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Sets & Reps: How Many Should You Aim For?

Let’s talk about exercise volume. I get asked this all the time. I have to decide on these all the time. It depends on you, your abilities, your recovery timeline, and your goals. It also varies per muscle group. ⁣ So in general, what does the research suggest for sets & reps?⁣

To appropriately decide, identify what you are working on first. 

Strength: The maximal force a muscle or muscle group can generate at a given velocity and generally lower speeds. Heavier loads work better. I.e. back squat, overhead squat, even a bicep curl. This is the starting point for most, and where a lot of beginning PT stages start. 

The range: 2–6 sets of >6 reps. 

Hypertrophy: Increase in muscle cross-sectional area. Growth of fibers in size and type. Literally bigger muscles, and greater numbers of fast and slow-twitch fibers. Specialized training and about midway through PT. Directly related to strength for obvious reasons.⁣ Three or more exercises per muscle group at moderate-heavy loads are better. There is a positive relationship between hypertrophy and strength abilities.

The range: 3–6 sets of 6–12 reps. 

Power: The time rate of doing work at generally higher speeds. Work = the force exerted on an object and distance & direction it moves. Speed and efficiency. Usually when sport-specific training is reached in PT. ⁣I.e. throwing a medicine ball; how fast and how far does it go? How fast height is achieved in a squat jump? How far and fast is a soccer ball kicked?


The range: 3–6 sets of 6–12 reps. 

Endurance: The ability to sustain the necessary muscular or cardiovascular activity level for a specific activity or sport. Lighter loads and higher reps are best. This is how well your muscles, heart, and lungs keep up with activity over a period of time (i.e. running, cycling). Pro tip: in life, this is your core, postural muscles, and foot stabilizers. 

⁣The range: 2–3 sets of >20 reps.

This information is how exercise programs are built… but it’s also the BASICS. ⁣There are hundreds of exercises, techniques, and muscle groups to work or not work in order to get the biggest bang for your buck with these variables…which is why getting a custom program built for YOU by an expert can actually make you move and perform the way is best for you.   Join my crew by booking an appointment today for a properly guided program to help you reach your movement goals. 

Sweat has to happen so life is fun — and you deserve fun. 


Dr. Malek, PT, DPT

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