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How Many Sets For Weight Training | Performance Ground
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How Many Sets For Weight Training

How Many Sets For Weight Training

How Many Sets For Weight Training

How Many Sets For Weight Training – Strength Gains Or Muscle Building

Sets are the number of times someone performs one exercise during a session for a certain number of repetitions. Set, rep & weight prescriptions are often programmed differently depending on what the training goal is. In this article, we are going to look at how many set for weight training should be performed. These are going to be more specific to weight based training as opposed to plyometric training.

THE VIDEO: How Many Sets For Weight Training – Strength Gains Or Muscle Building

How many sets for weight training – The science behind

Before we delve into the prescription of sets, it would be wise to talk about the science behind them. When we train, we are chasing adaptations. These can occur in many different forms such as strength, hypertrophy, technical progression etc.

Adaptation methods

There are 2 processes that we need to discuss as methods for adaptation.

Firstly, we have mechanical tension (load). This is the amount of weight lifted on an exercise. If we are performing a heavy back squat, mechanical tension would be this heavy stress being placed on the musculature and the joints involved in the back squat. Adaptation would result in muscles increasing in size and the joints strengthening. Also, next time that weight is lifted again, the body will be more ready for that challenge.

Secondly, we have metabolic damage. This is when exercise results in metabolites to build up within the muscle, leading to increase protein synthesis and therefore, hypertrophy gains.

There are obviously other methods involved in adaptation but the two mentioned above best suit today’s discussion regarding sets.

Research has been carried out on optimum set prescriptions. Overall, this research is not conclusive. These involved 1 set vs 3 sets vs 6 sets. Always, 3 sets were greater than 1 set. However, the 3 sets vs 6 sets debate was the toughest question to answer. These studies had different parameters involved i.e. 6 sets lifted a lighter weight because they had to do more sets. Therefore, we already have a different test, as this will challenge the above 2 methods of adaptation, is it mechanical tension? Or is it metabolic damage?

How many sets for weight training?

It is important to think about the above 2 methods of adaptation when thinking about set prescription. Think back to those studies. Those that had more sets did not lift the same weight and that feeds into the specifics of training. What is the goal? If the goal is to improve strength then, by doing 6 sets of strength work, will you be able to lift the same weight? Are we looking to get bigger, more aesthetic or are we new and need to improve our technique?

The overall message of this article is that it depends.

If strength is the goal then, load should be the priority, where the number of sets and reps you prescribe will directly impact that. 3 sets of 5 with a heavy enough load is good enough to elicit strength gains.

If muscle size is the goal then, perhaps, more sets are the way forward. This will increase the total volume done in that session leading to greater hypertrophy gains.

If technical progression is needed, load and size are not the priority. Number of reps completed will be. Completing more sets and reps will increase the number of times that movement is done and with the right coaching would lead to accurate and engrained movement/loading patterns.

The Performance Ground philosophy

When we’re programming for our clients at Performance Ground, it varies. The sessions last 60 minutes so within that time and across the programme, we incorporate exercises that will achieve their goals alongside improving the things that we know they need to improve. An example programme could be as follows:

Example programme

Client A: Wants to improve their overall strength alongside improving their aesthetics as they are going on holiday in 3 months.

Back Squat- 4×5

Bench Press- 4×5


Lat Pulldown- 3×8

Plank- 3x30secs

Side Plank- 3x30secs

Bicep Curls: 5×10

Tricep Dips: 5×10

Within this session, we have both 3, 4 and 5 sets of exercises. Initially they have a strength component of 4 sets of 5 reps on both back squat and bench press (mechanical tension). The accessory exercises are programmed for 3 sets with slightly more reps. However, at the end of the session they are performing a high number of reps on arm exercises (metabolic damage).

Overall when prescribing sets for yourself, it depends on what the goal is within your programme. Think about the aim, length of session, capability of the lifter and then, formulate your set & rep scheme within your exercises.

Need help of an expert coach with your programming? Join our Corporate Athlete Performance Club 1 on 1 online coaching.

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