How Many Sets You Should Be Doing in a Workout

Woman lifting dumbbell

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When you lift weights, your workout plan will usually specify a certain number of sets. A set describes a group of repetitions performed for an exercise. For example, a basic strength workout might list "3x10 chest presses." That means you should do three sets of 10 reps. Chose a weight heavy enough that you can only do 10 reps in a row. After one set of 10, rest. Then repeat two more times for a total of three sets.

How Many Sets Should You Do in a Workout?

In general, the average exerciser does one to three sets of each exercise. There is some controversy about whether one set elicits the same results as multiple-set training.

If you're more advanced, or have specific goals (such as increasing muscle mass), the number of reps and sets you should do may change. For some goals, you want more reps and sets with lighter weights, while for others, the opposite is better.

Fitness Goal Sets Reps Rest Period Intensity
General fitness 1 or 2  8 to 15  30 to 90 seconds Can vary
Endurance 3 to 4  15+  Up to 30 seconds 50% to 65% of 1RM
Muscle mass 3 to 6  6 to 12  30 to 90 seconds 70% to 80% of 1RM
Muscle strength 2 to 3  Up to 6  2 to 5 minutes 80% to 90% of 1RM
Power: 1 Lift 3 to 5 1 or 2 2 to 5 minutes

90%+ of 1RM 

Use Sets to Achieve Weight Loss Goals

For weight loss, incorporate some of the following techniques into your workouts to boost calorie burn.

  • Circuit training: With circuit training, you do each exercise one after the other without rest. This allows you to build muscle while keeping your heart rate elevated, which can help burn more calories during and after your workout.
  • Supersets: Choose two exercises that target the same muscle group and do them one after the other. This increases intensity, which can help burn more calories. A total body superset workout will really challenge you.
  • Tri-sets: Like supersets, this involves doing three exercises for the same or opposite muscle groups, one after the other, with no rest in between. Again, this is a great way to build intensity and burn more calories.
  • Pyramid training: With this type of training, you build on each set, increasing weight and decreasing reps so that you really target muscle fibers and get the most out of each rep. Try an upper-body pyramid workout.
  • Tabata strength training: This is a kind of high-intensity circuit training that keeps your heart rate elevated even more than traditional circuit training. You alternate 20-second work intervals with 10 seconds of rest, repeating that for four minutes. That doesn't sound like much time, but it's tough.
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  1. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670