Best Muscle Building Sets And Reps


Build Muscle Fast

Best Muscle Building Sets and Reps

Your in the gym because you want to get big, strong, and gain muscle as fast as possible. This will only happen if you get everything right, like:

  • choosing the right exercises
  • paying attention to your nutrition
  • getting enough rest
  • following a plan

(There’s an overview of them basics to building muscle in the beginners guide to building muscle.)

Today I’m only going to cover one of the key elements to building a ripped muscular physique…

the best muscle building sets and reps.

There are plenty of different muscle building programs out there. Some are high rep like German Volume Training. Other mass building routines use less reps, like the 5×5 workout.  Of course there are the classic bodybuilding rep schemes may gym rats swear by… like, 4×10 and 3×12.

Open your favorite muscle building magazine or bodybuilding website and you’ll see the workout of the month or a celebrity inspired program like the Thor Workout Routine or Brad Pitt Fight Club Workout. While they’re meant to insure, they only add to the confusion. But today, in this article, you’ll discover the secret equation for the best sets and reps to build muscle.

Discover how to build muscle fast…

Like the passing down of family heirlooms, workouts get passed down from the old guy in the gym to up and coming gym rat.

These bodybuilding and workout routines are often based on Bro Science.  That’s to say, many of the programs people follow are used because that’s what Arnold did. Or that’s what the big guy in the gym does. There’s no real science behind the workouts or rep schemes.

best muscle building workout groupBack in the 60’s, anabolic steroids became more prevalent in bodybuilding and gyms around the country. Guys on gear were making incredible gains. They could recover faster and handle more volume.

This trickled down and influenced program design. As the pros increased their workload, so too did the average guy in the gym. By the time Arnold started training on Venice beach, high volume, bodypart splits were the considered the best way to get big and build muscle.

Eat big! Train big! That’s the only way.

None of this training was based on rational thinking or planning. It was a macho gym mentality that shaped the training. The doctrine was…

“it’s what the best guys are doing, and it’s what everyone else is doing.”

Forgotten were the days of the pioneers of modern bodybuilding. Guys like Paul Anderson and Steve Reeves, trained smarter. They built great physiques without the excessive amount of volume.

I know you have heard that “high volume training is needed to build muscle.” But why, what evidence is there?

Ronnie Coleman, Kai Greene, Phil Heath, none of those guys are having their programs analyzed by sports performance coaches or scientists. Who knows if their volume is the best. Or if less would be better.

In fact, many studies suggest that less is better. Or at the very least, just as good.

But keep in mind…

all the pros do steroids. On top of that, they’re the best of the best. So the volume of their workouts doesn’t apply to 99% of the population. It defiantly doesn’t apply to me.

Growth Hormone

Those that swear by high volume workouts talk about growth hormone secretions. They go on to say that high volume training supports the increase of elevated growth hormone production. This may be the case. But keep in mind that almost anything you do elevates GH. Sleep raises growth hormone levels. But what often gets left out is how little this increase in GH levels affects the muscle building process. So… the climb isn’t worth the view.

It’s All Science

Good muscle building, strength and conditioning methods need to be based on science. Bro Science can’t back up any of its claims. Sure your buddy may be able to give you a tip to fine tune or tweak your program. But that’s all trial and error mixed with a little luck.

We’re all a little different. Things like genetics, physical condition, age, nutrition, and supplementation, all come into play. But the underlying principles to building muscle fast are based in science. The basic muscular response to the stress of working out, doesn’t change all that much from person to person. In its most basic form, muscle growth, strength gains, and improvements in conditioning are the direct result of the body’s efforts to protect itself. Its a basic adaptation to the stress you place on it.

What makes muscles grow?

by Jeffrey Siegel

High Volume – Not For Drug Free Lifters

Now you may be thinking that the high volume multiple sets and reps produces makes sense. Increase the stress on the body. More stress equals more growth as the body repairs and grows to protect itself. Thus bigger muscles.

While there is some truth to this, it’s a huge mistake for the drug free lifter.

What happens is that you damage your body too much. You can’t repair quick enough. It’s like getting a cut. Give it time and it heals. But if you pick at it all the time it never heals.

When you do a ton of reps and sets your amino acid pool and glycogen stores drain faster . The lower they are, the longer your recovery time. Do this once in a while and you’ll be fine. But trains like that everyday and you’ll find it more and more difficult to have good workouts.

Less Is More

Follow the typical Bro split and you’ll be training one muscle group per day. There’s lots of volume. But each muscle group only gets hit once a week. Break that down and it’s 4 sessions a month or 52 in a year. That’s if there aren’t any missed days or weeks.

