How Many Reps and Sets Do You Need to Build Muscle?
Reviewed & Approved by Dr. Larry
Muscles can’t count,” says Steve Lombardi, personal trainer and bodybuilder. ”They can’t hear. You can grunt all you want; they’re not impressed. They can’t read.”
His point, of course, is that everyone’s an individual. How many reps and sets you use to build muscle is going to depend solely on you.
The Right Reps to Build Muscle Size
For beginners, Lombardi recommends high reps for muscle mass so your body will learn. While he does around 20 reps in a set, for beginners that number might look more like 12 or 14. When it comes to the beginning stages of muscle building, reps and sets should be focused on learning how to flex the muscle.
For example, when working out the biceps, it’s important to remember that lowering the weight is part of the exercise, too. Good, controlled sets and reps for building muscle happen when you’re keeping some tension on the bicep — which means that not much really happens when your arm is completely straight or bent up as far as possible. Keeping your reps in between the two positions, where there is tension on the muscle, is the best way to ensure you’re targeting your reps for muscle mass.
How Many Sets You Should Do to Build Muscle
Always remember that no one can read what you’re going through apart from you. So when it comes to the best sets and reps for building muscle, you have to learn from experience what works best for you. It’s also important to remember that size and strength are two different things. You can be very strong and not have bulging muscles, just as someone with bulging muscles might not be the strongest one in the gym. How many reps you do to increase muscle size is up to you (and possibly your trainer)¸but building size isn’t always the most important goal.
Ideally, you should be going to failure in each set, Lombardi says. This excludes your warmup set, because that’s designed to stretch you out, and you don’t want to hurt yourself. But it’s the intensity of the contraction that builds your muscles — the more intense you can make each rep, the more productive the exercise.
The pace of your reps is up to you. Lombardi prefers to go slow and easy, which he says can help you to recognize injuries quickly and not make them worse. Between sets, though, he says to rest no more than a minute. He splurges between muscle building reps and sets when he switches muscle groups by resting for about three minutes in between each group.