How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do? Your Complete Guide

how many sets and reps should I do

If you were surfing through the google machine searching for “How many sets and reps should I do”, surf no longer my cowabunga friend.

This article is going to give you everything you need to know pertaining to that exact question.

It can be incredibly confusing sometimes to wonder how many sets and reps you should be doing in order to reach your goal.

Sometimes so confusing, it leads you to do nothing at all! (Been there done that!).

Like I said, I got your back.

I am going to clearly lay out in this article the exact answer to how many sets and reps should I do.

I just need you to pay attention and read every single line.

This stuff can be super complicated and confusing at times. This is why professionals like myself do this for a living.

In the same way I have no clue how to change the oil in my car, so what do I do?

I take it to a professional.

Point being, I am going to clearly and concisely lay out exactly what you need to know on a level that you can understand, I just need you to read every single line.

I need you to fully grasp and comprehend every section we go through.

Understood? I promise if you do that, you will here leave here one confident beaver (idk why I picked a beaver but it sounded right).

You will have everything you need to create your own workout routine.

Let’s get it on.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do?

What Are “Sets” and “Reps”?

how many sets and reps should I do explained

Before jumping into anything else, I clearly want to define what sets and reps are.

This won’t take long as for as complicated as people make things sometimes, it is quite simple.

A rep is one repetition of an exercise. Think a squat for example.

When you bend your knees, squat down, and stand back up one, that is one rep.

A set is group of those repetitions put together without stopping.

Let’s say you do 8 repetitions of a squat in a row without taking any break.

Then, after 8 reps, you take a 120 second break and don’t do any squats during that time period.

That would be one set of 8 reps of the squat exercise.

If you did that same sequence 3 times in a row of 8 squats in a row, rest, 8 squats, rest, 8 squats, rest, you would be doing 3 sets of 8 reps on squats.

Make sense?

Perfect. I am glad.

Why Are Sets And Reps Important?

When answering the question of how many sets and reps should I do, we first must have to look at the reasoning behind this question.

I am sure you are asking this question because you want to see a specific goal achieved.

Lose fat, build muscle, get stronger, run longer, the list could go on.

To determine how many sets and reps you should be performing, we must first clearly lay out the goals.

Different sets and reps can yield different goals.

There are three main goals when it comes to your workouts,

  1. Strength
  2. Hypertrophy (muscle definition / size)
  3. Endurance

** PS: You may wonder “where is losing fat!? That is my goal!”. Don’t worry my young Padawan, we will touch on that later in this article so stay tuned!**.

In this section I am going to clearly lay out and define what sets and reps go with each one of those 3 goals.

First, let’s start with strength.

Strength : Sets and Reps

When talking about the goal of getting stronger and building strength, the general set and rep range is going to be

3-5 sets of 3-6 reps

Now, usually 8 reps can be on the higher end range, especially for a beginner who is new to lifting, that can be a great place to learn proper form on exercises.

If you are more advanced or intermediate, you will generally stay within the 3-6 rep range. Again, these are rough estimations and depends on the individual and the purpose of the program.


Now that you know for strength you should stay within 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps, why is this the case?

Well, I am so glad you asked.

Generally speaking, the lower the rep range the higher the intensity can be.

When I say intensity, I don’t mean how much you are sweating or how out of breath you are in your soul cycle class.

I mean how heavy of weight you are lifting relative to your 1 Rep Max.

Even if you don’t know your one rep max, you don’t need to. Point being in the lower rep range you can lift heavier weights because the volume is lower.

You can lift 100lbs or 4 reps, but you can’t lift 100lbs or 10 lbs, you can only lift say 70lbs. Therefore the lower the rep range, the heavier you can lift.

Volume, in the context of this situation, is the amount of reps you are performing.

Therefore if you can lift heavier weight, guess what, you are probably going to get stronger over a period of time.

What Exercises Should Be Performed In This Set & Rep Range?

When talking about how many sets and reps should I do, I think it is equally important to cover which exercises you should be focusing on for this particular range.

For the strength set and rep range, you want to be focusing your exercises on your compound movements.

Compound movements simply just mean movements that require pretty much your full body to be used.


  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Chin Up
  • Shoulder Press

To name a few.

These movements require you to use your full body. A squat for example, yes it is for your legs, but you also have to use your core to stabilize you, your upper back to keep your poster upright, your lats to hold yourself in position.

This is a total body, compound movement.

For movements like these, you will also be able to move the most weight.

