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How Many Reps & Sets for a Beginner?

July 16 2008

How many repetitions or reps and sets should I do is one of the most common questions beginners have. And as always, the common answers are usually confusing. By the end of this article, you will learn the optimum number of sets and reps you should be doing as a beginner.

How many reps for a Beginner?

General rep recommendation? Beginners are always advised to start with 8 -12 repetitions or reps. Mainly because the weight is light and this reps range is best for muscle growth.

recommendations for reps for beginners

Why are 8-12 reps NOT ideal for beginners? Learning proper technique becomes critical for a beginner.  Beginners should be more concerned about perfecting their form than worrying about muscle growth and strength.

  • Too much burn:  The 8-12 repetition range increases the lactic acid accumulation and brings the “burn”. The more the burn, the harder it is to focus on proper form, especially for beginners.
  • Long set: An 8-12 repetition is a long set. The longer the set, the easier it is to loose your focus (and your form) The only benefit of using an 8-12 reps range is that it gives your lots of practice (of course with bad form).

Ideal rep range for beginners? So the best range for beginners would be 6 - 8 reps.

This will minimize the burn, keep the set short and will also give you enough practice with the movement.

What the heck is a rep range? A rep range (like, 6-8 reps) will give you an objective measure of when to go up the weights compared to single reps number (like, 6 reps/repetition).

For instance, you start with 45 lb for 2 sets of 6 reps. Now keep using the same weight for your workouts until you can do 2 sets of 8 reps. Now you know that your strength has gone up and you should use a heavier weight.

How many sets for a beginner?

Compared to reps, the question of number of sets seems to be more complicated. Some say one set is best while others say more sets are better.

Luckily, for beginners, both research and anecdotal evidence have shown 1-2 sets are all that is required.

Things to remember about sets & reps

  • Don’t go to failure on these sets. This will ruin your form and defeat the whole purpose. You do not have to go to failure on your sets for your muscles to grow.
  • Though they say certain repetition/rep ranges are better for muscle and for strength, there is very little evidence to support this. You can do 6-8 reps and still grow some big muscles.

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Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Fri February 13, 2009  

I have to tell you that you are really challenging the way I think. But, that’s a good thing. I do have a follow up question that may be fit for another article and that is: is their a difference between the sexes? Should I train my female clients with a different set/rep range than I do the men?

Anoop | Sun February 15, 2009  

Hi Jim

Good to hear that I am making you think. That’s active learning and that’s great!

Good question. Honestly, I haven’t thought much about it. Generally, compared to males, females are Type 1 fiber dominant. But I don’t think this really changes the workout programming. Whether Type 1 or Type 2, they will only grow if you overload them. There is some talk about higher reps being better for type 1 fibers. But I am not really sure.

I stay on the lower side for number of sets though because of obvious recovery issues in women.

What are your thoughts?

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Sun February 15, 2009  

Thanks Anoop,
Well, I have two thoughts at this point. The first is simply that the majority of my female clients fear low reps and are afraid of gaining “too much” muscle”, so I have to break their stereo types.

The second, is that in the one female client I have been using the 6-8 rep range has been making great results in strength and “tone” as they prefer it to be called. So, at this point I think I will slowly bring the rest of the ladies reps down for compound moves anyway.

Sarai | Wed November 11, 2009  

I with you agree. In it something is. Now all became clear, I thank for the help and I hope to see more such articles.

pattybirk | Sat February 06, 2010  

Hi Anoop -

I just attended a an internet class on Designing an Exercise Program (on WizIQ) by Ken Baldwin (ACSM writer Personal Training manual and ACSM educator). He said the following:
Cardio - For long Term success - It is best to have your (beginning)clients use a treadmill (or walk outside)30 min 5-6 days a week at a moderate to high intensity level. He said no need to do more. 60%-90% intensity.

Strength - Work every major muscle group (4-5 set)  1-2 sets at 15-20 reps and 3-5 sets @ 10-15. 

Also - he taught Specificity/overload/progression and Intensity/volume/Duration and Frequency. All the basics.

I was a bit surprised by his program design
ACSM guidelines. UGH!  One more thing - Do you have an example of a client program design that you use to train you new client? PAtty

Anoop | Wed February 17, 2010  

“Cardio - For long Term success - It is best to have your (beginning)clients use a treadmill (or walk outside)30 min 5-6 days a week at a moderate to high intensity level. He said no need to do more. 60%-90% intensity.”

I would recommend the same.

“Strength - Work every major muscle group (4-5 set)  1-2 sets at 15-20 reps and 3-5 sets @ 10-15.  “

Not sure why he so caught up with this high rep range. The rep range really depends on the level of trainee and the goal type.

I don’t have a template right now. but I just do a linear periodization, couple of exercises for pull, push, hips & knees, and core. Nothing too ground breaking. That’s a basic template.

And I change a dew things depending on the clients goals and what might be best for the client

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