One of the questions I get most as a trainer from people starting a weight lifting regiment is “how many reps, how much weight, and how many sets should I do for each exercise. The answer mostly depends on what your main goal is. If you are trying to increase general strength, build lean muscle mass, or increase your endurance and over all aerobic ability the numbers are going to be different.
Before getting into the rep/weight/set ratios it is good to understand the concept or training philosophy of “greasing the groove” which is when we try and find the correct rep to weight ratio. For this we want to find the weight where we aren't maxing out on our last rep every set, but also not doing so light a weight that after your last rep you feel like you can do twice as many. Try and find a weight where you feel like you could do 25% more reps at the end of the set. So if you are going for 10 reps, when you are done with the last one you should feel like you could have done 2-3 more before maxing out. This training styles helps keep us from having our form break down towards the end of the repetitions while also making sure we are targeting the proper resistance. If you do 10 bicep curls at a weight you could do 100, you aren’t going to get much out of it.
With this concept in mind, we then determine how many reps we want to per set. A general zone of reps is 2-7 will increase overall strength of that movement, you won’t necessarily see a lot of muscle growth only doing this many, but you will get stronger faster. 8-12 reps is the hypertrophy zone. It is the best rep count if your main goal is gaining muscle mass. 15+ reps is going to mostly increase your aerobic ability for the given movement and general aerobic system function.
For number of sets per muscle group I like to categorize them from largest muscle groups to smaller and do decreasing number of sets for the size of the muscle groups. From largest to smallest (in simplistic terms)it goes legs, back, chest, arms, shoulders, trunk. My general bracket categories are legs and back 3-5sets. Chest 3-4 sets, arms and shoulders 2-3 sets, and trunk 2 sets. And I change the sets depending on how many of each exercise I plan on doing that day. The more exercises of a given muscle group the less sets I do.
All this information is a general starting point. You might find that you want more sets or reps for one aspect of the body to compensate for prior asymmetric aspects of your body. If you did a lot of bicep curls for years and very little tricep exercises then you might want to increase the number of sets for your tricep exercises until you are at a proper ratio of stretch in each area.
Even if your main or only goal puts you into one of these brackets it is still a great idea to throw in some rep to weight counts that are in different spectrum. If you want to grow muscle mass, doing a few heavy lifts for 4 reps and some light lifts for 15 reps every now any then can greatly help you reach your main goal.
Stick to your plan and if you are having trouble staying on task or getting motivated you can always come see us in the studio!
Your Personal Training Team Leaders,