How many sets per muscle group per workout

How many sets per muscle group per workout?

When trying to build muscle, and you want to know how many sets to do, you need to look at a workout with the whole picture in mind. 

Are you new to lifting? How heavy are you lifting (intensity)? How often will you work out per week (frequency)? And then you have to look at each person individually—what is their diet like, their recovery, their stress levels, tendon/ligament health, etc.

So, when looking at how many sets you need to do per muscle per workout, it will be a spectrum for each person.

Minimum Volume, Optimal Volume, Maximum Volume

There will be a minimum amount of weekly sets that needs to be done to cause a muscle adaptation. There will be an optimum point where you get the most results per effort, and then there will be a maximum amount of muscle built with diminishing returns, and then there will be an overload amount or overtraining, where the muscle is getting so heavily damaged, it cannot repair back stronger.

Do you want to do the minimum needed to get some results?

Do you want to seek to get the optimal results for your effort?

Or are you looking to go all-in, and you want maximum muscle gain, even if it means spending a lot more time in the gym?

So you need to consider who you are when looking at sets per muscle.

Someone who is single, young, childless, who works a low-stress corporate job may have the recovery capacity, time, and desire to pursue the maximum amount of muscle built in the shortest amount of time possible.

On the flip side, you may have someone in their late forties, who is a CEO of a company with long hours, and they have kids, and they’re looking to build muscle, but they’re looking to hit the “optimal” amount of time. Sure, they might leave some muscle gains on the table but freed up hours per week to spend on the business or with their family.

Lastly, we need to consider if someone is new to lifting weights or not. If you’re brand new to lifting, numerous studies have shown lots of growth in muscle with as little as five sets per muscle per week, with some extra growth getting up to the 10-15 set area. And after doing twenty sets per week, there isn’t a lot of data, but it also doesn’t seem to provide much better results.

But if someone has been lifting for a while now, they can increase the weekly sets. One study even showed greater muscle growth all the way up to 45 sets per week, obviously, with diminishing returns. (That means each additional set leads to less new muscle gains.)

Examples of Sets Per Muscle Group Per Workout

Example: The Young Newbie

  • 23 Year Old Man
  • New to lifting weights
  • Low-stress job, great sleep, lots of sunshine
  • Bulking with a 10% calorie surplus
  • Estimated optimal weekly sets per muscle group: 17
  • 3x a week = 6 sets per muscle group per workout

Example: The Intermediate Young Man

  • 27 Year Old Man
  • Lifting for a few years now
  • Single knows how to eat properly, low-stress job
  • Bulking with a 10% calorie surplus
  • Estimated optimal weekly sets per muscle group: 23
  • 4x a week = 8 sets per muscle group per workout

Example: The Stressed CEO Father

  • 45 Year Old Man
  • New to lifting weights
  • High stress, CEO job, not the best diet
  • 10% Calorie Deficit to lose a bit of fat
  • Estimated optimal weekly sets per muscle group: 7
  • 3x a week = 2-3 sets per muscle group per workout

Keep in mind that those are weekly sets, so they could be done in a split format (push/pull/legs), or they could be divided up into a full-body routine. 

Summary:

To wrap up, you can get gains with 10-30 sets per muscle group per week.

There is a maximum amount of volume you can do each workout session, and that is closer to 8-14 sets per muscle group per workout, depending on the specifics of the training program (how close to your one-rep-max you’re lifting), how close to failure, and how good you can recover. 

If you want to get 16 weekly sets and lift four times per week, you could do:

  • Full-body—4 sets per muscle group per workout
  • Upper/Lower split—8 sets per muscle group per workout

You will need to look at your situation, make a plan, and experiment, and pay attention to your results, and adjust from there.

The Skinny Fat Fix

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