A better approach is to cut back on the sets and reps. Less volume means you recover faster. Your amino acid pool and glycogen stores aren’t depleted so you can train again sooner. Instead of training each muscle group once a week, you can train it 2 or 3 times a week.

In one year you can get 104, or 156 growth stimulating workouts instead of just 52. Miss a week here and there and you’re still well above the 52 sessions a bro split provides.


Sets And Reps For Your Major Lifts

Every workout has at least 2 types of lifts:

  1. majors
  2. accessory

The major lifts (majors) are your bread and butter exercises. They’re compound exercises that require a high structural demand and adaptation.

When talking about sets, reps, and volume, it’s the majors you need to pay attention to. It’s hard to overdo it on accessory exercises like band pull aparts and biceps curls.

Examples Of The Majors

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Shoulder Press
  • Bench Press

In the video below Dan John talks about rep ranges for building strength in the majors.

Dan John: Realistic Reps

As you can see from the video, reps and sets vary. But the volume is low. Just 10 reps. This is for the highly technical, full body lifts done for strength. Think your Olympic lifts and their variations done at 90% or greater of your 1RM.

Sets and reps for the Rule of 10

  • 10×1
  • 5×2
  • 3×3
  • 1×5, 1×3, 1×2

Dan doesn’t cover volume for the workout, but that’s low too. Hit your heavy major, do a few sets of assistance exercises and your done for the day.

Best Muscle Building Approach to Sets and Reps

When it comes to building muscle there are a few different approaches you can take.

Most guys can get away with just one set.

Yep! Just one.

I know this is hard to get a grasp of, and it just doesn’t feel like enough, so go with two. In the video above Dan says 15-25 reps is plenty. Below are a few different ways to hit the ideal set and reps for building muscle.

Rep Out and Back Off

  • First set… go heavy and hard. – Know you can do every rep. Do not attempt a rep if you aren’t 100% sure you can get it.
  • 2nd set… backoff set –  Slightly drop the weight, around 5 or 10%. Rep it out, but again KNOW that you can do every rep. You don’t want the help of a spotter.
  • Set #1 do 8-12reps. Set #2: 8-12 reps. This will give you anywhere from 16 – 24 reps. Perfect!

Warm Up and Rep Out

This method is popular and effective. A heavy warm up set can get you pumped and get your nervous system reved into high gear. This will then make your second set even more effective.

  • 1st set… Go heavy and hard but make sure you leave plenty in the tank. This is a challenging warm up set.
  • 2nd set… Add some weight, and push it to the max.  Just like the previous method do only as many reps as you know you can do. Spotter is there just for safety. He’s not there to help with the rep.
  • Set #1 do 10-12 reps. Set #2: 5-10 reps. This will give you anywhere from 15 – 22 reps.


Two Heavy Sets

Many workouts use this method. Do 2 tough sets. Keep the weight the same and push both sets to near failure.

  • Set #1 do 6-8 reps. Set #2: 6-10 reps. This will give you anywhere from 12 – 18 reps. The re[s may be lower. But the weight is heavier.


Exceptions To The Rule

With every rule there are exceptions. Below are the instances where you may mant to do more than 2 muscle building sets per exercise.

  • You’re a raw beginner. The extra sets aren’t difficult, they are just to practice.
  • If you’re going heavy. More than two sets is necessary. The volume will still be low. No more than 25 reps. For example, if you’re doing four sets of three with 315 the sets are greater than 2 but the reps are well below 25.

Wrap Up

Less is more.

For the drug free guy looking to build muscle you are better off doing fewer reps and sets each workout. This reduced volume will allow you to recover faster and increase the frequency of your workouts. You end up doing less day to day. But by the end of the year you’ve done more.

Only go all out on one set. You can try 2 tough sets but be aware that you may find it hard to recover from that second set.

Endless amounts of sets aren’t the answer, in fact that’s counterproductive to building muscle. This set and rep scheme applies to the major muscle groups and compound movements like the squat, bench press, shoulder press, etc…

Different body parts respond differently. Use different rep schemes on the smaller muscle groups. The workout you follow to get bigger arms will be a little different than what you would do to get a big chest. Each of these options work well when it comes to building muscle.  But we’re all a little different so experiment.

See what works best for you. But in the end, you’ll be better off with anyone of these plans than you would be if you followed the bro science and muscle magazines that have you doing mindless workout routines of 4-6 sets per exercise.

The goal is to stimulate, not annihilate the muscle.


There you have it, the… Best Muscle Building Sets