Sets and reps – getting the best out of them

Traditional thoughts on sets and reps says do 3 sets of 10 or 4 sets of 6 but there are more interesting ways to think about how to get the volume in your training that you need.

Typically you will see 3×10 or 4×8 for your sets and rep schemes, but there are occasions where you don’t hit the required number or the jump to the next load is too big, so what can you do?

I usually use rep ranges to allow for some growth and increased volume at one load before increasing the load and building a little more strength.

For example:

DB press 3 x 8-12 reps. Say you start at 20kg and can get 3 sets of 8 reps but thats about the limit. Great, you are in the range required but there is room for improvement. Next time you hit 10, 8, 8. A 2 rep improvement, the next week you go for 12, 10, 8, another 4 rep improvement (6 reps up on the first week). So on until you hit 3 sets of 12 and its time to up the load and the process repeats giving you gradual increases every week.

If the first 2 sets fly up easy, then you increase the load for the a=last set and see where you are with it, but if you don’t hit the minimum number in the first set then you need to drop the load a little and build up.


The same idea works for strength sets where you are working for much lower reps but at higher loads. I really like 5 x 5 but sometimes, you won;t hit 5 full sets of 5 reps, but if you hit 5,4,4,3,3 on your working sets then next time you shoot for say, 5,5,5,4,4 and you have an increase in total volume and you’re that little bit stronger. Progress again.


The other way to think about your reps is by looking at total reps done, for example you have 3 sets of 12 to do, thats 36 total reps, but you may not be able to get 3 sets of 12 reps out at the required load. So break it down into smaller pieces, each no bigger than 12 but as small as needed to get the reps done. For example you may get 12, 12, 8, 4. That’s 36 total reps. Once you get to 3x 12 then up the load and go again.

There are rules with this one though,

1 – there has to be an upper limit on each set, usually around 12, 10 or 8 for your mid rep sets and total volume would be 30-40 reps typically

2 – the upper limit for strength should be 6 with a total volume of around 10 (5×2) to 25 (5×5)

3 – rest times need to be appropriate. sets should be as quick as possible with enough time for adequate rest. Strength sets need around 2-3 mins max and the rest should be around a minutes rest.


Any questions on this or any topic, just get in touch!

Stay strong



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