Sia Cooper
August 8, 2016
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How Many Reps, Sets, Rest and Weights?

Every workout has one thing in common: It has reps, sets, rest, and weight. Some workouts may differ from others in their acute variables (rest, set, reps, weight) and it can sometimes get a little confusing to understand WHY!

Well, there is a reason to doing a specific number of each and it all had to do with your goals!

Let’s talk about reps for a second. Reps or repetitions are the number of times you complete a movement. Doing many reps can help you build endurance while doing fewer reps can certainly boost muscle growth and strength.

When I took my NASM personal training course, they STRESSED each acute variable, but especially reps.

Here are the basic guidelines to how many reps you should do to get the desired results:

Endurance/Stabilization: 12-20 reps
Strength Endurance: 8-12
Hypertrophy: 6-12 reps
Power/Maximal Strength: 1-5 reps

Does this make sense?

Basically, if you want to gain endurance (times you can lift the weight without getting tired), burn farn, and aren’t too worried about putting on some muscle, then make sure your reps are higher.
On the flipside, if you don’t care about endurance as much and rather grow some muscle and really tone up that body, then do less reps.

Sets are the number of times you complete one round (or designated reps) of an exercise. The most common number of sets you will see are 3 sets in a workout.

Ideally, most people who do more reps tend to do less sets.
Opposite, most people who do less reps tend to do more sets.

Here are the general guidelines from NASM:

Endurance/Stabilization: 1-3 sets
Strength Endurance: 2-4 sets
Hypertrophy: 3-5 sets
Power/Maximal Strength: 4-6 sets

If you are new to working out, I would honestly suggest fewer sets and more reps since you need to get your body well-conditioned first and foremost. Build up that endurance and then proceed.

Rest plays a huge factor when it comes to working out. It can either help you or hinder your workout goals.

Rest interval between sets determines to what extent energy resources are replenished before next set.

Shorter rest intervals mean that less energy will be available for your next set of reps.

However, if rest periods are too long, potential effects include decreased neuromuscular activity and decreased body temp.

Here are the general guidelines from NASM:
Endurance/Stabilization: 0-90 seconds rest
Strength Endurance: 0-60 seconds rest
Hypertrophy: 0-60 seconds rest
Power/Maximal Strength: 3-5 minutes rest

You might be wondering, why so much rest when aiming for maximal strength? Well, when you are lifting a lot of weight in a short period of time, it really burns up what energy your body has stored to complete the movements. Simply meaning: it takes a LOT out of you.

Just like the endurance phase, but not as much. Classic endurance training (light-moderate weight, 15-20 reps) draws much of its energy from aerobic metabolism. This means your body burns carbs and fats in the presence of oxygen.

Basically, endurance training is aimed at making your muscles more resistant to fatigue. Without going into complicated details, a major cause of fatigue in endurance activities is lactic acid build-up. Regularly lifting weights in a 15-20RM makes your body more efficient at clearing lactic acid from the muscles by boosting your body’s hormonal and vascular systems

Something that is and will always be complicated to answer is, “How much weight should I do?”

As much as I like to say to lift what you are comfortable with and slowly graduate, you need to start off with BODYWEIGHT exercises FIRST.

Before ever trying to figure out how much weight you can lift, make sure you know how to do the movement, as flawless as possible, without any weight at all. If you can’t do the move with bodyweight, what makes you think you can do it WITH weights?

When it comes to weights, there are really no set guidelines for what weight you should be doing. Here are tips that I have personally used when I started weight training:
• When using dumbbells, start off with a 5lb dumbbell first. If you cannot do 5lbs, grab a 2lb. If the 5lb. dumbbell is too light for you, grab a 10lb. dumbbell and see how that feels. Still too light? Move up another 5lbs and see how that feels.
• When using a barbell, start with the bar first. Too light? Add 2.5 or 5 lbs plates to each side of the barbell. Still too light? Try 2 10lb. weight plates on each side and see how that feels. 
• Make sure that whatever weight you choose, it allows you to complete your exercises in the appropriate form. 
• Just because some of you have asked: I personally lift 15lb dumbbells and use a T-Grip barbell with 50lbs when I squat and bench press. Not much, but just enough for a petite lady like me.
• When you get comfortable with the weight you are using, say after 4 weeks, upgrade 5-10 pounds. This is called progressive overload and is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. This is good since it gives your body time to respond to the stress placed upon it.
• Sore after your workout? It means you have placed new stress on your body that it is not used to. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) with usually go away within 72 hours. This is why rest days and switching up body parts per day is so important! The next time you lift or go heavier, do expect to have a little soreness the next day as its just your body’s signal that something has changed.

General rule of thumb: 
For beginner, endurance, and stabilization, choose lighter weights since you are doing more reps.
For muscle building and strength, use heavier weights since you are doing less reps.


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Sia Cooper
MRM Admin

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