In the daily grind of being a Personal Trainer in a commercial gym, a very common question I get asked is how many sets and reps should one do in order to build muscle.
It’s a perfectly valid and reasonable question to ask, but unfortunately it is one that not a lot of people (Especially fitness professionals) know the correct answer to. Well never fear because as ever I am here to save the day.
The answer to the question is a very simple one. It doesn’t matter.
Yes, you read that right, it doesn’t matter how many sets and reps you do to build muscle. Now, there’s a bit more to it than that which I shall explain now, my children.
The Nitty Gritty
The key factors when it comes to building muscle that you should focus on in your workout are the total volume of weight you are lifting, good technique and making sure you are reaching a good level on intensity so you are exerting your muscles enough.
The latest studies that are coming out are showing that when we compare different groups of lifters who all train at the same intensity, the same total volume and do the same exercises, no matter what sets/rep scheme the groups followed they all achieved same/very similar increased in muscle size. Now, the biggest difference that we can actually see between the groups was that the group who used lower reps but heavier weights (Sets of 3-6 reps) gained more strength, but muscle size was still the same as the other groups.
So What Else Do I Need to Know?
We have already established that there is no one ‘best rep scheme’ for making gains as long as the workout is intense enough (Otherwise if you’re just doing it half hearted then you’re going to be missing out on a hell of a lot). But, if we utilise different rep schemes over the course of several days/weeks then this has actually been proven to be a much more optimal method of building muscle as opposed to just sticking to the same rep scheme over and over again.
This is known as what’s called Periodisation.
For example, instead of doing 4 sets of 8 reps day in day out, a much more optimal way of planning your training programme would be to mix things up and use a high rep week, medium rep week and low rep week method.
So in your high rep week you would keep things at around 15-20 reps, your medium rep week would look at reps at the 10-14 mark and low rep week would be 6-10 reps and you would then repeat the cycle and make sure you increase the TOTAL VOLUME of weight you lifted since the last time you did that workout.
So say the last time you did Bench Press on medium rep week for example and managed 3 sets of 12 reps with 80kg, the next time you came to do Bench Press on medium rep week you would either do more sets, add more reps, or increase the weight (Most people like to increase the weight for obvious reasons).
And there you have it kids, your quick answer to the questions ‘How Many Sets/Reps Should I Do To Build Muscle?’
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