How Many Sets Per Workout Is Best For Muscle Gains? 

October 6, 2020

By Troy Adashun


Today’s article is going to cover how many sets per workout is ideal for muscle building.

There are a lot of variables too consider, but I will make this brain dead simple for you to understand so you can start getting faster results in every workout and packing on slabs of muscle mass faster.

There is a huge misconception that you need to do a ton of sets to build muscle, and while training volume is important I would argue that training intensity is even more important!

Sets Per Workout Variable 1 | Weekly Training Volume

You can build muscle fast doing as few as 10 sets per workout if you follow the principles of the Balloon Method and train hard in all 10 sets!

Before we consider how many sets per workout is ideal for hypertrophy, we need to look at our goal weekly training volume.

In the article Training Volume - Ideal Sets Per Week To Build Muscle Fast I talk about the studies showing that more volume is better for muscle building up to 45 sets per week.

Does this mean that you should reverse engineer how to do 45 sets for each muscle group per week and reverse engineer how many sets per workout that is?

No, this is just to show you that if you have been doing 10 sets per week for the last 3 months and feel you have hit a muscle building plateau, you should increase this to say 15 sets per week. Make sense?

When I am figuring out how many sets per workout is ideal for my current goals, I always reverse engineer it based on how many total sets I want to do per muscle group for that week.

There are periods of time throughout the year where I like to focus on weak points. For example if my legs are a weakness, I’ll make sure that I do more total sets per week of quads and hamstrings, and then when I am setting up my workouts each week I’ll make sure I perform more sets each workout to increase my weekly training volume.

Sets Per Workout Variable 2 | Your Split

I do a lot of different workout splits throughout the year and they are all effective as long as you have enough training volume on every muscle over the course of a week. A good rule of thumb is 5-10 sets for each muscle per week!

How many sets per workout is also dependent on what kind of training split you are on.

There are a lot of great training splits such as performing a full body workout 3x per week, push,pull,legs split 1-2x per week, and even a bro split where you train each muscle group once per week can be good for certain goals.

If you are on a bro split for example and you want to perform 10 sets per week of each muscle group, you will be performing a good amount of sets in each workout to ensure you hit the goal training volume.

For example here is a bro split broken up by performing 10 sets for each muscle group a week. This would be a fairly aggressive muscle building split with 2 rest days and 5 training days. 

Bro Split hitting each muscle group 1x per week

Monday

Chest & Triceps

Total sets per workout

20 (10 chest & 10 triceps)

Tuesday

Back & Biceps

Total sets per workout

20 (10 back & 10 biceps)

Wednesday

Shoulders & Traps

Total sets per workout

20 (10 shoulders & 10 traps)

Thursday

Quads & Abs

Total sets per workout

20 (10 quads, 10 abs)

Friday

Hamstrings and Calves

Total sets per workout

20 (10 hamstrings, 10 calves)

Saturday & Sunday

Rest

Now let’s look at how the sets per workout change if you were going to do a push, pull, legs split and aim for 10 sets for each muscle group per week.

PPL Split hitting each muscle group 2x per week

Monday

Chest, Triceps, Delts (Push)

Total sets

15

Tuesday

Back, Biceps, Traps (Pull)

Total sets

15

Wednesday

Quads, hamstrings, Calves (Legs)

Total sets

15

Thursday

Rest

Friday

Chest, Triceps, Delts (Push)

Total sets

15

Saturday

Back, Biceps, Traps (Pull)

Total sets

15

Sunday

Quads, hamstrings, Calves (Legs)

Total sets

15

As you can see, by performing a PPL split you are performing 25% less total sets per workout but still end up with the same weekly training volume.

Sets Per Workout Variable 3 | Beginner vs Advanced

Don't worry if you are a beginner. I was 130 lbs. when i first started lifting and never thought I would be able to build my current physique. Patience and hard work!

Before you set up your training split and figure out how many sets you should do per workout, it’s also important to understand if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter and what your exact goal is.

If you are an advanced lifter that has been training for quite some time and hit a plateau, you will likely need to increase the number of sets you perform per workout to increase your hypertrophy.

Your body is an adaptation machine and this is why it’s so important to deload once every few months at the minimum and take a week off, and then come back increasing volume per week and per workout to see faster results.

If you are a beginner however you can likely see fast muscle building progress with the bare minimum - I’m talking 10 sets per workout or sometimes even less.

So with all this information, how many sets should you do per workout? Let’s dive into the next section and find out. 

So how many sets should you do per workout?

Let me keep things extremely easy for you. If you are a beginner in the gym and have less than 2 years experience - I recommend you do at the minimum 10 sets per workout and train at least 3x per week and hit every muscle group in your body with at least 5 sets minimum each week.

For example you would make sure that your training volume is spread apart in your workouts each week so you hit biceps, chest, quads, hamstrings, abs, back, traps, etc. at least 5 sets minimum, make sense?

You can of course train way more than this and it is completely up to you. Be smart and listen to your body. If you are always sore and not getting stronger after increasing how many sets you do per workout and per month it’s safe to say you need to cut it back.

Most of my workouts are between 15 to 20 sets per workout and I train 5-7x per week. This is a pretty standard amount for most intermediate and advanced lifters.

For example I will follow a push, pull, legs split for most of the year and I will perform between 15 and 20 total sets in each of those workouts.

Remember it’s more about quality over quantity tho, and you want to be sure you are training hard and taking most of your sets until failure.

That is why I recommend you follow the Balloon Method workouts to get more out of every workout in less time and maximize the 3 science backed ways you build muscle!

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