How To Determine Your Sets and Reps

Sets and reps are a fundamental part of every great training program. However, a lot of skinny guys get caught up in how many sets and reps they should be doing in their workouts and how to progress with their sets and reps over the course of weeks and months. In this blog post I’m going to cover everything you need to know about sets and reps. Lets get into it…


1. 8 sets per body part is the sweet spot for beginners


As a beginner you want to be doing 8 sets per body part. This may seem quite low, but let me explain. Since you are a beginner you don’t need much volume at all to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains. It will feel like enough to your body anyway, despite how quick your workouts may seem to you. Now that you know how many sets you need to be doing if you’re new to the gym, you can then split this volume up for each body part across several workouts. This depends on your workout split. For example, if you follow a full body workout split where you train your entire body three times per week then you could split this volume into 3 sets on Monday, 3 sets on Wednesday and 2 sets on Friday. In practice this may look like this for your chest volume:


Monday: 3 sets of barbell bench press

Wednesday: 3 sets of incline dumbbell press

Friday: 2 sets of cable flyes


By the end of the week you will hit your weekly volume for each body part. Over time you would then start to consider increasing your sets but this only becomes relevant and necessary when you have plateaued with your current number of sets for a particular body part. For example, if your strength on bench press has plateaued or you’re not making anymore size gains for 1-2 weeks then it may be worth considering increasing your chest volume from 8 sets to 9 or 10 sets. This may seem minimal and unlikely to make much of a difference, but it will I promise you. Just doing that extra set on Wednesday or Friday will provide your body with more total work and therefore force muscular hypertrophy and strength gains.


The reason why I say go from 8 sets to 9 or 10 sets rather than jumping to 15 sets is because you want to “squeeze the juices” out of the least amount of volume possible. If you suddenly jumped from 8 sets to 15 sets then you would miss a vital opportunity to make as much return on investment with less effort and time spent in the gym. And don’t think you wouldn’t plateau for ages. You would plateau at the same time as another person who is smart and only increases their volume by one set per body part. So be patient and take your time. Keep progressing by adding one set at a time.


2. It’s not the specific rep range, it’s how you use the rep range


For maximum size gains you want to be in the 6-30 rep range. This may seem quite broad and it’s supposed to be since there’s no clear cut answer on exactly how many reps is best for muscle size gains. However when you are starting out you want to be perfecting your technique, which is why I suggest that staying in the higher end of this range is best for you. The lower you are in this range, provided you are training with enough intensity, the heavier the weights you are lifting will be. As a beginner you want to avoid any injury risk since you aren’t confident with lifting weights yet and haven’t perfected your technique. After all, it’s a much better idea to perfect your technique in the higher rep range with lighter weights than it is in the lower rep range with heavier weights.


Once you’ve perfected your technique you can then start thinking about using reps for progressive overload like sets in the previous section. Just like sets, reps should be increased to increase volume and overall total workload for the body. However, there is a limit to this of course since you don’t want to be doing 50 rep sets every time you’re in the gym. 


So how do you use reps for progressive overload?


You can use reps to progressively overload in several ways. The first way would be to try and lift X amount of weight for more reps compared to last week. However, this is progressive overload that isn’t guaranteed. How do you know you’ll be stronger next week? Will you be able to keep doing more reps with X amount of weight week after week? You won’t, which is why there is a better strategy that focuses on long term strength gains on a monthly rather than weekly basis.


The best way to use reps for progressive overload is by maintaining an inverse relationship between weight lifted and reps performed. Let me explain. Across a month of training you could follow the set and rep pattern below:


Week 1: 3 x 6

Week 2: 3 x 8

Week 3: 3 x 10

Week 4: 3 x 12


From week 1 to week 4 the reps are increasing. This means you are increasing your total workload which is also known as volume. Since the reps are increasing each week you won’t be able to lift as much weight in week 2 compared to week 1, week 3 compared to week 2 and week 4 compared to week 3.  So as the reps increase the weight will decrease so you can hit the specified number of reps. Then in month 2 when you repeat this cycle this means you can then use your new strength gains (from the increase in volume in month 1) to lift heavier weights every week. So your goal would be to lift heavier weights in week 1 of month 2 (3 x 6) compared to week 1 of month 1. The same applies for the other 3 weeks too.


By following this progressive overload strategy, you are using reps to progressively overload your body with more total workload. You then use your new strength gains from this increase in volume to lift heavier weights in the following month when the cycle is repeated. You may even want to increase the number of sets in month 2 so you are increasing volume from month to month not just in the number of reps you do from week to week.


So a quick summary of the take home points:


  • The sweet spot for number of sets per body part for beginners is 8 sets. This should only increase by 1-2 sets every time you plateau in size or strength gains in the gym.


  • You want to “squeeze the juices” out of as little volume as possible. You want maximum return on your investment in the gym for as little time and effort spent working out.


  • Reps tie in closely with the weight you’re lifting. As reps go up weight automatically comes down. Likewise as reps come down weight automatically (well, it should) goes up.


  • Achieve rep records and get stronger in higher and lower rep ranges.


This is how you use sets and reps. But how do you implement this into a training program and apply progressive overload over the course of months of training? Well, this is all done for you when you buy the Spartan Program. The Spartan Program is a six month program designed so that you build your first 5-10lbs of muscle whilst staying below 10% body fat. Plus you get a load of other juicy bonuses. It’s awesome. Get started here: THE SPARTAN PROGRAM




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