Set Range Adaptations

Author: Billy Snyder

In my last post we talked about rep ranges and how a a certain rep range can have different adaptations compared to another. This week we will be following up with a talk about sets.

First off, what is a set?  Very simply, a set is a group of reps.  For example, you deadlift 225 pounds for 5 moderately-hard reps.  Congratulations, you completed 1 set!  Now, the question is, how many sets can or should you do?  Simply put, it depends.

It depends on what though?  Firstly, what is your goal and where are you starting from, ie. beginner, intermediate, or elite?  How much volume can you recover from?  Are your muscles genetically more fast twitch or slow twitch?  What weights are you planning on working with in the training session and how many reps?  Are you peaking, building strength, or building muscle?

Peaking for an event, fatigue needs to low in order for fitness to be high.  Doing high volume (reps x sets) would not be the best during this time because high volume causes fatigue which we are trying to avoid.  

If on the road to build strength, the amount of sets could be on the higher or lower side depending on what week of the strength phase someone is in.

The following applies to the heavy day for the main lifts (i.e., squat, bench, deadlift, military press, etc.).  Light days may play by their own rules.  Another topic for another time.


Heavy Day Options

<2 sets


-Less time needed and energy spent

-Mental preparation (specifically for strength sports)


-Multiple sets have been shown to produce more strength

-With low volume, some people fail to gain strength

-With low volume, less skill practice

>4 sets


-Strength gains from neural adaptations

-Strength that lasts is built with volume

-Increased testosterone production


-Requires more time and energy

-Reduction in training weight


Beginners will generally use more sets within a single training session, unless they are using higher frequency.  Honestly, they are lacking strength and cannot tolerate the same poundage as a stronger lifter.  No need to emulate what high level strength athletes are currently doing. 

Journal your training sessions, including name of exercise, training load, sets and reps.  You can use this information to learn about yourself and what you are able to handle and recover from. Enjoy the journey.

Billy SnyderComment