Have you ever been at the gym and wondered how many repetitions and sets you should do to achieve your goal? Believe it or not, not all strength training is created equally. Everyone has different goals and there are different paths to get there. Maybe you just want to be in shape and feel strong. Or you really want to put on a solid amount of muscle. Those two goals are very different and their strength training routines will be as well.
Muscular Endurance. What are we trying to achieve with muscular endurance? We want to increase our endurance, but not necessarily just our cardiovascular endurance. It’s our muscles that we want to have stamina for a longer duration. During muscular endurance training, we can specifically target muscle groups and train them to perform at a sub-maximal level for many repetitions.
So in order to achieve muscular endurance, our repetition range should be above 12 for 2-3 sets per exercise. If you are doing a workout routine that has you doing an exercise for at least 30 seconds with some sort of resistance (i.e. dumbbells, resistance band, weighted ball, etc.), that is also considered muscular endurance. The load or amount of resistance you use should be no more than 70% of your 1 rep max. You probably won’t take the time to figure out what your 1 rep max is on each exercise, so choose a weight that is challenging for the last two reps of each set. If it’s not challenging enough, move the weight up and vice versa.
Hypertrophy: There is a lot of confusion when it comes to hypertrophy. The goal of hypertrophy is essentially to increase size. If a client comes to me and tells me they want to increase their muscle size, I would start them on a hypertrophy training program. Although you can build strength using the hypertrophy rep and set range, it’s not the main focus. Our focus is making the muscle bigger, not necessarily stronger. Many bodybuilders use this method of training depending on what style they choose to compete. If you are attempting to build muscle while still being lean, hypertrophy training is what you want to aim for.
The repetitions and sets for hypertrophy training is 6-12 repetitions and 3-6 sets per exercise. That seems like a wide range and there are many ways you can set up your workouts. The method that I’ve used the most with myself and my clients that I’ve found very effective is pyramid training. The amount of resistance is slowly increased through the sets as the number of repetitions decrease. For example, you would complete your 1st set with 12 reps, your 2nd set with 10 reps, your 3rd set with 8 reps, and your fourth set with 6 reps. The resistance you choose will slowly increase each set. Start with 75% of your 1 rep max and move up from there.
Muscular strength: This should be pretty self explanatory. Muscular strength training is designed to increase strength. This is not for those who are beginners when it comes to strength training. Typically those who follow this type of program are doing so for a sport or competition and to increase athletic performance. If you are a beginner, you should start with a muscular endurance or hypertrophy training program.
The amount of resistance used increase significantly and the repetitions should be less than 6 with 2-6 sets for each exercise. The amount of resistance should be 85% of your one rep max or more. You could also use the pyramid training method for strength as well. It’s important to not do more than 6 reps even if you feel as though your muscles could handle it. If you really want to increase your strength, you need to reserve the ATP in your muscles for when you get closer to your resistance goal.
So how do you figure out what your 1 rep max is? If you are beginner, you should not attempt to determine what your 1 rep max is. If you have been strength training for some time and understand proper form, then you can test your 1 rep max. There are many methods trainers have used to determine 1 rep max but the easiest way is to start at a moderate weight and slowly increase the weight until you can only perform one repetition. This should always be done with a spotter for safety.
Rest periods matter too. The amount of rest you take between sets changes based on what type of strength training you are doing. Your muscles need time to rest and prepare for the next set of weights they are going to lift. For muscular endurance, you need 30 seconds or less of rest time because you are using a low resistance. Hypertrophy training uses a somewhat higher resistance so the rest time increases to 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes. For muscular strength, you could take 2-5 rest periods in between sets. The amount of weight used is very high, so your muscles need more time to recover. Don’t underestimate the importance of rest time.
It is possible to do all three types of strength training in your workout routine. Hiring a qualified professional to guide through the right program for you saves you on the guesswork of reaching your goals. A certified trainer will be able to help you build a program that incorporates all three types of strength training in a safe, effective way.
Determine your strength training goal and based on that, you can choose weigh type of strength training to incorporate into you workout routines. The most important thing to remember is have fun and be safe!