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How Many Sets & Reps Should I Be Looking at Doing

Are you doing too many sets or too few reps on each set? Everyone at the gym is bugged by these questions. Thankfully this article can clear things up for you.

Sets vs Reps

A rep or repetition is defined by a complete motion for an exercise. A set is the total number of reps conducted consecutively without any breaks. You may have gone through numerous workout regimes with the recommended number of reps and sets for each exercise. However, things aren’t so simple. Everyone is built differently and the same holds for their goals.

The ideal number of Reps

The first thing you need to figure out before deciding on a number of sets and reps is your goal. What do you want from your workout routine? Your goal may be increased muscle endurance, bulkier muscles, or an overall increase in strength. Let’s check out some of the widely accepted numbers of reps for these goals.


  1. Muscle Endurance - While building muscle endurance you motivate and train your muscles to train for a longer period. This can be achieved by a high number of reps. People who want to add to their endurance usually go for a high rep count within the range of 12 to 20 or more. It’s obvious that as you increase the number of reps you need to decrease the load. You can’t lift huge dumbbells when you curl your arm more than 20 times. You also want to keep the rest period between each set under 30 seconds. Usually, athletes in stamina-based sports like swimming and cycling opt for muscle endurance with a high rep count.


  1. Muscle Size - Usually you opt for this goal when you want to bulk up in relatively less time. You do this by increasing the amount of sarcoplasm in your muscles since it makes up around 30 percent of your muscles. People usually opt for 6 to 12 reps when they want muscle gain and keep the rest time between sets limited to less than 90 seconds.


  1. Overall Strength - If you’re training for sports like martial arts or boxing where you need more power and strength, without adding bulk, this should be your goal. The scientific term for this is myofibril hypertrophy since you focus on strengthening the tubular myofibril cells in your body. To achieve an overall increase in strength and power you need to lift heavy weights and that means you do less than 5 reps on each set.


While these are ideal cases, you need to check out things for yourself. Start with a light load with more reps and test your limits by increasing the load and decreasing reps slowly.

The ideal number of Sets

Fortunately, the answer to this question is very simple. Ideally, you should be doing around 3 to 5 sets for each exercise. This magic number range has its origins in 1948 when physician Thomas L. DeLorme suggested the same number of sets to his patients to rebuild muscles. He also recorded their progress and published the results that proved his suggestion’s effectiveness. Since then this number has been etched permanently in the fitness community.  


However, you don’t need to stress out yourself over those numbers. In the end, it depends on the individual and your capabilities. If you feel like you can maintain form and do more sets with the ideal rep range, then go for it. If you want to build more muscle or bulk up, you need to work your muscles more. And if you feel like you have the energy for an extra set, don’t hesitate. Just be careful of the rest period between sets. You want an efficient workout routine instead of stretching it long.

Build a workout routine

Now you’re familiar with the basics:


  • 12+ reps for endurance
  • 6-12 reps for bigger muscles
  • 1-5 reps for denser muscles


Research also suggests that a heavier load with fewer reps is more effective in building muscle mass instead of volume. So, training with weights is usually more effective than bodyweight exercises.


Nutrition is also a big part of your workout routine. Whether you’re looking to build muscle or lose weight, you need to check out your calories and macronutrient split for the most effective results. Reps and sets play a much smaller role than nutrition. It’s just important to do more reps the next day so that you can keep your muscles in a state of shock to adapt to the challenges and burn more fat.