Once you know what are the best exercises for different muscle groups and how it is best to divide them throughout the training days, the question is:
How many series and repetitions?
We will talk about this in the next article:
How many repetitions to do
The number of effective repetitions per series is closely related to the training objective.
“Effective” means you can’t do more. In other words, you don’t do 10 reps because you decide to stop there instead of 20, but because the 11th could not be completed without deviating from the form of the exercise and the 12th would be impossible.
And “by series” means that you do not rest between them. A series or a set being a group of repetitions performed one after the other without taking a break.
Thus, depending on what you want to achieve, you will choose the target number of repetitions:
- Strength in the true sense of the word and power (defined as force in speed) is developed using especially repetitions in the range 1-5
- The increase in muscle mass takes place especially between 5-12 repetitions
- And over 10 repetitions it trains more and more endurance (resistance) and less and less others
In practice, the numbers are not fixed.
You can’t say that 6 repetitions will no longer develop strength or that after 12 repetitions you will not increase muscle mass.
On the contrary, you will often win using multiple intervals. For example, even powerlifting athletes whose goal is to develop strength will strategically use other repetition intervals to assist progress.
It is very important to understand that not all repetitions are the same.
There are 2 big differences that can significantly change the results:
1. The movement pattern used
Maybe you’ve seen men swinging around the room with their whole body in front and back at each biceps flexion or moving their legs only 5-10cm at the foot press.
It is clear that such a repetition does not have the same effect as a correct one that works the target muscles throughout the range of motion.
2. Time under voltage
On the one hand, live time is closely linked to the pattern of movement. If you use other muscles to advance or pass heavy points, if you reduce the range of motion or if you position yourself in space to reduce the effect of external forces, you will significantly reduce the time under tension on the target muscles.
On the other hand, the time under tension is given by how fast or slow you choose to do the repetitions.
- Duration of the concentric part of the movement (shortening of the muscle)
- Duration of the eccentric part of the movement (elongation of the muscle)
- Durations between the two (depending on the exercise whether they are tense or not)
All this combined gives time under tension per repetition.
And as our muscles work on tension, the effect of repetitions can vary enormously depending on this time.
For example: 12 repetitions with 50kg performed quickly and cheated can have a much weaker effect than only 8 repetitions with 50kg performed controlled and a little slower.
That’s why we created the “Ascend” video course to show you how to place tension on the target muscles, avoid joint wear and gain the most from each repetition in each exercise.
How many repetitions for muscle mass
As seen in the table above, the increase in muscle mass occurs mainly between 5 and 12 repetitions.
This has been proven both by studies and by the experience of top bodybuilders and coaches.
However, this does not mean that they are the only repetition intervals that are worth using to sculpt your desired body.
Fewer repetitions can maximize tension, and more repetitions can maximize pumping – both important mechanisms of hypertrophy.
In addition, going down to 3 repetitions or even testing the maximum for 1 repetition every few months can be very beneficial in the long run for overcoming the plateaus and ensuring continuous progress. Therefore, in the training program from the “Muscle Mass Secrets” package (with which I helped over 1400 men to develop the desired muscles) you will do this at some point.
Also, sometimes it is worth aiming for many more repetitions, even 25-50 or more. Not at all exercises, not at all muscle groups and not all the time, but it’s worth it.
If you are wondering:
- How many repetitions are done on the biceps?
- How many repetitions are done on the abdomen?
- How many repetitions are done to the chest?
- And so on…
The answer does not differ significantly from one group to another.
You should not do more repetitions for the abdomen or biceps than for any other group.
Indeed, there are several types of muscle fibers, and some groups have less of some and more of others.
However, when we are not talking about the postural muscles but those responsible for an impressive and attractive appearance, the difference is insignificant.
In all groups, several repetition intervals should be used to maximize total hypertrophy.
With compound exercises (executed correctly) we can safely move heavy weights for a smaller number of repetitions and therefore develop the fibers specific to this effort…
… And through isolation exercises we can put more emphasis on one group or another and efficiently develop the rest of the types of fibers using a medium or high number of repetitions.
For example: for the biceps, it is worth doing 5-6 repetitions in a traction with supine grip (with added weights if they are too simple), as well as 8-12 repetitions for dumbbell flexions, from time to time reaching over 20 of repetitions to various other isolation exercises.
How many repetitions to define
The table above does not specify the definition…
Because it is not a quality of the muscles, but is given by a low layer of fat above them.
So is striation or toning.
And contrary to popular belief, training a muscle does not burn the fat above it.
