How many sets should I train with?

When someone talks about resistance training volume, they might be talking about the number of sets they perform for each exercise in a workout, or they may be referring to the total number of sets performed across all exercises in the entire workout. Here we’ll be using the term ‘volume’ to refer to the number of sets you should perform per exercise.

Generally speaking, fewer sets are appropriate for untrained individuals, or during the first several months of training, or during recovery weeks, whereas multiple sets are appropriate for intermediate and advanced fighters because higher volumes are required to promote further gains in strength & power.

Luckily, identifying training volume is rather straight forward. We can simply use the table below to help us determine how many sets to use for a given resistance training goal. It also mentions the number of reps you should hit in order to reach a certain resistance training goal, but be sure to read our article on Choosing the right training load and repetitions for full details.

Adapted from Haff, G.G, & Triplett, N.T., Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 4th ed. 2016, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Remember that this table represents a general guideline for training volume. Importantly, these numbers do not include warm-up sets. Normally you need a 2 to 3 warm-up sets before completing your work sets, so here in the table we’re talking about the work sets. With that said, when your goal is strength development, you should be hitting less than 6 reps and completing 2 to 6 sets. For power, remember there are two types we talk about, we have maximal power which focuses on one or two efforts, and we have power-endurance, which focuses on 3 to 5 reps – no matter which you’re focusing on you should aim to complete 3 to 5 sets. When muscle hypertrophy is your goal (remember, that’s 6 to 12 reps), you should aim to complete 2 to 6 work sets. And finally, when muscle endurance is your goal (that’s greater than 12 reps), you should aim for 2 to 3 sets.

Read: Essential resistance training exercises for MMA fighters

Just like training load and repetitions, training volume should be manipulated across your fight plan. So practically speaking you might manipulate your training volume on monthly, weekly, and perhaps a daily basis, and this should be done according to the phase of the fight plan that you’re in.  For example, some phases of your fight plan will call for a few weeks of muscle hypertrophy training featuring 3-6 sets, followed by a few weeks of strength training featuring 2-6 sets. Knowing when and by how much to manipulate training volume is both an art and science. If you’re looking for help, consider The MMA Training Bible’s Peak Performance guide, which removes a lot of the guesswork. We’ll take you through the step-by-step process to create your own plan, and we’ll provide guidance on everything from organizing your fight calendar to programming recovery workouts.

So that’s it for this article. I hope you now have a good understanding of how to choose the correct training volume. As always, keep your eye out for other articles in our resistance training series – we cover topics ranging from how much weight you should train with, to how much rest you should take between sets – if they’re not up yet, they soon will be, so be sure to subscribe to the blog and you won’t miss a thing!

Take care,

Dr. Gillis





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