Is it better to do more reps or more sets? This is a preponderant question among beginners at the gym. The reality about this topic is that there is no black or white answer for this. There are some very important hues of gray in between to consider. We will show you that the number of reps or sets you have to do will mostly depend on your objectives for the long haul.
What if I Want to Build Muscle?
The technical name for muscle-building is called muscular hypertrophy. This happens when the muscle fibers in your body get bigger with the passing of training sessions. If you want to build muscle, you should aim for submaximal contractions. What does this mean? You need to use a weight that you can lift for an approximate number of 8 to 12 repetitions without getting spent by the end of them. In short, a heavyweight that you can manage.
When it comes down to sets, it depends on the number of exercises you want to do in a single session, and how many target muscles you want to involve. The average quantity of sets per exercise is usually 3 or 4. The key here is to strive for balance, especially when you are starting out. Chances are if you don’t let your body adapt, you will get injured.
Pro tip: Try to do every set of a given exercise, and then move on to the next one. This is called a horizontal progression.
What if I Want to Get Fast?
This is something usually looked for by athletes that need explosive power. You can think of American Football players or sprinters. In those sports where movements are swift, explosive strength is key.
If you want to make this happen, you will have to train with movements that mimic both the speed of execution in the actual sport and the biomechanical movements that you have to do when practicing the discipline. For instance, if you need to jump high, you are going to train with exercises such as squats, or plyometric jumps.
When getting fast, you have to lift heavy weights, mostly in short numbers of reps, yet with a higher-than-expected number of sets. Why? Because we need to get speed from the specific movements we are likely to perform out there. Usually, 10 reps tops per exercise, for 4 sets each does the trick. Make sure you do these movements as fast as possible while lifting the heaviest weight you can while doing so.
Pro tip 2: Do one set of each exercise (vertical progression) with at least 3 to 5 minutes of rest between sets for pro results.
What if I Want to Gain Resistance
Resistance is sought after in sports that have long periods of execution. Think of marathons or triathlons.
In this case, you are going to need to do large numbers of repetitions, usually between 15 and 20. Once again, the number of sets will depend upon the number of exercises you want to include in your training regimen. You should aim for 3 sets per exercise.
Pro tip 3: Here you shouldn’t rest for more than 2 minutes between exercises so that you can become fatigue-tolerant. Alternate between horizontal and vertical progressions.