The number of sets and reps you do in a workout is called volume—and thinking of the volume on your stereo helps in understanding how much to use in the gym. If your training volume is too low, your body won’t adapt (you won’t be able to hear the music); if it’s too high, you risk overtraining (blowing the speakers). The following is our basic guide to sets and reps.
MUSCLE GAIN: Generally, a moderate number of sets and reps per exercise leads to the quickest gains in pure size. Using lower reps builds strength and increases the size of the proteins inside muscle fibers, while higher reps increases the fluid inside the muscle; for maximum size, you’ll need to take advantage of both adaptations. Generally speaking, 3–6 sets of 6–12 reps per exercise does the trick.
FAT LOSS:There are many ways to design a fat-loss program—the volume can be made high to burn lots of calories or low to maintain muscle mass while cutting calories from your diet—but the sets are usually four or fewer per exercise. In fact, you can even perform a circuit of several exercises with just one or two sets for
each. That way, you can train the whole body in a fast, time-e∞cient workout.
STRENGTH GAIN: Heavy weights means low reps. By keeping your reps low, you can often perform a large number of sets (which also increases size). However, with extreme loads, you won’t be able to recover from multiple sets, so a lower number is OK. Try 3–5 sets of five reps or fewer per exercise.