Nine tips on determining the optional volume in workouts


Strength Sensei CP


Many factors influence how many sets you should perform for a specific exercise. For example, you must consider how many reps are being performed and the size of the muscle mass being trained. To get you started in designing the best program for you, consider these nine tips for determining the optimal number of training sets:

  1. Usually, 1 or 2 sets are enough for beginners as a training stimulus. After 6 or 12 training sessions, you must increase the workload because the muscle will have adapted.
  2. Once initial strength fitness is achieved, a multiple presentation of the stimulus (such as 3 to 6 sets) with specific rest periods between sets is superior to a single presentation of the stimulus. You must ensure this increase is done progressively.
  3. Anywhere from 3 to 10 sets are needed to achieve optimal overloading. Even when you allow sufficient rest intervals to replenish the phosphagens, after a few sets, the muscle will fatigue to the point where fewer and fewer reps can be performed before failure.

As trainees advance, they require more sets to continue making progress. (Miloš Šarčev photo)


  1. There is an inverse relationship between the number of sets and the number of reps. When training with low reps, perform a high number of sets; when training with high reps, perform with a low number of sets.
  2. The number of sets needed for optimal training is inversely proportional to the size of the muscle mass. Small muscle groups (e.g., biceps) recover more quickly than large muscle groups (e.g., quadriceps) and can therefore handle larger amounts of sets.
  3. The number of sets should be individualized. The requirements for exercise vary significantly from one person to another, such that Judy may need 3 sets for a specific exercise and Julie 5 sets for the same exercise.
  4. Only 30-36 sets per workout should be performed. To maintain the quality of the training stimulus, don’t overdo it by prescribing too many sets and exercises. Better results are achieved if the total number of sets is about 20-25. Some accomplished strength coaches have suggested that training sessions should not last over one hour, with 45 minutes being even better.
  5. The number of sets is a critical loading norm for controlling overtraining. If you have not fully recovered from a workout, cut back on the number of sets, not the intensity.
  6. The number of sets required is dependent on the nature of the muscle group. For example, the thigh adductors and the neck flexors and extensors are not normally submitted to intense loading in daily activities, so they respond well to fewer sets.

There is much more to discover about determining the optimal number of sets, but these guidelines will get your workouts off to a strong start!

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