How Many Sets per Workout to Build Muscle?

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When it comes to building muscle, one of the most common questions that beginners and even seasoned lifters have is, “How many sets per workout should I do?” It’s a valid question, as the number of sets can have a significant impact on muscle growth and recovery. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some general guidelines that can help you determine how many sets to do per workout based on your individual goals, fitness level, and training program. In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between the set volume and muscle growth, as well as provide practical recommendations for how many sets per workout you should aim for to optimize muscle growth.

Training volume

There is a lot of controversion on how many sets should you do to experience maximal muscle mass and strength gains. Coaches argue, athletes don’t know what to do, there are multiple philosophies being preached and in the end, we come to a conclusion that everybody is individual but there is some sort of a sweet range that works for most.

How to plan muscle volume for muscle growth?

Planning your muscle volume for optimal growth is crucial if you wanna be the biggest and baddest in the gym. It’s not just about lifting heavy weights, but also about doing the right amount of sets and reps to stimulate muscle growth.

First things first, it’s important to understand that muscle growth occurs when you overload your muscles with enough volume to stimulate adaptation. This means that you need to do enough sets and reps to create enough stress on your muscles to cause them to grow bigger and stronger. But how much volume is enough? Well, it depends on a variety of factors, including your training experience, genetics, and recovery capacity – there are also other factors such as workout density and muscular fatigue (how exhausted are the working muscle groups after the session) that play a major contribution and can often be more important than other basic factors often cited in the internet articles.

When planning your muscle volume, it’s important to focus on progressive overload – this means gradually increasing the weight, reps, or sets over time to continue stimulating muscle growth. You can also vary your volume by doing different rep ranges, such as higher reps for endurance and lower reps for strength. And don’t forget to incorporate rest and recovery into your plan, as this is crucial for allowing your muscles to grow and adapt to the stress of training.

How many sets and reps to build muscle?

Upon going through tonnes of scientific research, I have discovered that all these measurements are in fact a way of calculating one certain factor and they are meant to help us, not to distract us. As some sacrifice countless hours and stay awake at night just to reach another research paper, I prefer to do things the easy way. My philosophy is pretty similar to what Josh Bryant and Stan Efferding have taught me. The one most important thing about calculating the optimal training volume is in fact how big of a growth stimulus have you given to your muscles during a session.

First of all, do your muscle really know how many sets did you do? I don’t think so. Calculating overall volume can be a nuisance, especially if you’re trying to distinguish warm-up sets from working sets and somehow calculate the total effective volume. There are many ways to do so but I don’t believe that any of them is really optimal nor applicable in all of the cases.

In my opinion, what’s important here is to determine how much have you tired your muscles out not and how many reps or sets did you do, how fast was the bar moving or how many reps from failure are you shy of.

The tricky part is that how can you measure that? Well, I measure it by feel. If you think of it in more detail, all the measurements such as bar speed drop, total reps etc. are to help you calculate the stress you placed upon your muscle tissue. If you develop a strong mind-muscle connection, you should be aware of what happens inside of your muscle cells and tell if the stimulus you gave them was great enough to stress them out so much that it would induce a hypertrophic response. By doing so, you stop becoming so reliant on external factors and mathematical calculations. It is a simplified version of determining if your body has had enough or not.

How many sets for hypertrophy?

Well, if we both agree that it’s all about giving the muscle tissue big enough of a stimulus, then we can come to the conclusion that the number of sets doesn’t really matter that much as it would depend on how heavy each of the sets is. For instance, if you were to perform 10 sets of 3 reps at 8rm, that would usually be pretty demanding. If you were to go for 3 sets of 8, 7, and 6 repetitions at 8rm, that would also be pretty demanding. That gives us 3 sets vs 8, both being acceptable stressors that would induce a hypertrophic response as the muscle tissue got tired at the end of the protocol.

Now, can a single set be a big enough stimulus to trigger the process of morphological adaptions?

Imagine that you can exhaust the working muscle group with just a single working set. If you paid attention to old school bodybuilding and powerlifting training routines, you probably came across the training methods of Dorian Yates, Tom Platz or Jon Blakely. If you haven’t, then I would advise you to research them. These adepts were able to take a single set so far that they have been reaching multiple task failure in a single set. If you have the mindset to do so, you can come up with your own way of achieving that and bear in mind that it can be achieved via many means. Regardless of the methods you want to utilise, the outcome will be to achieve complete failure or at least get close to it in a single working set.

In a nutshell, you want to be unable to move your limb even for an inch further.

If you put all this information together, you can easily find that what you need to do to force your muscles to grow is to make the largest muscle fibres unable to produce force at a reasonable level for any longer. You want to stress them out so much that you can’t carry on continuing the activity and this will be a stressor big enough for them to require them to adapt to the environment and grow bigger and stronger. It doesn’t matter if you achieve that via a single set or multiple sets as in the end it only matters if the session was stressful enough to force your body to adapt. Be aware though, that if you choose to do so via a multiple-set routine, you can usually expect to develop more technical proficiency and more work capacity along with strength endurance and if you choose to do so via the single-set method with heavier weight, you can expect more strength gains.

Conclusion: Just get your muscles fatigued

While there is no single and coherent answer to the question of how many sets per workout you should do for optimal muscle growth, the most important thing is to get your muscles fatigued. This means that you need to do enough sets and reps to create enough stress on your muscles to cause them to grow bigger and stronger.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, it’s important to focus on progressive overload and to vary your volume over time to continue stimulating muscle growth. This can include increasing weight, reps, or sets, as well as doing different rep ranges and exercises.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be consistent with your training and to listen to your body. If you’re not seeing the gains you want, it may be time to adjust your volume or training program to better suit your needs and goals.

So, don’t get too caught up in the numbers – just get your muscles fatigued and keep pushing yourself to new heights. With hard work, dedication, and the right mindset, you can achieve the muscle growth and strength gains you’re after.

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