Reps and Sets: How to Train

Reps and Sets. We know now why we strength train, but what about how? What’s the difference in 10*10 back squats and 3*5 back squats?

There are 3 main items to consider: maximal strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance.

Maximal Strength

Think 1 rep max. For us to achieve a max, we need to train in the 1-5 rep range. As you mature in the weight room you can go from 3 sets to 5 and then further.


A fancy word to describe getting a “pump”. Hypertrophy means to grow or make new muscle fibers and is how we train to actually add muscle to our frames. This is 8-12 rep range and typically only 3-5 sets.

Muscular Endurance

Anything over 12 reps. From 1 set to infinity. We run for endurance right? Running is basically a ton of one-legged jumps so running is helping our leg’s muscle endurance. If you do big sets of lunges, or squats, you’re doing the same thing here.

Strength is in the sets

There is a statement I’ve heard and enjoy, “strength is in sets”. In the beginning, regardless of weight, it’s going to be hard to go past 3 sets. But when you get to the point that you can do your 3 rep max for 8 sets than you are probably pretty dang strong.

It may seem as if this makes it easy, and depending upon your focus, you can just plug in the applicable sets and reps. This works kind of. However as you get serious about weight training and apply that for a while a few things start happening. It is possible to reach a maximal strength for your size so that continuing to do low rep sets doesn’t increase our 1 rep max anymore. Insert hypertrophy to grow new muscle fibers, then go back down to lower sets to work on our ability to contract these muscle fibers. If I want to make the jump from 3 sets to 5 sets my limiting factor. Insert muscular endurance so now throwing in a few 3*20’s will allow me to recover better, hit one more set, and really work on my ability to contract.


There is a fourth item people focus on, and that’s power. Power is typically 4-6 reps but the focus shifts entirely. To produce power, I’m actually developing my brain’s ability to quickly access muscle fibers to contract them. The ability to turn fibers on and off quickly is power. Focus on movement and technique, however, for a long time before we even think about applying power.

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