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How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do? [A Guide to Creating a Workout Plan]

Creating an effective workout routine involves determining the right number of sets and reps to achieve your fitness goals. This guide will help you understand how to structure your workouts and how many reps and sets you should do.

Why Are Reps and Sets Important in an Exercise Routine?

In the fitness world, rep is short for repetition, which is the execution of one given exercise. For example, if you’re undergoing weight training, a term that comes up often is one rep max or 1RM. This means your 1RM is the maximum of weight you can lift to complete one rep.

In the gym, a personal trainer can help you determine your 1RM to know how much weight you should lift when doing multiple reps in a program. You’re very likely to have a different 1RM for the different muscle groups throughout the body.

On the other hand, a set is simply a group of reps. You might do a single set of reps for an exercise, or you might do multiple sets. Generally, if you’re going for muscle building, it’s more common that you’ll be doing multiple sets. 

Reps and sets are foundational elements of an exercise routine, playing a crucial role in determining the effectiveness of your workouts. They help structure the volume, intensity, and overall impact of your exercises, directly influencing your fitness outcomes. Here’s why reps and sets are important:

Defining Workout Volume

Reps and sets collectively define the total volume of your workout. Workout volume is the total amount of work performed during an exercise session, calculated by multiplying the number of sets by the number of reps.

For example, doing 3 sets of 10 reps results in a volume of 30 reps. This volume is a key factor in achieving specific fitness goals such as muscle hypertrophy, strength, and endurance.

Tailoring Workouts to Goals

Different fitness goals require different approaches to sets and reps. If your training sessions are for general fitness and you’re someone new to weight training and you just want to build lean muscle, 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps is more than fine. If you’re after muscular endurance, you should aim for a program with a higher rep range and a slightly lighter weight. 

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), if you’re aiming for strength training, the best ones are either 2 to 6 sets of 6 or fewer reps with 2 to 5 minutes of rest, or doing 1 to 3 sets of 8 or fewer reps with 90 seconds to 2 minutes of rest between. This is because the first session involves compound moves like a bench press or a chin-up, while the second is for isolation exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions.

If you want to build muscle mass, you’ll have to go for a higher training volume at moderate to high-intensity levels with minimal rest periods between sets.

Progressive Overload

Reps and sets are essential for applying the principle of progressive overload, which is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise. Progressive overload is necessary for continual improvement in strength, muscle size, and endurance.

You can increase the number of sets, reps, or weights used to progressively challenge your muscles and promote growth and adaptation.

Ensuring Balanced Workouts

Using a structured approach to sets and reps helps ensure balanced workouts. It prevents overtraining specific muscle groups while neglecting others. Planning how many sets and reps lets you create a balanced routine that promotes overall fitness and reduces the risk of injury.

Tracking Progress

Reps and sets provide a measurable way to track your progress. By recording the number of reps and sets you completed with specific weights, you can objectively assess improvements in strength and endurance over time. This tracking helps you stay motivated and make informed adjustments to your workout plan.

Optimizing Recovery

Properly planned reps and sets help optimize recovery. Adequate rest between sets (typically 60-90 seconds) and between workout sessions allows muscles to recover and grow. Balancing intensity and volume helps prevent overtraining and supports sustainable progress.

How Many Reps Should I Do For A Particular Exercise?

Determining the optimal number of reps for a specific exercise depends on your fitness goals, whether you’re aiming for strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth), or endurance. Different organizations such as the American Council on Exercise or the National Academy of Sports Medicine may have different models when it comes to reps but they follow the same general guidelines.

Here’s a detailed guide to help you decide how many reps to perform based on your objectives.

Strength Training

If strength training is your primary goal, then you should focus on a lower range, around 1 to 6 reps, with heavier weights. This is because lower rep ranges with very heavy weights train your muscles to produce maximal force. This range also enhances the efficiency of your nervous system in recruiting muscle fibers.

For example, if you’re doing a full-body workout like deadlifts, targeting all major muscle groups, you should aim for 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 6 reps.


Focusing on hypertrophy, you’ll need to stick around the moderate range of 6 to 12 reps per set. This range is effective for increasing muscle size as it balances weight and volume.

For example, you’re doing a beginner lower-body-upper-body split workout. This means that you’re dividing your workouts into upper-body and lower-body days. To not overwhelm yourself, you’ll need to choose two exercises per muscle group and aim for 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps.

Muscular Endurance

Training to enhance your endurance can improve the ability of your muscles to perform repetitive contractions over time. It can also increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles, improving cardiovascular health as well. This approach uses lighter weights and targets a higher range of reps at around 15 or more per set. 

For example, if you’re doing lunges and push-ups, aim for 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds in between to keep the intensity at a moderate level and maintain endurance. You can choose exercises that target the same muscle group and then do them one after the other to challenge yourself.

