9 Tips for Choosing the Right Reps and Sets for Your Goals
Are you just getting started on a new workout routine and have asked yourself what the difference is in a rep or a set? Are you unsure if whether you should do as many reps as possible until you’re exhausted, or focus on a “less is more” approach?
“Reps” stands for repetition, and it’s the number of times you perform a movement for an exercise. A set is the number of reps you do without pausing. If your workout instructor tells you to do 10 reps of squats in two sets, they want you to do 10 squats in succession, rest, and then do 10 more.
Read on for our top seven tips on how to choose the right number of reps and sets to meet your fitness goals!
1. Create Your Fitness Goals
You can start working out for any number of reasons–there’s really no reason that’s better than another as long as you keep your own safety in mind. Here are a few common fitness goals:
- Losing weight
- Muscle size
It’s important that you choose one goal to start off with and focus on it in order to achieve the results you desire. This is especially important when you’re first crafting a fitness routine so that you don’t get overwhelmed, exhausted, and eventually burn out.
What’s more important is that you choose a specific, achievable goal that you can work towards incrementally each week. With this in mind, the right number of reps and sets you do depends on your fitness goal.
2. Keeping Your Form
Before we get into the right number of reps and sets for each of your workout goals, it’s important that you remember that working out is a highly customized process. No one’s body, endurance, or experience is the same.
If someone recommends you do 15 reps for three sets but you’re already feeling exhausted after two sets, then it’s important that you give yourself a rest. When you’re first starting it can be hard to determine whether it’s time to push yourself or when it’s time to slow down, but a good rule of thumb is to stop when you find your form slipping.
Keeping proper form for each of your exercises is important because it reduces the chance of injury and makes your workouts more effective. For instance, not keeping a proper squat form can lead to knee, neck, or back injury, and you’re more prone to making mistakes when you’re tired.
Do you want to be able to perform optimally for a longer amount of time without getting tired? Then you’ll want to train your endurance. With these kinds of workout, the typical recommendation is more reps at a lower weight.
You’ll want to aim for 15 or more reps while lifting lighter weights than you would with fewer reps. To increase the intensity of the workout, you can also keep your rests between sets to 30 seconds or less.
This is also a great rule of thumb for any workout you’re doing for the first time; it’s easier to start low and increase the weight than to start high and get discouraged.
4. Muscle Size
If your goal is to get larger muscles or sarcoplasmic hypotrophy, then it’s often recommended that you use a rep range of six to 12. Because you won’t be doing as many reps, you’ll want to use heavier weights. After six to 12 reps, you should rest for 60 to 90 seconds between three to five sets.
Your effectiveness at building muscle also depends on the number of calories you’re consuming each day. If you’re burning more calories than you eat, you may not see any muscle growth regardless of how often you exercise each week.
You may be at the point in your fitness journey where you just want to be more effective at lifting heavier weights or become more powerful when it comes to certain sports. With this kind of goal, you’ll be lifting significantly higher weights with far fewer reps–usually less than six.
Since you become more prone to injury when you’re lifting heavier weights, it’s important that you start with lighter weights and lower reps before ramping it up. You’ll also want to give yourself at least three to five minutes between sets.
6. Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, things are a bit trickier. This is because the amount of weight you lose really comes down to your diet and the number of calories you’re consuming each day–not how much you’re working out.
However, gaining muscle is still an important part of your weight loss journey. As you gain more muscle, your body requires more calories to regenerate tissue. This means that even while you’re sitting and relaxing, your body is burning more calories than if you weren’t exercising at all.
If you begin gaining weight as you start training, don’t be startled–it’s usually from the muscle you’re gaining and not an increase in fat.
7. Number of Sets
Although the number of reps for each of your fitness goal is fairly straightforward, the number of sets varies depending on your fitness level, how heavy you’re lifting, and more. However, the general rule of thumb is that you want to complete between three to five sets for each workout.
Three sets at about ten reps per workout became popular after Dr. Thomas L. DeLorme recommended these “Progressive Resistance Exercises” for injured servicemen. He found that those numbers of sets and reps were the most beneficial for their rehabilitation.
8. Don’t Overthink It
One of the largest barriers to getting started on your new workout routine is overthinking the number of sets, reps, and workouts you should do each week. The most important aspect of gaining a healthier lifestyle is focusing on improving each time you work out and keeping track of your nutrition.
For instance, start with only ten reps and two sets of an exercise that’s unfamiliar with you, and then increase the number of sets by one the next time you exercise. If you want to build muscle, then focus instead on increasing the weight of what you’re lifting.
If you find that over the weeks you’re not making any progress, then you’ll want to see if you can modify the exercise to work with any injuries you may have, find a different workout that motivates you or push yourself harder.
9. Nutrition and Supplements
Last but not least, a combination of strength training and watching your nutrition will go a long way to helping you reach your fitness goals faster. If you want to lose weight, then creating a calorie deficit is the best way. This means that you’ll want to eat fewer calories than you burn. If you want to gain muscle, then the opposite is true–your body needs more calories to work with.
One of the major pitfalls when it comes to exercise and nutrition is the sheer amount of people who will try to sell you supplements. Many of them claim that these supplements will help you gain muscle or lose weight faster, gain more energy, and more.
However, there are a few basic supplements that can help you if taken consistently and at the right dosage:
- Branched-chain amino acids
Make sure you talk to your healthcare provider before you begin taking supplements or vitamins. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re taking supplements and vitamins along with a healthy diet with alcohol, refined foods, and trans fats in moderation.
There are no miracle supplements that will give you rapid muscle growth or weight loss, but if you consistently make healthy decisions for your body each day, you’ll discover results you can be proud of!
Finding the Right Reps and Sets
By now you should know that the general rule of thumb is to complete low reps with large weights if you want to gain muscle, and lots of reps with lower weight if you want more muscle tone and endurance. In general, you’ll be completing three sets of six to 15 reps in total.
However, the number of reps and sets you’re completing isn’t as important as you may think if you’re not pairing them with good nutrition and a focus on constantly making progress. Be clear about your fitness goals and patient with yourself–exercising will soon become a routine that you enjoy.
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