Home | how many sets should you do for strength gains?

how many sets should you do for strength gains?

by Heather

One of the perks of being certified as a group fitness instructor through AFAA is their magazine that comes in the mail monthly.

Magazines are just so much fun to have around!

The other night when we went to bed crazy early (8pm – it was awesome!), I pulled out my latest copy of American Fitness and caught up on a few articles. One of them was on whether one set is better than multiple sets when looking to gain strength. It’s pretty common for me to run through 2, 3, or maybe even 4 sets in a workout. I went into reading the article as a skeptic.


What does the research say?

I won’t go into all the details, but the concluding summary of the research came out with this:

  • More than 30 studies show that multiple sets do not yield superior strength gains, when compared to single sets.
  • There were only four studies that showed multiple sets with more strength gains than single sets.

Will that change the way I work out?

No, I still personally enjoy challenging my body with multiple sets, but for a quicker workout 1 set would work too. One idea that was mentioned in the article is to just do one set of the exercises, but increase the variety of exercises you’ll do for that muscle.

An example would be this: before if you planned out 3 exercises for your shoulders, say lateral raise, overhead press and upright row, add in a few more. So instead of 3 exercises you can do 6, those first 3 + front raise, Arnold press and pike press.

The benefit of adding a variety of exercises to your workout is that each exercise targets the muscle in a different way or different angle. Not only will this help develop the muscle in a more balanced way, it also helps prevent overuse of the muscle if you always do the same exercise over, and over, and over again.

Final thoughts

What’s the article really looking at? Strength gains. Strength is measured here by how much you can lift in a 1 rep max – the most you can lift only 1 time with proper form. I never go for my 1 rep max, because honestly strength training isn’t about how much weight I can lift. I lift because it makes me feel great, it’s fun and awesome for my body. Having muscles is cool. Β For those who are all about the # of pounds you can lift, maybe sticking with just 1 set might be the right plan, but it’s not a goal of mine to be able to lift a crazy amount of weight… just once.

What are your thoughts on this? How many sets do you typically do when you strength train? What do you want to get out of strength training?




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0 comment

Lisa@Healthy Diaries March 8, 2012 - 8:58 am

Very interesting! I just did a strength workout this morning with 4 circuits and did 3 sets of everything. I am looking to get strong in my arms because even though I have some muscle definition, I’m pretty weak. I can’t really do more than 20 push-ups on my knees!

I just think I need to do push-ups more than once a week? Would it be bad to do a set or two everyday?

Get Healthy with Heather March 8, 2012 - 9:35 am

Probably every other day would be better than every day. Gotta give those muscles some time to repair and get stronger! Keep it up girl πŸ™‚

Kaitlyn @ Pain Can Be Fun March 8, 2012 - 10:27 am

This is really interesting! Strength training is definitely the area of fitness that I know the least about. Like you, I usually do several sets just because I figured if I only did 1 set, it wouldn’t be “as effective”. Now I know otherwise! I like the idea of switching up the types of exercises for each set of muscles. πŸ™‚
Thanks, Heather! Hope you’re having a good week!

Get Healthy with Heather March 8, 2012 - 9:26 pm

There’s always so much to learn… And it’s ever changing too, haha :). Have a great one!

Kristen @ swanky dietitian March 8, 2012 - 1:44 pm

Really interesting!!
I always do multiple sets when I work out do this is really interesting to hear.
I I usually do weights in body pump so I’ll probably continue to do multiple sets.

Get Healthy with Heather March 8, 2012 - 9:25 pm

Yeah with me teaching body pump I definitely love the multiple sets too πŸ™‚

Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers March 8, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Great read! I usually do two sets of my workouts! I love strength training, I love that I burn more calories when I do nothing, plus, plus!!

Get Healthy with Heather March 8, 2012 - 9:24 pm

Heck yes, more muscle means more calorie burn!!

Pure2raw twins March 8, 2012 - 6:16 pm

very interesting. thank you for sharing. i do a mix of workouts, mostly doing 2-3 sets of things. there are some times when i do a lot of different exercises. i think variety is key. but like you i workout and stuff to feel great, not interested in how much i can lift.

Get Healthy with Heather March 8, 2012 - 9:23 pm

Yes, variety is definitely key.

Sophie @ Love Live & Learn March 10, 2012 - 10:07 am

This was such an interesting read, thank you for sharing it! I nearly always do three sets of about 5-10 different exercises with the reps varying. I guess the thing with me is that I am lifting for a variety of different reasons, not just strength.

I lift because I want to build my core strength to help my back get better and improve my condition, I lift because I like the way I look since I’ve started doing strength workouts and I want to look even better (vain!) and I lift because I genuinely enjoy it!

I think your view of the article is pretty much in accordance with mine πŸ™‚

Get Healthy with Heather March 11, 2012 - 4:50 am

Hey, lifting to look better is a good reason! I can’t say it’s not one of mine πŸ˜‰


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