How Many Repetitions Should You Do In a Set?

Systemizing The Number Of Sets And Reps In Each Exercise.

Getting down to the most optimal number of sets for one exercise is a problem for most trainees. The modern training methods point the number of sets per exercise towards 3-4 sets. If we do a single set in an exercise, that would be more of a warm up, than something we can rely on to build the desired muscle mass.

If we do 10 sets in an exercise, however, that would lead to an exhaustion, especially for natural athletes, who rely mostly on weightlifting and food, rather than testosterone boosting supplements and performance enhancing drugs.

This is why, 3-4 sets per exercise allows us to have a warm up, as well as a couple of working sets that would provide us the muscle growth. It also gives us more room for other exercises that target the same muscle group.

This principle is mainly used when applying the “split principle”, that allows us to train muscle groups separately and not work on all of our muscles in the same day- something that had a huge effect upon the development of bodybuilding during the past 50 years.

During the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, the preparation for athletes competing in weightlifting, bodybuilding, wrestling was pretty much done the same way for everyone- there was no diversity in training, and mostly, they did full body workouts.

Luckily, on the internet, we can find pictures of those athletes to compare with the modern-day athletes, that have a big diversity in their training, that is specialized to their goal accordingly.

Classical Weider Training System For Beginners

Now, we will present to you the classical Weider training system for beginners and intermediates, which is done 3 times a week.

The classical Weider system is based on 10 exercises (the ones below are just an example), that engage all muscle groups. It is, a full body workout with one exercise per muscle group. The exercises are done in an antagonistic order.

What Are “Antagonistic Pairs”?

Antagonists are two muscle groups, that are located in the same joint but have opposite functions- flexors and extensors.

Antagonistic pairs- Chest & back, biceps & triceps, quadriceps & hamstrings, spinal erectors & abdominal.
The order is as follows:

  1. chest
  2. Back
  3. Shoulders
  4. Biceps
  5. Triceps
  6. Quadriceps
  7. Hamstrings
  8. Calves
  9. Spinal erectors
  10. Abdominal

Last two are optional, but highly recommended, especially for females, due to the fact that naturally, their spinal erectors are not as strong, which can lead to injury, that is why it is important to strengthen the spinal erectors and the CORE in the very beginning of the training cycle.
Sample routine:

  1. Flat dumbbell bench press
  2. Lat pull-downs
  3. Dumbbell shoulder press
  4. Straight barbell curls
  5. Triceps rope extensions
  6. Leg extensions
  7. Hamstring curls
  8. Standing calf raises
  9. Lower back hyper-extensions
  10. Knee raises

This method of training is very simple. The exercises are done consequently in 2 working sets. In order for the body to be prepared for the working sets, we use a pyramid method for the first two exercises.

The pyramid goes from higher reps with lower weight, to lower reps with higher weight. Weights for the working sets should be picked accordingly and the extreme amounts of intensity must not be reached.

Set 1- 15 reps (Warm up)

Set 2- 10 reps (Warm up)

Set 3- 6 reps (working set 1)

Rest for 2 minutes

Set 4- Until failure, maximum effort (This is our second and last working set)

After that we move on to the next exercise, with no rest whatsoever.

After the first two upper body exercises done in pyramid fashion, we do two sets for every other exercise for the upper body – One with 6 reps and the second until failure.

When we move on to the sixth exercise, that involves the legs, we do the same pyramid, in order to warm up the legs and prepare them for the heavy loads.

This simple-looking workout routine combines the simplicity of the 3-week beginner’s routine and grants us recovery and hyper recovery of the muscles and highlights the stress upon the muscle, brought by the 10 sets until failure that we have.

The warm up sets prior to the set until failure have an indirect contribution to the end result.

The other positive side to this workout routine is that it offers an antagonistic order of the exercises which allows us to complete the cycle in not more than 40-50 minutes.

As we already mentioned, this training routine is best suited to beginners and intermediates, but also for trainees with years of experience that can not find time, and probably never will, for a split-based routine.

Again, we have to point out that the extreme amounts of intensity MUST NOT be reached.

The more advanced trainees should focus on a split system. The split principle has no substitute according to the modern training methods, however, when they stall on their current split routine, they can use this basic Weider system, as a way of applying different stress to achieve a de-adapting effect.

When it comes to the number of reps in each set during our main muscle building period (off season), we can split that period into 3 parts:

1- About 25% of that period, we use 70-75% of 1rm as our working weight for 10-12 repetitions.

2- About 45% of that period, we use 80-85% as our working weight for 5-8 repetitions.

3- About 30% of that period, we use 70-80% for 8-10 repetitions per set.

For the lower body, the intensity is reduced to about 55-65% of 1RM, with the repetitions being 60-70% higher (12-15). This method of cycling throughout your main muscle building period is directly pointed at getting over the negative adaptation.

When the goal is building the maximum amount of muscle mass, part 2 is the most optimal one to use. However, if the transition period was done intelligently, part 3 is the most favorable, without the need to involve the extreme bodybuilding methods (80-85%).

Even more, using 70-75% allows the trainees to constantly improve on their progress in the gym, strength and hypertrophy wise, using part 1 as a transition to higher intensity.

This approach to training also prevents us from injuries.

Gradually, the hypertrophy benefits of part 1 run out, which logically requires an increase in intensity, applied with the most powerful building methods and principles we use during part 2.

The fairly long duration of this period and the sharp stress interventions, combined with proper recovery, allow the individual to reach the limits of his/her natural genetic potential for the current stage of their physical development.

During part 3, the repetitions go up, as the intensity goes down slightly.

All of this allows us to focus on the specific exercise and physique details, rather than fighting with the big weight.

As a conclusion, we can say that such approach to training, besides creating a “methodical shield” from injuries and negative adaptation, creates stimulus for hypertrophy and muscle shaping and grants us a smooth transition period.

Inter-Connections Between Systemizing The Number Of Sets And Other Principles And Methods.

Besides the connection between this principle and the principle of progressive overload, it is connected to the principles of priority, split, quality and more or less every other principle.

For example, increasing the number of sets, can be successfully applied when we start attacking a lacking muscle group (priority principle).

In order to be able to do that though, we have to directly connect it to the split principle, because the priority principle can not be applied using a full body workout routine.

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