How Many Sets Per Workout? (Training Volume Guide)

Here’s how many sets per workout you should do for optimal muscle growth (emphasis: we’re talking about maximizing hypertrophy, not strength).

How Many Sets Per Workout? (Training Volume Guide)

Strength training can be very confusing. 

For any 1 muscle group, there are all kinds of exercises (e.g., free weights, machine, and cable) you could do. 

And you’d think things would get easier once you’ve got a specific exercise in mind … but no. Because you’ve yet another head-scratching-worthy question: “How many reps and sets should I do?” 

Is the more, the better? Or what? 

Here’s some much-needed guidance on the number of reps and sets you should do for optimal muscle growth (emphasis: we’re talking about maximizing hypertrophy, not strength).

What are reps and sets?

Let’s first get our definitions in order:

Reps (i.e. repetitions): Defines 1 complete motion of an exercise.
Sets: A group of consecutive repetitions without stopping.

Now, think about what it means when someone says they did 2 sets of 12 barbell back squats. How many reps did they do in total?

That’s right, 2*12 = 24 reps in total.

A disclaimer: you don’t need to do the same number of reps across sets. E.g., you can do 15 reps in sets 1 and 2, then 13 reps in your final set. We’ll cover this in more detail in a bit but for now …

How many sets per workout?

Um. Why are we talking about sets first instead of reps when the question on hand is, “How many reps and sets should I do?”

Well, that’s because research shows a clear dose-dependent relationship between the number of sets per muscle group weekly and its resulting muscle growth (i.e., more sets = more growth) — up to a point

On the other hand, things aren’t quite as cut-and-dried with the number of reps.

So it just makes sense to leave that to later. 

How many sets per muscle group per week?

OK. Back to “up to a point”; how many sets is that, exactly?

According to a 2022 systematic review published in the Journal of Human Kinetics that compared between:

  • < 12 sets
  • 12 to 20 sets
  • > 20 sets

… per muscle group weekly, the researchers found that while 12 to 20 sets and > 20 sets weekly led to more growth than < 12 sets weekly, there wasn’t any significant difference between the first 2. 


Just 12 to 20 sets per muscle group weekly would likely be enough to maximize your gains. 

Beginners may benefit from sticking to the lower end of the range (e.g., 12 to 14 sets weekly), while more advanced lifters may need to strive for the higher end of things (e.g., 18 to 20 sets weekly). 

How many sets per muscle group per workout?

Wait, but that’s the number of sets weekly

What about per workout? This depends on your training frequency (i.e., how many times you work out weekly). So, you’re going to have to do your own math here.

FYI, most people would see the most growth in a particular muscle group by hitting it 2 to 3 times weekly.

Given that, a training frequency of:

  • 2 times per week = 6 to 10 sets per workout 
  • 3 times per week = 4 to 7 sets per workout

How many reps should I do?

Research has found that, regardless of the number of reps you do, you’d see similar muscle growth as long as:

Training volume (i.e., how many sets per muscle group) is equated
You’re training close to failure
You’re using a weight that’s at least 30% of your 1 rep-max (RM), i.e., it’s sufficiently challenging


Does this mean you have absolute free rein over your rep range? 1 or 100 — it’s all up to you? Not so fast. 

Think about what happens when you go to extremes:

  • Low rep range (1 to 4): To go close to failure, you’ll need to use extremely heavy weights. While there’s nothing wrong with that per se, you do have to grapple with increased risks of injuries, plus physical and mental fatigue. 
  • High rep range (> 30): Each rep takes time. Doing more than 30 reps per set per muscle group is going to drag out your workout session. Worse still, research shows going past 30 reps actually hurts muscle growth. 
This is why, in general, most people stick with a rep range of 6 to 20. 

It maximizes hypertrophy without the need for excessively heavy weights and/or taking hours just to complete a workout session.

How many reps and sets should I do: FAQs

What’s the minimum training volume for hypertrophy?

12 to 20 sets per muscle group weekly is likely to give you optimal growth. 

But what if you’re not necessarily looking for optimal — and would simply like some growth? (Maybe because you have time constraints, or it’s just not a muscle group you’d prioritize.)

Well, research suggests you’d be able to see some growth with just 2 to 3 sets per muscle group weekly. Just note that you’d still need to train close to failure and use a weight that’s at least 30% of your 1 RM.

When should I add more sets?

As mentioned earlier, beginners would generally do better sticking with the lower end of the 12 to 20 sets per muscle group weekly range. 

But with that said, how would you know when you’re ready to progress? 

Answer: when your current training volume fails to challenge you — e.g., you feel like you’re still far, far from failure during your last reps in your final set. 

That’s when you could consider adding more sets.

However, you might find it easier to progressive overload instead by increasing your weight or reps first, such as:

  • Weight: From 60 kg to 70 kg on the Romanian deadlifts (RDL)
  • Reps: From 3 sets of 12 reps to 3 sets of 15 reps on the barbell hip thrusts

Speaking of …

Should I add weight or reps first?

This can really depend on the specific exercise and muscle group worked. 

For small muscle groups like the shoulders, even a small increase in weight on the dumbbell lateral raise can make the movement exponentially more challenging. 

In such cases, you’d do better by increasing the number of reps first. 

On the other hand, large muscle groups (e.g., glutes and lats) typically tolerate increases in weight much better.

Regardless of whether you add weight or reps first, ensure you’re truly progressing as you think you are; you can do that by comparing the training volume before and after. 

Here’s an example:

  • Before: 3 sets of 12 reps at 90 kg on RDL; 3*12*90 = 3,240 kg.
  • After: 3 sets of 10 reps at 100 kg on RDL; 3*10*100 = 3,000 kg.

Here, you’re actually doing less than before, even though you went up in weight.

How do I know if my volume is too high or low?

If you’re not feeling challenged by your workouts and/or you’re not seeing results, your volume is likely too low. 

On the flip side, if you’re struggling to recover between sessions, your volume is likely too high.

You’d have to make an honest assessment based on your workouts, results, and how you feel. And there’s only one way to be sure of your assessment: experiment with it yourself!