T Nation

Sets and Reps Question


Hi guys, I recently joined this group hoping to help me in my growth. Ive been doing weights for a few months now along side a few friends.

My question is, i've been reading magazines and even exercise articles here which writes 'do 3 sets of these' or '4 sets of that', why is it all standardized? as in, a standard 3 set workout. I always imagined or thought it to be till 'point of failure'? until i cant go anymore. Can anyone help explain?



Welcome to the site-

My first piece of advice, is to keep reading.

I’ll try explain as best I can-
The idea of prescribing certain sets/reps, is that you are suppose to choose a weight that only allows you to complete those sets/reps.
If after doing all your sets you’re feeling like you could do another set, then you didn’t pick a heavy enough weight, it’s as simple as that.

It’s worth noting, too, that the philosophy of training until failure is just one way to train. Some say the best, some say always leave a rep “in the tank”. You should keep reading, experimenting and find out what your body responds to.


[quote]Mowgly wrote:
I always imagined or thought it to be till ‘point of failure’? until i cant go anymore. Can anyone help explain?

Jon [/quote]

When you’re done with the prescribed number of sets, you should be close to this ‘point of failure’ and unable to ‘go anymore.’

If you still have the fuel, the weight you chose was too light.


I play by ear and give myself a ballpark of reps, do a set or two, and adjust the weight if need by, always upping the weight ( i work in a pyramid style). You also might wanna keep a workout journal, ive been doing it for the past couple years and it does help a good deal: checking weights you did last week, being able to see what exercises you havent hit in a couple weeks, being able to constantly change/increase.


Ah okay. So basically, the number of sets are sort of ‘standardized’ but the weights used are the ones that are changed, right? so that that ‘standardized’ number of sets gets you to ‘point of failure’.

If thats the case then yeah, i understand now. And yeah, i’ll keep on reading. thanks guys.


The goal is to have whatever your ‘routine’ is to take you ‘close’ to the point of failure. Taking things actually to failure is a way to do it, but it is at more risk to injury and requires more recovery time. Both are reasonable methods if they’re done correctly.

The simplest method is to do perscribed routine, which should leave you fully drained, and tto increase in some way at least once per week, be it 5lbs, one extra rep, lower rest time between sets… something to progressively get harder.


I go with the standard 3 sets myself. I’ll do a pyramid of 10-8-6 or 15-12-10 reps depending on the muscle group being worked. The pyramid helps you increase the weight and the larger number is easy to achieve, the lower numbers get progressively harder due to muscle fatigue (lactic acid build up and so on) but should be attainable.

On real good days, I’ll throw in extra reps on the last set. If I have a few good days in a row like that, I’ll add weight.