How many sets and reps do you need to build muscle?

Your muscles will grow due to the stress which you put on them when you do resistance training.
If you perform the exercises properly and choose the proper amount of sets and reps you can experience a gain of muscle mass and an improvement in strength and power. It’s really important to train smart rather than just work out hard. It’s easy to train hard but to have the best results you need to learn how to work out smart.

When you train for hypertrophy (muscle size)

If you are the kind of person who is training for hypertrophy (aka gain of muscle mass), then you should go with a weight with which you’ll reach muscle failure in about 8-12 repetitions. But first do some warm-up sets not to failure. Then choose a weight which you can lift for at least 8 repetitions but with which you cannot do more than 12 repetitions.

So, if you only reach 6-7 reps until failure, this means that the weight you’ve chosen is too heavy and you should reduce it. If you can do more than 12 reps before you reach failure, than you should add more weight.
Still, it if very important to follow the proper exercise technique. If you’ve chosen a weight with which you cannot follow proper technique, whether or not you reach failure, you should reduce the weight because it’s probably the heaviness which makes you use a wrong technique.

If you manage to select the proper amount of weight this will target effectively the fast-twitch muscle fibers – those are the ones which are more prone to grow stronger and bigger due to resistance training. Remember that those fibers quickly fatigue and because of this you can lift quite a heavy weight only for a short period of time.

For maximized muscle size, the best option is 8-12 reps per each set and in between the sets do some multijoint movements – like squat, deadlift, bench press, etc. – those are the ones which require more muscles to be involved and help you lift even heavier weights after some time. It’s recommended that the rest periods are 1-2 minutes.

To gain strength

Of course, when you follow the recommendations above, you also build strength but 8-12 reps with a high weight aren’t optimal for gaining of strength. To maximize the strength you need to pick even heavier weight which you can lift only for 1-6 repetitions.

That’s what bodybuilders actually do but we should also mention that they don’t train this heavy on every work-out session. They cycle between periods of heavy training and periods of light training. This is done in order to reduce the risk of injuring themselves and save their joints.

Thus, it’s better to make yourself a program of about 12-16 weeks with progressively heavier session. And remember that the rest between the reps should be fairly long – about 3-5 minutes – in order for your body to recover completely. Also, in addition to the main exercise which targets many of the joints, throw in some additional movements to strengthen your weaknesses.

For muscle endurance

For endurance you should pick a lighter weight and lift it for at least 15 repetitions.
This is a type of low-intensity training which is an aerobic exercise because in the production of energy lots of oxygen is required. Because of this you can maintain your pace for a longer time.

The production of energy mostly occurs in the slow-twitch muscle fibers and those type of exercises (more reps, lower intensity) make the cells more aerobically efficient.

That way you may not gain muscle size but your muscle’s endurance will increase. To focus on the endurance of your muscles, you should choose light weights with which you can do about 15-20 repetitions and even more.

Sets

To best promote the hypertrophy (growth) of your muscles you need to do about 3-6 sets. It’s been shown that multiple sets can be tied to a 40-percent bigger efficiency of the exercise with respect to muscle growth.

In conclusion

Depending on your goal you should select the proper amount of repetitions and the proper amount of weight you lift. If you manage to do than, you’ll succeed in promoting maximum gain of size, strength or endurance. Remember to leave your body to rest because if you don’t rest, you don’t get good results but only worsen the situation.

So, in short:
For size – aim for 8-12 reps with a weight you cannot lift for a longer amount of reps.
For strength – choose a weight with which you cannot do more than 1-6 repetitions.
For endurance – go for a lighter weight with which you can do at least 15 repetitions. Give yourself more time to rest in between sets.
And, lastly, the recommended number of sets (here we are talking about hypertrophy only) is 3-6.

Resources:
https://www.livestrong.com/article/328901-how-many-sets-reps-build-big-muscles/
https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/how-many-reps-should-you-do.html

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