How Many Sets?

The question I hear the most from gym-goers is ‘how many sets are enough to build muscle?’ Typically you’ll her the answer being 3-4 sets. There are a few that will say less, and a few that will say more is needed.

I want to give you my take on how many sets are necessary to stimulate muscle growth, but first let’s break down all of the theories. You have a group of bodybuilders that believe in higher volume and you also have some that stand by doing minimal sets. It’s hard to know the answer when you have the best physiques in the world with contradicting training philosophies.

3-4 Sets: Typical Bodybuilding Workout

Pick up any bodybuilding or weight lifting magazine and you’ll see that 3-4 sets seems to be the typical number of how many sets are needed for muscle growth. Why? Simple put, because it works. It’s enough to pump the muscle full of blood and also allows you the ability to work up to a heavy set to where you can exhaust the muscle.

1-2 Working Sets: High Intensity Workout

There are many who feel only 112 working sets is enough to stimulate muscle growth. There’s a catch to this. These 2 sets must be done with extreme all-out intensity. One of my favorite bodybuilders from the past is Dorian Yates and he was a firm believer in only 2 working sets.

5 Sets: 5 X 5 Strength Training

This type of training requires a little more volume than the standard 3-4 sets. The idea behind 5 x 5 is building strength. This isn’t so much geared towards your physique or body composition. It’s a method used by powerlifters to lift more weight. Typically all of these sets are done with the same weight though some may go up a little each set. Though the intensity is high, the sets generally are not performed until complete muscle failure.

10 Sets: 10 x 10 German Volume Training

This type of workout is known as German Volume Training, or 10 x 10. This is an extremely high volume workout. Its purpose is to constantly pump the muscle full of blood. Your muscles will indeed get bigger from this type of training. However, you may sacrifice your strength if you do 10 x 10 workouts too long. These sets are done with about 60% of your max.

7 Sets: FST-7 Workout

With the FST-7 workout, you perform 7 sets for the last exercise of your workout. This style of training was developed by one of the famous bodybuilding trainers, Hany Rambod. The idea behind FST-7 is to stretch the muscle fascia. The 7 sets being at the end of your workout gives you the opportunity to lift heavier during the first part of your workout. It’s somewhat the best of both worlds for both building strength and enhancing your physique.

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How Many Sets is Enough?

The kicker is all of the above methods have been used for decades by the greatest bodybuilders and weight trainers in the world. You can have two people that are both huge and ripped using workout techniques that contradict one another. So what does this tell us? How many sets should you do?

In my book, the answer is two-fold. Try different training methods. However, don’t stay on one particular workout program for too long. For example, try the 5 x 5 workout for 4-6 weeks to boost your strength followed by 4-6 weeks of 2 working sets. After that, maybe try 4-6 weeks of the German Volume Training followed by 4-6 weeks of the FST-7 style workouts.

Train with Passion,


2 Comments on How Many Sets?

  1. Good informative post on a subject that is always full of debate. I love your blog anyway – full of good balanced training programs.
    The last 6 weeks of 2015 I have been doing 3×8 +1×15 schedule and I have been doing the 5×5 last month – now I am like you on the Dorian Yates program.
    Like 5×5 it is heavy but still quite different since you can go even heavier in 2 sets, but the drop set effect makes it even harder. A very good change. I often throw in a 3rd set though with little weights and high reps for final full pump but sometimes I am just done. I didn’t know 2 sets could be so hard!

    • Yes, I always warm up thoroughly, 2-3 sets on the first exercise. I may not do any warm up sets thereafter though, depending on the exercise. The drop set, especially after already going to failure, is tough!

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