Every time I post some exercises for people to try, I get asked, “How many reps and sets?”
Designing a proper workout though isn’t as simple as me telling you a rep range and number of sets. It isn’t as simple as stringing together exercises.
It is about considering your goals. It is about considering what you want to accomplish that week and not only what muscles you want to work, but what movements, what energy systems, what other workouts you plan to do…even what time you have available!
So how do you decide how many reps and sets?
Start with your goals.
What do you want to accomplish? Are you focused more on strength? Or on more of a “cardio” workout? Endurance or sprint? Do you want to build max strength or get more lean muscle mass? Or maybe are you starting out and going a bit lighter with weight?
All of these things should change what type of rep and set range you do!
Some good things to consider….
If you want to build maximum strength, 1-5 reps should be your focus. I find most of the clients I work with, will be in this range the least. I may do a main lift where we go lower with reps, but in general, we tend to spend the most time in the 8-12 rep range. Because most of us aren’t as concerned with maximum strength alone.
However, if you are, you may do about 5 sets in this range as your reps are lower (4-6 sets is the general rule of thumb). You will need longer rest between sets if you are working in this rep range as your body will need longer to completely recover when lifting this heavy.
If you work in this range, you’ll want to really push weight. This will require you to be more experienced. If you don’t challenge yourself and really try to sort of “max out” at this lower reps, you won’t get much out of it. You can’t have the 5th rep feeling easy.
Also remember, JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN TECHNICALLY LIFT A WEIGHT, DOESN’T MEAN YOUR BODY IS READY TO! Build slowly. Even if your muscles can lift it, it doesn’t mean all of your connective tissues are ready to.
You need to build a base before working down into this range!
If you want to move better, lose weight and focus on building lean muscle mass, you’ll probably want to work more in the 8-12 rep range (you may even work down toward 6 reps as you go up in weight). In this range, you’ll put on strength, but you aren’t really focused on working toward that one rep max. If your goal is feeling and looking good, you’ll probably spend the most time in this range.
You still need to challenge yourself with weights. If you want to stop at 8 reps, do 10-12. If you want to stop at 6, do 8. You need to challenge yourself with weights, but in this range, you won’t need to rest as long between sets.
This rep range can be used well in circuits (3 or more exercises together) and supersets (two exercises together). You will do about 3-5 sets.
If you are starting out, or trying to build strength and endurance, you can even work in a higher rep range of 10-15. This will probably be more like 2-4 sets as the number of reps is higher.
With activation moves and even muscles like your glutes, you may even find you want to work up toward 20 reps.
Higher rep ranges can even be used, but then you’ll want to do fewer sets. It is important that you pay attention to workout volume…aka the total amount of work you are doing.
If you workout volume is constantly high, you are going to burn out! So pay attention to this not only in each workout, but also over the entire week.
And it is important to consider the exercises you are doing and the muscles and movements you want to work. These will influence how you design the workout, whether supersets or circuits or pyramids…Or what workout design is best.
You also aren’t restricted to rep numbers. You can also do timed intervals of work. And with both, you can not only adjust the work that you do, but also the time that you rest! (Remember not everything is about shortening rest. Sometimes longer rest plays a part too, especially if you are doing super intense sprint intervals!)
For instance you could do 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off. Double the work to rest. Or you could do equal work to rest so that you recover more and your 100% max effort stays closer to a true 100%…like 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off.
Or if you are really working on power and improving your speed, you may want to rest 3-5 times the length you work AND work for shorter so you can work at a true 100% max effort the entire time. For instance, 8-15 seconds of work and 24-75 seconds of rest.
You could even do endurance and work at a lower intensity for longer intervals of work with shorter rest in between.
There are so many variables you can play around with to get results!
And not only do sets, reps, volume, rest and weights matter, so do the muscles and movements you plan to work. A circuit that is full body will be different than one focused on just your legs. You can not only do body part splits, but also hemisphere splits (upper vs. lower), anterior vs. posterior splits (frontside vs. backside) or even movement splits (hinge, pull, push, squat)…
Depending on what your workouts work, you can play around with how many times you workout each week! And you can even play around with the length of your workouts.
While bodybuilders and fitness competitors tend to spend hours in the gym and do body part splits, and often workouts for maximal strength will take longer as you’ll need longer rest, you can get a lot out of a quick 10 minutes if you play around with rest intervals and intensity.
So you can easily design workouts to meet your specific needs!
Because most of my clients want to build lean, strong bodies so that they feel and look good in every day life, I often design workouts that give you the most bang for your buck in the shortest amount of time.
Below is one from my 6-Week Bodyweight Shred.
In this case, I go with a circuit style workout with higher reps, fewer sets and shortened rest. Because of the higher reps to really burn out the muscles, no weights are needed. See so many options!
For this workout you will do 20 reps of everything. For one-sided or unilateral moves, you will do 10 reps per side. Complete 3 rounds of each circuit, resting only as needed. Time how long it takes you to complete and beat it the final week! If you are short on time, set a timer and see how much you can complete in the time you have and/or simply complete 1 round of each circuit!
Ready for 6 weeks of workouts laid out so you don’t have to think about sets, reps, volume, splits…or anything else? Want to get the lean, strong body you’ve always wanted?
Get my Bodyweight Shred for this great pre-launch price!