Circuit Training

To burn fat, you should be doing a high volume of reps per set. Additionally, you should increase the intensity of your exercises. If you want extra calorie burn, you can reduce recovery time between sets.

Power Training

If you’re aiming to be a powerlifter, then you should do high-weight workouts with low reps and a long time in between sets. This is because powerlifting can be taxing to the central nervous system and you’ll have to wait for 3 to 5 minutes in between to recover.

Is 4 Sets of 10 Reps Too Much?

Four sets of ten reps is a classic approach in resistance training and generally, it is not too much for most people. This scheme can be particularly effective for muscular hypertrophy, which is an increase in muscle size. This rep range also contributes to muscular endurance while building strength.

It should be noted that beginners might find four sets of ten reps challenging. Starting with fewer sets and gradually increasing volume can prevent overtraining and injury. For intermediate to advanced lifters aiming for muscle growth, 4 sets of 10 reps can be very effective when performed with proper form and intensity.

Is 3 Sets of 10 Reps Enough?

Three sets of ten reps is another popular structure, particularly for beginners and those looking to maintain general fitness. For beginners, this rep range provides enough volume to stimulate muscle growth and strength without overwhelming the body. This setup is also efficient for people with limited time, allowing them to achieve significant results in a shorter period. 

However, if the goal is to build muscular endurance or strength, you might need to adjust the number of reps or sets you can do. If you want to continue making progress, gradually lift heavier weights or add more sets over time.

Is 3 Sets of 8 Enough?

Three sets of eight reps are effective, particularly for those focusing on building muscular strength while still gaining some muscle mass. This is because fewer rep ranges with a heavier weight maximize strength gains. Fewer reps also allow better focus on form and technique in your workout program, reducing the risk of injury.

If you’re doing this rep scheme, ensure the weight is challenging enough to make the last few reps difficult to complete with good form. Additionally, if you’re aiming to build muscle, balance lower rep ranges with higher rep ranges in other exercises or workouts.

Is It Better to Do 3 Sets or 5 Sets?

Deciding between these set and rep schemes depends on your training goals, fitness level, and recovery capacity.

3 Sets

Three sets are the best for those new to strength training as it’s easier to manage and recover from. It’s also good for those who have limited time but still want to achieve meaningful progress.

5 Sets

Five sets are ideal for advanced individuals as they provide volume. This can be beneficial for those training to build muscle endurance. Five sets also provide a greater overall stimulus to the muscle fibers, leading to more significant adaptations over time. 

However, this amount of sets increases training volume significantly which can be taxing to the body. Always make sure to have adequate rest periods and to align the number of sets with your specific goals. If you’re focusing on endurance training and muscle building, do more sets. If your goals are strength gain and skill acquisition, do fewer sets. 

When Should I Switch My Set My Set and Rep Schemes?

Switching your schemes should be considered when you hit a plateau in your progress, feel your workouts are becoming too easy, or when your training goals change. Typically, this can occur every 4-6 weeks as your body adapts to the current routine. You can continue to challenge your muscles, promote growth, and prevent boredom when you change up your training program.

For instance, if you’ve been focusing on muscle hypertrophy with a moderate rep range (8-12) and using a moderate weight, you might switch to a strength phase with lower reps (3-6) and heavier weights, or an endurance phase with higher reps (15+). This variation not only helps in breaking through plateaus but also ensures balanced development and reduces the risk of overuse injuries.

How Many Reps and Sets When Working Out: Tips and Recommendations

Listen to Your Body

Adjust your workout plan based on how your body responds. If you feel excessively fatigued or sore, consider reducing the total training volume or intensity.

Progressive Overload

Gradually increase the weight, reps, or sets over time to keep challenging your muscles and promoting growth and maximal strength gains.

Variety and Balance

Incorporate different rep ranges and set schemes to target various aspects of fitness, including strength, hypertrophy, and endurance. You can even increase the number of exercises you do for each muscle group.

Rest and Recovery

Ensure you have adequate rest intervals. Your rest interval between sets should be 60-90 seconds and for between workouts at least 48 hours for the same muscle group to prevent overtraining and injuries.

Personal Goals

Tailor your sets and reps to match your specific goals, whether it’s building muscle, increasing strength, improving endurance, wanting to lose weight, or a combination of these.


Establishing a workout routine doesn’t only mean counting how many exercises you should do depending on the specific muscle group or your workout frequency. Reps and sets are also integral to structuring an effective exercise plan.

Understanding the importance of reps and sets and how to manipulate them helps create a personalized workout plan that drives continuous improvement and supports long-term fitness success.

If you want more advice on the best way to reach your goals, seek the guidance of a certified personal trainer. 

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.