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“This is a tricky question because the answer depends on your goals,” says Molly Galbraith, cofounder of the women’s strength movement Girls Gone Strong and co-owner of J&M Strength and Conditioning in Lexington, Ky. Generally speaking, you would do three sets of the following rep schemes based on your end goal:

  • For maximal strength: 1–5 reps
  • For strength-hypertrophy (a blend of muscle strength and size): 5–8 reps
  • For hypertrophy: 8–12 reps
  • For hypertrophy-endurance: 12–15 reps
  • For endurance: 15+ reps

“Let’s be honest, though — it’s way more complicated than that,” Galbraith says. “You have to take into account exercise selection, experience, strength levels, muscle-fiber type, where the exercise falls in your workout, what your previous training routine looked like, how long you’re resting between sets and so on.” In other words, what works for a beginner is going to be different from what works for a bona fide gym rat. (For more on sets and reps, check out “10 Sets, 10 Reps: German Volume Training.”)

Galbraith recommends the following guidelines for both your main lifts and the accessory lifts that build stability.

Experience Level: Beginner
Main Lifts: 2–4 sets of 8–12 reps
Accessory Lifts: 2–4 sets of 8–12 reps

Experience Level: Intermediate
Main Lifts: 3–4 sets of 4–6 reps
Accessory Lifts:  2–3 sets of 6–12 reps

Experience Level: Advanced (Goal: Strength)
Main Lifts: 3–5 sets of 1–5 reps
Accessory Lifts: 3–3 sets of 6–12 reps

Experience Level: Advanced (Goal: Hypertrophy)
Main Lifts: 3–5 sets of 5–15+ reps
Accessory Lifts: 3–3 sets of 8–15+ reps

Jen
Jen Sinkler

Jen Sinkler, PCC, RKC-II, is a fitness writer and personal trainer based in Minneapolis. Her website is www.jensinkler.com.

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