How many sets and reps?

Have you chosen the right set and rep range for your training goals? When planning a workout how do you chose how many repetitions to do? Is it pre planned or do you just go to failure? Let me explain some of the numbers behind planning an exercise session....


Reps are the number of repetitions you perform of an exercise. The table below outlines what you'll be targeting if you train at a certain rep range. The yellow sections are the focus with the others fading out as you move along:

  • For example if you want to build muscle size (hypertrophy) you should use 8-12 reps per set. If you want to build strength you would use a heavier weight but do 1-6 reps

  • For power you would still use heavy weights (around 80% of your strength weight) but at a faster speed to emphasise the power production. This type of exercise tends to take the most out of you therefore it's recommended you only do 1-4 reps

  • For muscular endurance the reps need to be over 12 with lighter weights. You will be building the muscles capacity to work but you won't be getting stronger so it's worth mixing up the type of work you are doing depending on your training goals

How do you work out which weight to use?

The 1 repetition maximum test or 1RM is often used as a guide for weight selection. That is the largest amount of weight you can do for an exercise with good form. A guideline for calculating 1RM based on what you can do for other reps is in this table below:

If you are working out alone a 1RM max test can be hard to do safely so I would recommend choosing a weight you can perform for 3 repetitions max and calculating the 1RM from there. For example if you can do a 3RM 60KG squat your 1 rep max would be 64KG.

You need to make sure your weight is heavy enough to make these adaptations will take place. If you're doing 6 repetitions of a weight you can easily do 10 of that's not that point! You need to up the weight once you find its getting easy to go over your target reps.


The sets you do are the number of groups of repetitions for an exercise i.e. 3 sets of 6 repetitions of a back squat. There are some studies that suggest you can get results with only a single set of exercise if you are a beginner however generally by doing more sets you will get a higher overall volume of work therefore more adaptations to your training.

A guide to the number of sets depending on your training goal is below:


Making sure your training actually marries up to what you are trying to achieve is key. The above guidelines are simple to follow to help you set out your exercise session in order to maximise efficiency and achieve your training goals.


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  • Baker, D., Wilson, G., & Carlyon, R. (1994). Periodization: The effect on strength of manipulating volume and intensity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 8(4), 235–242.<0235:PTEOSO>2.3.CO;2

  • Benedict, T. (1999). Manipulating Resistance Training Program Variables to Optimize Maximum Strength: A Review. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 13(3), 289.<0289:MRTPVT>2.0.CO;2

  • Stone, M. H., O’Bryant, H., & Garhammer, J. (1981). A hypothetical model for strength training. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 21(4), 342–351.

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