Compare a deadlift to a bicep curl for example. You will be able to deadlift literally hundreds of pounds as you get stronger.

I have not yet seen someone bicep curling 200lb dumbbells (though I am sure they are out there…).

This makes it advantageous to push for heavier weights being used in the lower rep ranges.

When Should These Movements Be Performed In The Workout?

I believe it is equally as important to mention that these sets, reps, and exercises should be performed at the beginning of the workout.

Why is this?

A few reasons. We just said these movements allow you to move the most weight.

This typically means you want to be the most fresh when you go to perform them, for two reasons.

Number one is because you want to push the most weight to see the most results!

The more weight you lift the stronger you will get. If you are trying to perform these movements at the end of your workout, you will be totally gassed and your performance will suffer.

Number two is to decrease risk of injury.

We said these movements require a lot of moving parts.

If you are trying to go into your compound movements in the strength range towards the ladder half of your workout, you are essentially begging for an injury.

You will be exhausted, your form will be off, and you will hurt yourself.

Therefore, include this set and rep range at the beginning of your workouts, along with these main compound movements, to get the best results.

These should be the first 1-2 movements in your workout, after a proper warm up of course .

Hypertrophy (Muscle Definition / Size) : Sets & Reps

Next up when talking about how many sets and reps should I do we have the hypertrophy range.

This is your muscle definition / size range. When I say muscle size, I don’t necessarily mean Arnold, professional bodybuilder size.

It can mean that, but with a lot of food, and the use of some performance enhancing drugs.

Think of hypertrophy as muscle growth yes, but more so muscle definition. This will help you get that defined look you are going for.

The general rep and set range for hypertrophy is going to be

3-4 sets of 6-12 reps

This is the rep range that is utilized quite a bit.


We learned in the last section that the reps and sets for strength were lower in volume so it could be higher in intensity.

For the hypertrophy range, we want about medium volume and medium intensity.

6-12 reps isn’t too heavy that you be lifting incredibly close to your one rep max. So let’s say your one rep max is 100 lbs on squats, during the strength range you might be training with 85-90lbs.

For hypertrophy, you might be training with 70-80lbs instead.

Without going too in depth, mechanical tension and pushing close to musculature failure are the two most important drivers of muscle hypertrophy, along with overall total volume (remember, volume = sets and reps performed).

Being in the 6-12 rep range allows you to push close that mechanical tension as well as failure, but in a safer fashion.

Seeing that pushing close to failure is the main driver and mechanical tension is the main driver of hypertrophy, generally speaking a more moderate rep range would allow for that with much less stress / damage on your joints, connective tissue, central nervous system, etc.

What Exercises Should Be Performed In This Set & Rep Range?

Ah, great question!

For this particular rep range, you can really have a mixture of things.

You can do some compound movements yes (again, depending on the primary focus on the program), but the main movements you will do for this hypertrophy range are going to be accessory and isolation movements.

Accessory movements are things like

  • Romanian deadlifts
  • Hip Thrusts
  • Reverse lunges
  • Bent over rows
  • Incline chest press

To name a few.

While isolation movements are going to be things like

  • Bicep curls
  • Shoulder raises
  • Hamstring curls
  • Tricep extensions

To name a few.

Generally speaking if you are going to do the isolation movements they would be towards the higher end of that rep range, we will cover more on isolation movements here in a sec.

These movements are here because let’s take a movement like a reverse lunge for example.

That is still a pretty taxing movement. It requires your core to work, your hip stabilizers, your glutes and quads.

You still are going to be able to use a fair amount of weight (as you progress through your strength training journey, even if it is just bodyweight right now!).

Yet normally speaking you do a bit less weight with a reverse lunge than you would say a regular squat.

So generally speaking these would be your accessory movements that you perform this range of reps and sets on.

When Should These Movements Be Performed In The Workout?

Accessory movements should be performed at the middle of your workout, after your compound movements.

I will give you an example lower body workout at the end of this article so stay tuned for that to see what I mean.

Accessory movements still take a lot out of you and still require a good amount of energy and effort.

As well as they can still lead to a high risk of injury if done incorrectly.

If you are gassed by the time you put reverse lunges at the end of your workout and your exhausted, your form will diminish and lead to injury much more so than isolation movement like a bicep curl.

Now, let’s talk about isolation movements in terms of hypertrophy.

Isolation movements should be done towards the end of the workout.

Why is this?

Because the risk of injury with an isolation movement is very low. Like a bicep curl for example, what happens if you “fail” on a bicep curl?

