How Many Sets & Reps Should You Do Per Exercise Each Workout?

At this point you should have a pretty good understanding of why properly planning your weight training volume (the amount of sets, reps and exercises you do) is so important.

And, you should also be familiar with what I consider to be the optimal volume range for most people, which is the total amount of reps you should do for each muscle group per workout and per week.

From here, the next logical step is to break this optimal amount of volume down in terms of how many sets and reps you should do per exercise each workout.

So, let’s do just that.

How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do Per Exercise?

Simple. You should do exactly enough to allow you to fall within the optimal volume range for each muscle group.

Honestly, as long as that happens, then exactly how you divide your volume up among exercises becomes a little less important.

Of course, that’s just the quick and simple answer. You’re probably going to want to know the most common and all around proven ways of doing it. So, here we go…

The Most Common Set And Rep Combinations For An Exercise

Below are the most commonly used and prescribed combinations of sets and reps you could do per exercise along with the total amount of volume each one produces.

Also included is the level of intensity each rep range falls into as well as what fitness goal that combination of sets/reps/volume is most ideal for.

  • 8 sets x 3 reps = 24 reps
    High intensity.
    Most ideal for strength related goals.
  • 6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps
    High intensity.
    Most ideal for strength related goals.
  • 3 sets x 5 reps = 15 reps
    High intensity.
    Most ideal for strength related goals.
  • 5 sets x 5 reps =  25 reps
    High to moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for strength goals, but also suited for building muscle.
  • 4 sets x 6 reps = 24 reps
    High to moderate intensity.
    Equally ideal for increasing strength and building muscle.
  • 3 sets x 8 reps = 24 reps
    Moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.
  • 4 sets x 8 reps = 32 reps
    Moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.
  • 3 sets x 10 reps = 30 reps
    Moderate intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for muscular endurance.
  • 4 sets x 10 reps = 40 reps
    Moderate to low intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.
  • 2 sets x 12 reps = 24 reps
    Moderate to low intensity.
    Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.
  • 3 sets x 12 reps = 36 reps
    Moderate to low intensity.
    Equally ideal for building muscle and improving muscle endurance.
  • 2 sets x 15 reps = 30 reps
    Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance, but also suited for building muscle.
  • 2 sets x 20 reps = 40 reps
    Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance.

As you can see, based on your specific goal and what rep range is most ideal for it, you have quite a few set/rep combinations to choose from for each exercise you do.

As you can also probably tell, there are a few principles these very different combinations have in common. The 2 most worth noting are:

  • The fewer reps you are doing per set, the more sets you do. And, the more reps you do per set, the fewer sets you do. While this isn’t an absolute rule, it is what should be happening the majority of the time.
  • The total volume being done per exercise is pretty similar despite the different amount of sets/reps being used. For example, 10 of the 13 popular combinations shown above produce between 20-36 reps total. The take home message? Most of the time, that’s probably how much volume you should end up doing per exercise.

How To Put This Information Into Action

Alright, so you now know the most popular and proven combinations of sets and reps that can be used for an exercise.

In order to put this information into action, you need to apply it to your optimal training intensity, volume and frequency.

A Practical Example

Let’s take an example person named PersonA.

Let’s pretend PersonA is an intermediate or advanced trainee whose primary goal is building muscle (or really anything related to improving the way their body looks rather than performs).

Based on PersonA’s experience level and goal, they previously learned:

Now, based on this, a chest workout for PersonA could potentially break down like this:

  • Bench Press: 4 sets of 6 reps (24 total reps)
  • Dumbbell Flyes: 2 sets of 12 reps (24 total reps)
  • Total Volume Done For Chest During This Workout: 48 reps

In this example, PersonA chose to do 2 exercises. For both exercises, the set/rep combination they picked has them working in their optimal intensity range (which is 5-12 reps per set for this example person).

And, these 2 set/rep combinations also combined to put them right in the middle of their optimal volume range per workout (which in this example was 30-60 reps for bigger muscle groups).

This amount of volume (or whatever amount of volume is optimal for you, your goal, your experience level, and your training frequency) could have been reached just the same using various other set/rep combinations from that list above as well as a different amount of exercises.

This was just one example of how to do it.

(If this was at all confusing, don’t worry. It will make perfect sense when you see the sample workout routines later on.)

What’s Next?

Now that you know how to apply your optimal amount of volume to the exercises you do, it’s time to actually figure out what exercises you’re going to be doing. Let’s get to it…

Selecting Weight Training Exercises For Your Workout Routine

(This article is part of a completely free and awesome guide to creating the absolute best workout routine possible for your exact goal. Check it out: The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine)

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