and force. Supplements like Kre-Alkalyn are used to drive more power and strength specifically for this type of training. Strength training has rest intervals usually lasting between 3-5 minutes.
How Many Sets?
Since strength training is under longer rest intervals, with less reps, your recommended sets are between 4-8.
Training To Build Muscle Size
When you train for strength, you’ll, of course, build some muscle mass. But specifically training to build size is quite different in programming parameters. Training for maximal muscle growth requires higher volume training and more intensity, with minimal rest periods. This will essentially force cellular changes which will result in increased muscle size.
How Many Reps
When you’re choosing a weight for muscle size training, choose a weight in which you’ll reach failure within 8-12 reps. If you can complete more than 12 reps at the selected weight, the weight is not heavy enough. You only truly reach “failure” and can complete an actual set, if you can only complete a minimum of 8 reps and max 12 at the selected weight.
Of course, you should never compromise form in order to meet the recommended reps. Not squatting until your parallel or swinging your body when you’re doing a bicep curl, to meet the recommended amount of reps would mean the weight is too heavy. No matter what you do, always have good form throughout each completed rep with a full range of motion.
How Many Sets?
To build maximal muscle size, it’s all about training volume. Aim for at least 3-5 sets for each exercise, at a higher intensity and shorter rest interval of one minute. To make it even easier, when you’re training to build size and lose body fat, think about it as Every Minute On The Minute (EMOM). Within each minute perform your set, then take the remaining time for rest, and begin at the top fo the next minute. For example, say it takes 25 seconds to perform your set, you would rest for the remaining 45).
Training To Maximize Endurance
Runners, cyclists, swimmers, this is you. Prolonged steady-state aerobic exercise, or in simpler terms training to cover long distances requires much different programming parameters than trying to get big and gain muscle mass. Typically, this type of training is meant to increase muscular endurance, not size.
How Many Reps?
Endurance training requires lighter loads of weight, with an increased amount of reps and higher training volume. Endurance training requires a rep range between 16-20 at 40-60% of your repetition max weight.
Another important aspect of endurance training is tempo. Decreased time between sets, or supersets (back to back workouts) will help build more endurance, increasing heart rate and overall VO2 max to optimize workout capacity. The recommended time between sets is 15-30 seconds. One of the best supplements you can take for prolonged training sessions is quality complex carbohydrates such as Clean Carbs. Beta-Alanine is also a great sports performance supplement that can help fight muscle fatigue and prolong your workouts and training volume.
How Many Sets?
It’s always recommended to perform 3-5 sets, with each specific exercise. However, my recommendation, especially for those training for endurance, is to perform 5 sets, as long as you can meet your target rep range, without compromising form.
Strength Endurance Training (HIIT)
Strength endurance training is a hybrid form of training with several crossovers between different workout modalities. Strength endurance training is normally done by completing what’s called supersets or two workouts of the same muscle group performed back to back with no rest interval. Rep range is usually between 8-12 at 75% intensity, for 3-4 sets.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which consists of resistance and circuit training can also help with strength and endurance. Circuit training is best explained as three-four different workouts all performed back-back without rest (called a circuit.) HIIT lasts for a certain number of rounds meaning, that you will perform each circuit, usually with one minute of rest in-between for anywhere from 4-8 rounds.
An example would be 10 burpees immediately followed by 10 push-press, air squats, and finished off with 10-meter sprints. Of course, there are hundreds of variations and workouts you can perform, HIIT is a great way to get your cardio in without the monotony. Research has shown that HIIT can optimize body composition by reducing body fat, optimizing lipid profiles and improving aerobic and anaerobic performance. So if you’re looking to improve endurance and get shredded HIIT can help you get there.
How Many Sets And Reps You Should Do To Improve Training Performance: Takeaway
No matter what your goal is and what you’re training for, learning how to get there with the right training program, is the first step in creating a solid plan. Without a plan, you’ll never be able to reach your full potential. One of the key takeaways with any plan is to constantly vary and incorporate periodization into your workout plan. Whether your training to burn fat, get stronger or build size, your body naturally gets acclimated to your training program. Therefore, it is important to cycle between training (I.e. strength training for a few weeks, then high-intensity endurance training for a week, etc). This will help overall athletic performance in building strength, endurance, and meeting your body composition goals. Most of all don’t forget to have fun.