It does carry more blood to the area, but the body rarely burns fat right then, and when it does, it takes it from where it is easier.
Therefore, you will not burn more belly fat by doing abs, just as you will not define your biceps by doing push-ups.
For definition, it is worth doing somewhere between 6 and 12 repetitions. Fewer ones will not bring enough time under tension to burn more calories at a time, and more will not be intense enough to create a high COPD effect that causes fat burning for hours after training.
Also, don’t forget that for optimal results we are talking about compound exercises that work a large part of the body as intensely as possible, in no case biceps flexions or other isolated movements.
A collection with the best definition routines can be found here, and if you want a complete quick definition program this is the most effective.
How many evenings to do
The answer depends on several factors such as:
- Dividing the program – if you train each group once a week (rarely recommended) you will do more series per session, and if you increase the frequency to 2 or 3 you will do fewer series per session but about as many throughout the week
- Chosen Exercise / Target Muscle Group – Larger groups require more sets, divided over several exercises
- The intensity used and therefore the number of repetitions per series – the more you aim for fewer repetitions, the more it makes sense to do more series
- Experience – a person accustomed to the effort may need more series (although it is not always the best solution)
- Objectives – if the goal is to burn as many calories or improve a certain movement pattern, more series will be more useful
For muscle mass growth, most experts recommend between 10-20 sets per muscle group per week.
Fewer for smaller groups, more repetitions and less experience.
More for larger groups, fewer repetitions and richer experience.
Ideally, all divided into 2-3 sessions per week.
For example, for “How many series should I do on my chest?” the answer could be 12 sets per week, divided into 6 series on Monday and 6 series on Thursday, further divided into 2 or even 3 exercises per day.
Such a division will bring much better results than what you see in most men in the gym who do 3-5 exercises reaching a total of 12-16 sets for the chest in one day.
It is proven both by studies, by experience and it is logical. As long as you stimulate growth by doing quality repetitions at the right intensity, training your muscles 2-3 times a week you will grow faster than training them once.
Experience is an important factor when choosing the total number of series.
As a beginner, 10 quality series for a medium to large group (such as chest, back, buttocks, quadriceps, etc.) will be more than enough, and a smaller group (such as biceps, triceps, abdomen, etc.) will not have need more than 6-8 series.
Then, as an intermediate and even as an advanced, you will rarely need 20 or more sets per group per week to increase muscle mass effectively. Most people who do not see results after so much work simply do not do quality work every time they repeat.
And don’t forget about “overlaps”.
In a series of a compound exercise you will inevitably work several muscle groups.
For example: when you do 3 sets of Traction with supine grip, you do 3 sets for the back (dorsals, rhomboids, etc.) and 3 sets for the biceps (and the rest of the arm flexors).
Indeed, not every muscle group involved in a compound exercise is as active, but it is worth considering the stimulus received.
So far we have talked about the total number of series.
The number of sets per exercise depends on the target number of repetitions.
The most common choices are:
- 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- 4 sets x 6-8 repetitions
However, there are many other excellent options that are worth using either to develop more strength or to benefit from other mechanisms of hypertrophy.
- 5 sets x 5 reps – a very well known pattern in powerlifting circles, involves the use of the same weight even if the maximum effort is reached only in the last 2-3 sets.
- 4 sets x 10/8/6/15 + repetitions – involves gradually increasing the weights at the first 3 sets then reducing them to the last.
- 1 series x 25+ repetitions – sometimes even 100, used only occasionally with exercises that allow pumping.
- 6 sets x 6 reps – popularized by the first Mr. Olympia, involves the use of lower weights (with which you could do about 10 reps) and targeting for 6 sets of 6 reps in a short time.
- 10 sets x 10 reps – used in German volume training to develop muscles and burn fat.
The Most Efficient Solution
As you can see, the ideal number of repetitions and sets depends on several factors.
You can choose a generic answer like 3 sets x 10 repetitions for each group and each exercise, but it is by no means the best solution.
If you want to quickly sculpt a really fit body you should take into account the above tips. In addition, strategically vary your exercises and series and repetition patterns over the months of training.
The best training programs with which we have already helped a lot of men and women to sculpt their desired body can be found here. For muscle mass, I recommend you to look especially over the “Secrets of Muscle Mass” system, and for definition over the “OmniFit” system.
Last but not least, in order to increase the quality of each repetition and to obtain maximum results from the minimum of series, without using your wrists unnecessarily, look over the online course “Ascend”.