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Often, How Long... The Joy Of Fitness!
Manipulating sets, repetitions and recovery
is one of the most confusing subjects for beginning and intermediate weight
trainers. The following is a series of questions I recently received from an
eFitness subscriber concerning how to manipulate sets and repetitions within a
workout. They speak volumes concerning the confusion many experience in this
How do I know the amount of repetitions
and sets to perform in my workouts? Do I perform different sets and reps for
endurance versus muscle? Does weight training work against cardio training?
Does cardio training actually undo what weight training has done? Can more
muscle sometimes be too much? Does more muscle actually act negatively against
endurance? When training, how long does it take for a muscle to rebuild? Sorry
for all the questions, but I jumped at the chance when you asked for
suggestions for newsletter articles, and Ive been wondering about this
for a long time.
As in most cases, once you understand the
formula and fundamentals of a subject, the remainder becomes clear. I'm going
to outline the fundamentals of sets and reps. Hopefully, by the end youll
say, "Aha, now I finally understand."
When designing a fitness program, the first
question that absolutely must be asked is, What is my goal? I see
countless people in gyms every day doing the same exercises day in and day out.
No wonder so many people find exercise boring! They make it boring! You must
analyze the most efficient method to get you to your goal. The goal becomes a
plan, the plan becomes a process and the process leads to success. It works
There are four different training parameters
that will assist you in determining the proper amount of sets and reps for your
own specific goals. Lets take a look at each of them:
1. Muscular Endurance -- This
individual is a long distance runner, cyclist or tri-athlete. They are not
concerned with adding muscle the way a bodybuilder would. The goal is to
improve the muscle endurance fibers, also referred to as slow twitch fibers.
This person should use 55-65 percent of their one-rep maximum. In other words,
if they can perform 150 pounds for one rep on the bench press, their working
weight would be 85-100 pounds.
I advise 2-3 sets per exercise, performing 20
total sets for the workout. Approximately 15-17 reps is the best range for this
individual. I don't advise more than 17 reps, because the muscle requires some
degree of overload, even for endurance athletes. The pace of the workout should
also be brisk, resting no longer than 30-45 seconds between sets. The whole
idea is to keep the weight relatively light, and the reps high with minimal
rest between sets in order to continually train and challenge the endurance of
2. Hypertrophy -- Increase in muscle
size! If you're interested in putting on muscle, read carefully! This is where
you belong. The individual whose goal is hypertrophy should use 70-80 percent
of their one-rep maximum in order to increase the size of the muscle fibers.
Once again, using the bench press as an example, if your one-rep maximum is 150
pounds, then you should use 105-120 pounds as your working weight.
The goal is to perform 7-12 reps for 3-5 sets
per exercise. The total number of sets per muscle group (chest, back, etc.) can
be anywhere from 5-12 depending upon experience and recovery ability -- as well
as the size of the specific muscle group being worked. For example, chest may
require 9 total sets, but biceps may require only 4. I don't recommend more
than 15 total sets for larger muscle groups even for experienced bodybuilders.
The goal of hypertrophy is to stimulate a muscle, not annihilate it.
Just remember, the more damage you inflict on
the muscle, the longer the recovery period between workouts. Concerning time
between sets, I recommend one to two minutes. Its important to give the
muscle a bit of time to recover in order to use additional weight loads. If
your goal is to put on just a bit of muscle, then stay in the higher rep range.
However, keep in mind that a muscle cannot change unless it is overloaded. In
addition, for maximum muscle, cardiovascular activity must be kept to a
minimum. The body functions most efficiently when it has one goal at a
3. Strength -- If strength increase is
the goal, select a resistance that is approximately 85 percent of your one- rep
maximum. Continuing with our bench press example, if your one-rep max is 150
pounds, then you should use a weight that is approximately 130 pounds. The
repetition range will be about 4-6. In addition, sets will be 3-6 per exercise,
with total working sets for the entire workout being no more than 20-25.
Its also important to take ample rest,
waiting 3-5 minutes between sets. This is a very demanding workout with high
levels of intensity and an excellent method for athletes who need to increase
overall strength. When one handles excessive weight in this type of routine,
proper form, technique and a spotter are necessary in order to prevent
4. Power -- For those looking to
increase power, use resistances that are at 85 percent of your one-rep max
range. The individual seeking power will occasionally perform a one-repetition
maximum lift to test absolute power. Powerlifters tend to focus on the bench
press, deadlift and squat as their main exercises.
On the other hand, an Olympic weightlifter
tends to fall into a different category. They focus on exercises such as The
Snatch, Clean and Jerk, and Clean and Press, all of which are extremely
difficult and require technical proficiency. Do 1-5 repetitions with 5 minutes
rest between sets, performing 3-5 sets per exercise. I recommend no more than
15 total sets. Once again, proper form, technique and a spotter are
Depending on your goal, you may also wish to
mix some of the above parameters into your workout scheme. I tend to train in
phases where I perform hypertrophy training for nine weeks followed by a
nine-week strength phase. Every fifth week, I take an active recovery week,
performing light training in order to not over train. This helps keep me
If you incorporate any of the strength or
power moves into your training, just make sure to perform them first during
your workout. Keep in mind, the effectiveness of a routine will always be
determined by your individual genetics, nutrition, stress levels and sleep
I hope this clarifies some issues related to
sets, reps and recovery time, and I wish you well in your own individual health
and fitness goals.
A competitive bodybuilder and former 2001
Mr. Connecticut, Raphael is a veteran of the health and fitness industry who
specializes in a holistic approach to body transformation, nutrition programs
and personal training. He earned his B.A. in Communications from Southern
Connecticut State University and is certified as a personal trainer with ACE
and APEX. In addition, he successfully completed the RTS1 program based on