Weight Training “How many Sets and Reps do I need to do?”

Ever heard the saying “How long is a piece of string?” Wiktionary.org defines this phrase as “Used as a response to a question such as “How long will it take?” or “How big is it?” when the length or size is unknown, infinite, or variable.”
The above expression often comes to my mind when I am asked “How many sets and Reps do I do?” as a general question. The answer to this question essentially depends on a number of different variables, which I will briefly cover in this week’s short blog. To start with a shortened definition of the terms sets and reps via livestrong.com.

-“Reps is short for repetitions. Repetitions defines the number of times to perform an exercise. For example, you do 12 squats, then stop.”

-”Sets refers to how many times you will repeat that exercise for the set number of repetitions. For example, you do 12 squats and rest. Then you do another 12 squats, rest, and then another 12. You have now completed three sets of 12 reps.”

Training Goal
Your training goal can largely dictate how many sets and reps you should do whilst training.

For example if you’re a Powerlifter, its likely that the majority of your training will be lifting heavy reps performing anywhere between 3-6 sets of 1-5 reps per exercise.

On the opposite end of the scale if you’re a long distance runner then its very important for you to have a strong endurance base so its likely the majority of your weight training should consist of lifting lighter weight performing anywhere between 2-4 sets of 15-20+ reps per exercise. Please bare in mind at some point in their training regime a powerlifter will likely do some form of endurance training and likewise an endurance trainer may do some form of heavy lifting to benefit their goal.

If you’re goal is fat loss, muscle building, or general health/fitness maintenance then at some point you can consider all approaches when it comes to what sets and reps to include as part of your training regime as each approach will have benefits including muscle growth and increased rate of calorie burning.
HOWEVER there are a few considerations for this.

Training experience

For the vast majority of new clients, I would start off with an endurance based program to condition their bodies for weight training as well as reducing the risk of injury to them. The only time I would defer from this is that if I were to take on an experienced lifter who happened to be in the middle of a specific training phase other than endurance.

Growth and development in anyone under the age of 18 should be considered before attempting any serious heavy lifting, due to risk of stunted growth (again speak to a medical professional).
As we get older our bodies flexibility, strength, balance, co-ordination and stability will generally decline.

In this case starting off with an endurance based program will allow good control with form whilst building muscle to support the person concerned. That’s NOT to say anyone over 40 shouldn’t lift heavy weights 😉

Current health

Listen to your body! I have lost count with the amount of times I have turned up to the gym, feeling rough, and still attempted to lift the heaviest weight I could do on every possible machine then subsequently failing and feeling worse as a result. If you’re carrying an injury or illness then lift sensibly or not at all.
Final thoughts

Below is a handy table to refer to, which has been reproduced from

Siff, M. (2003). Supertraining (6th ed.). Denver: Supertraining Institute


ptonthenet.com (How and When Variety Works in Programing By Ryan Ketchum).

As with any training program do consult a medical professional if you have any health concerns relating to weight training.

To discuss your current regime further or for help setting one up contact me via direct message or pt@mikemelford.co.uk



1RM: 1 repetition max

Hypertrophy: Increase and growth and muscle cells
Additional References
www.bodybuilding.com Dr. David Ryan How Many Sets & Reps Should You Do?

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