Hypertrophy Training Sets and Reps

In an earlier article we discussed the definition of hypertrophy and how strength, power, and fitness athletes can benefit from training for hypertrophy at specific phases of the annual training program. The goal of this article is to offer coaches and athletes a general outline for hypertrophy training programming and offer insight on the importance of moderating total training volume (sets x reps) to avoid over-training and allow for hypertrophy adaptations to take place.

What Are Reps and Sets?

When prescribing exercises, we have a few variables to consider. Among those variables are the total number of sets, reps (repetitions), intensity (how heavy the weight it relative to either to one-rep max or rate of perceived exertion), rest periods, exercise order, and frequency (how many times per week, typically).

Sets are the total number of complete rounds of repetitions someone would so in a workout. Repetitions make up one set, which rep ranges can go from 1 to, well, as high as your heart (and/or body) desires. For example, if you wanted your lifter to squat 100kg five times in a row, and do that 3 separate times with 90 seconds of rest in between each grouping of 5 squats, the squat prescription would be 3 sets of 5 reps at 100kg, with 90 seconds rest.

How Reps and Sets Can Impact Hypertrophy

When looking to increase muscle hypertrophy, science has shown that one of the most important factors for increasing the size of the individual muscle fibers (muscle hypertrophy) is overall training volume. Higher training volumes, to an extent, have been shown to increase hypertrophy, helping coaches and athletes build guidelines for exercise prescription. Note, that muscle tissue has also been shown to have a response to loading as well, which is why the below guidelines allow for an athlete to use moderate-heavy loads for moderate-higher repetition ranges done for moderate-higher sets.

General Sets and Reps Guidelines for Hypertrophy Training

The below guidelines are geared for the any individual looking to build general muscle hypertrophy with no specific sport-goal (other than have a solid foundation). There has been some research suggesting that more advanced strategies for hypertrophy may be better suited for more advanced strength, power, and fitness athletes, however most of this is theoretical. Nonetheless, the below guidelines are generally accepted as the basis for nearly every single beginner and intermediate  lifter, athlete, and sport. Note, that the below guidelines include a wide range of goals; power, strength, muscle hypertrophy (highlighted), and muscular endurance.

Training GoalTotal Working SetsRepetition RangesTraining Intensity (% of 1RM)
Maximal Strength/Power3-51-385-100
Functional Strength and Hypertrophy4-64-675-85
General Hypertrophy3-57-1065-75
Muscular Endurance2-411+<60

 

It is important to note that the total amount of sets is influenced greatly by training frequency. When looking at the effectiveness of a training program for building hypertrophy, we must look at the total volume across the entire week, month, or program. For example, when looking at increasing leg hypertrophy, total working sets (for most, drug-free lifters) across a week can range from 12-20 total working sets based on an athlete’s ability to recovery and/or level of fitness (more advanced athletes may not be able to handle as much loading due to moving more weight over time).

The above chart is assuming that the lifter has a baseline understanding of their 1RM of a compound lift (like the squat, deadlift, bench press, etc.). These guidelines can be manipulated (primary total sets per exercise) so that each muscle group can receive anywhere from 12-20 total working sets per week from a wide array of compound exercises. For example, when programming for leg development, you you have a lifter perform the back squat, front squat, and box squat each week (on separate days), for 5 sets of 8-10 repetitions. This would be a total of 15 working sets per week. Coaches would need to monitor training and recovery to see if this loading (15 total sets is too much volume) is too much to recover from over time.

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.