You just drop the dumbbells?

As opposed to what happens if you fail on a barbell back squat? That thing crushes your spine like an accordion (ok not really if you are doing it properly and safely setting up the safety bars in the racks, but you get the gist).

Therefore accessory movements should be done directly after the compound movements and isolation movements should be done after the accessory movements.

Muscle Endurance : Sets & Reps

how many sets and reps should I do endurance

The third and final rep range we have when it comes to how many sets and reps should I do is the muscle endurance rep range.

This rep range usually gets labeled as the “toning” rep range, but let me tell you, that could not be more inaccurate and we will talk about why here a bit later in this article.

For this rep range you want to stay between

2-4 sets of 15-20 reps

First off I know I kind of left reps 13 and 14 out of the equation here, but never once have I programmed a set of 13 reps. Just, no. Weird.

Let’s learn more about this rep range.


This set and rep range is the lowest out of three on the intensity scale (remember, intensity is how much weight you are lifting) and highest on the volume scale.

With such high reps you cannot perform a set with a very heavy weight.

Think about it. If you squat 100lbs for 5 reps, there is no way you could go squat 100lbs for 20 reps.

You’d have to use maybe 40lbs instead of 100, so you are automatically decreasing the intensity.

This makes it incredibly hard to reach close to failure because you will have to do so many reps since the intensity is so low, therefore this is usually the muscle endurance phase.

This usually doesn’t lend well to building strength or muscle hypertrophy.

What Exercises Should Be Performed In This Set & Rep Range?

Generally speaking your more isolation movements will be involved in this rep range.

Movements once again like

  • Bicep curls
  • Shoulder raises
  • Hamstring curls
  • Tricep extensions

Reason being is because again if you are doing 15 reps of a tricep extension, the risk of injury there is quite low.

Even if your form isn’t 100% accurate, the risk of injury is low. As well as the load (weight used) is so low that it is less risk of injury.

As opposed to doing 15 reps of a squat, that is a lot of reps to try and keep perfect form and can lead your form to breaking down much more which can lead to injury.

When Should These Movements Be Performed In The Workout?

These movements should be completed towards the end of the workout, almost as a “finisher” if you would like to coin that phrase.

After your compounds are taken care of, and after your accessory are blasted through, if you want to add in some isolation work to burn your muscles up, this is where you can do that.

But remember, the compound and the isolation movements are by far the most important, not the isolation.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do : Recap

Whew, I know that was a lot of information. I am going to quickly recap for you what we just learned.

There are 3 main set and rep ranges.




For strength, you typically do 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps with heavier weight.

For hypertrophy, you typically do 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps with moderate weight.

For endurance, you typically do 2-4 sets of 15-20 reps with lighter weight.

Got it?

Now let me say this.

These are not set in stone, hard lines in the sand.

For example, you can and will build muscle in the 3-6 rep range.

When you go into the hypertrophy range, you don’t just stop getting stronger. You will still build strength in that set and rep range.

All of this intertwine and play a role in each other, but for the reasons listed above as the “why” for each section, that is why they are grouped as such.

Time for another major point, then we will get into an example lower body workout and a Q&A.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do : Strength Is King!

how many sets and reps should I do strength is king

When it comes down to it, strength is by far the most important set and rep range out of all three of these.


Because strength influences everything, no matter what your goals are.

Obviously if your goal is to get stronger, well right there baby you will do that.

If your goal is to get more defined and or grow bigger muscles, think about this.

Let’s say you are lifting in the 6-12 rep range with 30lbs, versus in you are lifting in the 6-12 rep range with 40lbs.

If you are lifting more weight, don’t you think you will see more muscle definition?

Yes, you thought right, you will.

Even if your goal is endurance, if you get stronger, your endurance will improve.

I have a lot of my online coaching clients come to me who enjoy the occasional running here and there.

After we get them on a structured strength training program within the first 1-2 months they tell me how improved their runs have been.

Even though that seemingly would have nothing to do with strength and all to do with endurance, if you have stronger muscles you will be able to push harder, get a better mile time, have more speed, have less fatigue in your legs, etc.

If you look at olympic athletes, even if their main sport is endurance based, they spend 3/4 out of the year training for strength.

Then, the last 8-12 weeks, they go more sport specific endurance training as the even gets closer.

But they know that if they are stronger, that will improve everything else, so they train for that.

Therefore make strength your priority no matter what your goals are.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do : Q&A

Alright now let’s dive into some questions I know you will probably have.

