One of the most common training questions is “How many sets and reps should I do?” The answer starts with the rep range. The rule of thumb for reps is 4-5 reps to get stronger, 8-12 reps to build muscle, and 15-20 reps for endurance. The more detailed answer is that reaching your fitness goal depends on a variety of factors including exercise frequency, diet, fitness level, and the amount of weight used. How you use these three rep ranges throughout the year is also crucial. This concept is known as periodization of training.
Periodization is the logical and systematic sequence of training styles used to achieve peak performance at any given point in time. For example, let̵
Here you can find out how to put together your comprehensive sports training plan.
Plan your year of training
Divide the year into four periods: low season, preseason, season and postseason. During these times, switch your workouts in order to be at your best during the season. This means that you are actually participating in a sport (e.g., bodybuilding, CrossFit, obstacle racing, running) or just in the form of a fitness model.
Phase 1: off-season
This phase is further divided into two periods: hypertrophy, or muscle building and strength.
Hypertrophy, 1 month: Use 50-75 percent of your max value for one rep (1 rpm) for 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps. If you’re more of an endurance athlete, focus on 15 to 20 repetitions for 50 to 60 percent of your 1RM. Bodybuilders and strength athletes should aim for 8-12 reps of 65-75 percent of their 1RM. The goal here is to increase muscle mass and / or improve muscle endurance so that you can switch between hypertrophy and endurance training from week to week, day to day or even within a workout. Someone who wants to get the best of both worlds would vary the weights at this stage.
Strength, 1 month: The unique goal here is to increase the strength of the muscles that are involved in your sport. The squat, overhead press, deadlift, and bench press are great exercises. Use 80-95 percent of your 1RM for 2-6 sets of 2-6 reps for these compound lifts, followed by hypertrophy work in the range of 6-8 reps.
Phase 2: preseason
The preseason, which lasts 3-5 months, is even more focused on strength and strength. You’ll be using the muscle you’ve built to get more strength gains while doing plyometric exercises to work on strength. You should definitely include a “Deload Week” at the end of each month, or perhaps every eight weeks, when you’re doing fewer reps, fewer sets and using lighter weights. Try 85-95 percent of your 1RM for 2-5 sets of 2-5 reps in the compound barbell exercises listed above.
Integrate strength exercises such as box jumps, jump jumps, side jumps and power jumps in the preseason. Use 30-70 percent of your 1RM for weighted strength moves such as barbell withdrawals, barbell power cleans, and Smith machine bench presses.
After the preseason, you should approach your maximum strength, power and speed.
Phase 3: In the season
This competitive period lasts for months for team sports such as soccer, basketball and volleyball, but for a bodybuilder or powerlifter a real climax occurs over a period of 1-2 weeks. Bodybuilders and power lifters generally decrease the load they lift and the frequency of exercise over time. For example, a powerlifter can do 1-3 repetitions for 1-2 weeks, with the weight varying between 50 and 90 percent of its 1 RPM depending on the day of the week and feeling. Bodybuilders will find the perfect balance between getting enough cardio and lifting enough to hold a pump in the weeks leading up to a competition. Diet is of the utmost importance.
Team sports have a maintenance approach where weights, sets, and reps are varied within workouts, between workouts, and from week to week to allow for proper recovery from games and exercises. Try 75-85 percent of your 1RM for 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps.
Phase 4: postseason
This phase lasts about a month and is used to recover from injuries and generally relax. It’s time for group fitness classes, practicing new exercises, intramural sports, vacations, and trying out new hobbies. Don’t use loads that are greater than 90 percent of your 1RM as they will be heavy lifting again in the off-season. When your free month is up, repeat the schedule, starting with the off-season.
About frequency and volume
Volume is the number of repetitions multiplied by the number of sets. Relative volume (RV) is the number of sets multiplied by the repetitions multiplied by the intensity. According to a 2016 study, it’s relative volume, not sets or reps, that is responsible for fitness results. Participants trained low or high repetitions three times a week for six weeks, but the load varied with each workout as follows:
Low rep group
- Day 1: 8 sets of 6 reps at 75% of 1 RPM = 36 RV
- Day 2: 9 sets of 4 reps at 80% of 1 RPM = 28.8 RV
- Day 3: 10 sets of 2 reps at 85% of 1 RPM = 17 RV
Total Weekly Relative Volume = 81.8
High rep group
- Day 1: 4 sets of 12 reps at 60% of 1 RPM = 28.8 RV
- Day 2: 4 sets of 10 reps at 65% of 1 RPM = 26.5 RV
- Day 3: 5 sets of 8 reps at 70% of 1 RPM = 28 RV
Weekly relative total volume = 82. 8
Both groups had similar gains in muscle size, strength, and endurance, suggesting that the rep volume per workout isn’t as important as the combination of exercise, repetitions, and weight. This is just a small study, but overall it can be beneficial to vary your weight, sets, and repetitions with each workout to guess your body.
- Klemp, A. et al. (2016). Equal volume daily wavy programming strategies with high and low repetition result in similar hypertrophy and strength adjustments. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism41 (7): 699-705.