How many sets should I perform for muscle growth?

How many sets should I perform for muscle growth?

Let’s assume that you want to grow muscles. How many sets should you do to grow them? There is a lot of information out there, so we want to make it practical and easy for you. It doesn’t always have to be complicated.

Training level vs fitness level

In order to find out how many sets per muscle group per week you should perform, we first need to know your training level. Your training level is not the same as your fitness level. You could for example be reasonably fit without ever seeing a gym from the inside. In this case you are a beginner with training but your actual fitness level might be better.

You have a few categories when it comes to training levels:

  • Beginner
  • Semi-Advanced
  • Advanced


Beginner - How many sets should you do?

You are just starting out and don’t know much about training, technique and programming. You might really feel like a beginner as well. It could be that the gym is not a very comfortable space for you yet, but rather one that you ‘have’ to go to. Don’t worry, this will fade!

You can be a beginner for quite some time. This all depends on how frequently you train, how fast you learn and pick up things. If you start from nothing but are consistent for 5  months, completely dive into the subject of fitness, you might be slowly moving towards a semi-advanced level. 

However, most people overestimate their training level, thinking they are semi-advanced when they are actually still a beginner. There is a lot to learn. If you are not sure we recommend taking it a step slower. You can always add more sets per muscle group if it feels good.

As a beginner you are looking for ~10 sets per muscle group, per week. You could for example make it one leg day, or divide the sets over multiple full body workouts.


Semi-Advanced - How many sets should you do?

You are not a beginner anymore, you understand technique, are comfortable with a great range of exercises and have built up quite some experience in the gym. You understand the importance of recovery and are learning more about training principles and how to apply them in your own training. This training level is probably the one that you will stay in for a very long time, maybe even your entire life after leaving the beginner stage.

If you are semi-advanced you can target 15-20 sets per muscle group per week. Maybe a split program would be great for you. Again, if you are not sure you are semi-advanced or can handle this amount of sets per muscle group, start on the lower end with 15 sets. In general, the intensity of isolation work is lower than compound movements.


Advanced - How many sets should you do?

If you are here, you are taking it more seriously than the average member of a gym. You know a lot about training techniques, know how to create a great program, understand and apply more advanced training principles and use recovery to your advantage.

Ideally, these will be the people that are training other people or absolute fitness fanatics with a lot of training experience. Not a lot of people arrive in the advanced section. Not to discourage you, but we often overestimate our own performance.

You don’t just arrive here, you literally have to work for it. If you’re hanging out here you can target 20-30 sets per muscle group per week. Also here, your compound work will be significantly heavier than isolation work.


Recovery for optimal muscle growth

Another thing to understand is that all of this information could be ignored if your recovery is not on point. If your body (and mind) is not recovering you might not be able to perform the sets you want or need to perform. This will show itself as fatigue during training or bad recovery after training. Other ways it might show up is mental fatigue, not wanting to train, not hitting your normal weights, not improving etc.

A tip to see if you are recovering enough is to track your progress. Write down the weights you’re using. You could even track your hours of sleep, steps, stress level etc. 

So, to perform the amount of sets mentioned above your recovery needs to be on point. Otherwise, focus first on recovery and after that you can worry about the amount of sets with the right intensity.


Key points - How many sets should you do for muscle growth?
  • We often overestimate our own performance and training level in the gym.

  • You are not just a beginner the first week but it is more like ‘months’.

  • Most people hang out at the semi-advanced level.

  • Beginners can try 10 sets per muscle group per week.

  • Semi-advanced can try 15-20 sets per muscle group per week.

  • Advanced can try 20-30 sets per muscle group per week.

  • In general, the intensity of your compound movements will be more intense than your isolation work.

  • Recovery is key to a good performance in the gym.

  • If you are not hitting sets/weights at the gym, worry about improving your recovery game first.

  • Track different markers to see where you are off track.


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