Yes, I can read your mind.

So Which One Do I Pick?!

Now that you know the three categories and you know you need to focus your main priority on strength, which set and rep range should you do focusing on?!

Well, that is the thing. You should do a bit of all of them.

Notice how when we were going over the sections I included when you would perform those sets and reps within the workout and with what exercises?

I truly believe that quality program should have all of these set and rep ranges worked into it.

This way you don’t miss out on anything and you don’t pick and choose.

You should be doing some strength, some hypertrophy, and some endurance.

Now, candidly, I believe 85-90% of your training should be done in the strength and hypertrophy rep range.

As mentioned above you can include some endurance work at the end of your workout to really burn your muscles up, but majority of your reps should be within that 3-12 rep range for your workouts.

You will see more of this when we go over a sample lower body workout.

What If My Goal Is Weight Loss?!

Great question young Padawan, you were probably waiting for this one weren’t you?

Here is the deal.

When it comes to losing weight and or getting that “toned”, lean, defined physique, two things.

First, Your nutrition is going to take care of the weight loss. You need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight.

If you need some extra help on how many calories you should eat to lose weight, check out this totally free calorie calculator HERE.

Second, if your goal is fat loss, you should still be training to get strong and build muscle.


Because that is what is going to get you that tone, lean, defined physique you are looking for.

The old adage of “light weight for high reps to tone the muscle” is, excuse my French, absolute horsesh*t.

The only way to “tone” a muscle is to build a muscle. Therefore if you don’t have any muscle built, you will end up skinny fat, not looking the way you want to look.

That is what my online coaching client Bremer and I did with his physique. We took him from skinny fat to being a damn beast!!

Or same thing with my online coaching client Christina. She didn’t have much “weight” to lose, but she wanted to lose fat and change her physique.

Therefore, if your goal is weight loss, you should be training the same way I mentioned in this article, as well as focusing on your nutrition.

So When Should I Increase The Weight I Am Lifting Or Reps I Am Doing?!

Phenomenal question.

I have a phenomenal answer, only not in this article.

Reason being that I could spend an entire article covering this, oh wait, I did write an article on this!

There is something called progressive overload.

Whether you are in the strength range, hypertrophy range, or endurance range, you want to be applying this progressive overload to your workouts.

It is quite possibly the most important aspect of training.

If you want to go in depth on that article, I can link that HERE for you ( I strongly suggest you read that after this).

What About Abs?!

When it comes to ab workouts, I typically like to throw them in mid workout or towards the end of the workout.

Truthfully too many people put too much of an emphasis on abs, especially things like crunches and sit ups.

Remember, you don’t lose belly fat and see your abs through ab workouts. You lose belly fat though eating in a calorie deficit.

I can link an article I wrote HERE on the best ab workouts if you are interested in that!

How Many Reps And Set Should I Do? Example Lower Body Workout

Alright, now let’s talk about what an example lower body workout might look like with all this information you have learned thus far.

1 Gobet Squats 3×6 reps (compound movement, strength)

2a. Dummbell RDL 3×8 reps ( accessory movement, hypertrophy)

2b. Plank 3×20 sec (ab workout)

3a. BB Hip Thrust 3×10 (accessory movement, hypertrophy)

3b. DB Split Squat 3×8 reps each leg (accessory movement, hypertrophy)

** 2a and 2b indicate a super set. This would mean you complete each exercise back to back with no rest in-between, then after 1 set of both exercises are completed, you rest **

Now you might look at this and say “Huh?, that doesn’t look like much?!”.

Trust me… Try it.

If you do this, you will be cursing me dirty words.

Though you can see how we covered the strength range and the hypertrophy range.

I left the endurance range out for now, as again I like to focus primarily on strength and hypertrophy.

If you want more in depth on setting up a workout routine daily and weekly, I did an entire YouTube video on that HERE That you can check out.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do : Final Word

Phew, that was a TON of information I know.

But I did say that I was going to give you everything you needed to leave here with your own workout program.

I hope I was able to accomplish just that.

Also if you are a visual learner, I did an entire YouTube video on this exact topic you can check out as well below.

Listen, I know this stuff can be super confusing and overwhelming sometimes. Hell I just spent countless hours writing this article, and I could honestly go for countless more.

If you want me to take out all of the guesswork for you and design a program just for you, feel free to head HERE to see if we may be a good fit for coaching together.

Other than that, I hope you enjoyed and at the very least learned something from this.

Drop any questions or comments below.

Talk soon,