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  • Writer's pictureMuscle Nation

How Many Reps Should I Do?

(A repetition "rep" is a completed motion working a specific muscle group. A "set" is the combination of reps completed before resting.)

You'll find a lot of answers to this question. And depending on what you're doing the answer may vary.


Right off the bat, let's dispel a myth: for those who don't want to "bulk up" or "look like a man", you can't and won't do so by lifting the same way as a bodybuilder. It's just not that simple. It takes decades to achieve that type of muscle growth and most of the work is in the kitchen, not in the gym.


For those who say they just want to reduce body fat, let me step back and say this again in different terms: a V12 engine requires a whole lot more energy to operate than a V6 or V4. Meaning that if you want to achieve body fat loss, you need to achieve a calorie-deficit. The best way to do that is a combination of eating proper amounts of quality food and stimulating muscle growth. Toss in a bit of cardio to suit your needs.


But please don't do 20 rep sets because you're just looking to burn fat and not get big. The science just doesn't work that way and in fact you're more likely to hurt your joints, become catabolic (inducing muscle atrophy) and make it more difficult to achieve your goals.


So for bodybuilders, weightlifters, gym advocates, and anyone looking to get in shape do this:

  • Two to three "warm-up sets" of 10-12 reps each, increasing in weight slightly with each set.

  • Five to seven "working sets" of 8-10 reps each, increasing in weight significantly with each set. Your highest weight should feel like you're able to do perhaps do two more reps but you're stopping short of sacrificing good form for bad. The total number of sets may vary based on your experience in the gym and the muscle group you're training that day.

  • Two to three "finishing sets" of 6-8 reps each, decreasing in weight significantly while focusing on squeezing the working muscle group as hard as possible during each rep.

If you're a powerlifter you may warm up with a few sets of 10-12 reps at a lower weight and then progress to a max of 1-3 reps at 80-100% of your maximum ability.


Remember that rest between sets is crucial as well. Rest no less than 45 seconds between sets and no more than 2 minutes depending on the intensity of your last set. If you rest longer you may need to toss in another warm-up set.



Now go hit the gym and train like you mean it.


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