How many sets should I do to build muscle based on science?

There’s a lot of conflicting information about how many sets should you do to build muscle. Some say you should do as many sets as possible to build muscle and others say it’s about the quality and not the quantity.

So, not only beginners but even experienced athletes may have some difficulties answering how many sets should I do to build muscle based on science.

That’s why in this article we’ll find out what does the science say about it.

What is a set?

A set is a group of repetitions (reps) of an exercise performed in series.
For example, if a workout contains 3 sets of 10 reps then it means you should do 10 reps of an exercise, then rest for a few minutes, then do 10 more reps of an exercise, then rest for a few minutes and then 10 more reps of an exercise. So, in total you should do 30 reps of an exercise (3 rounds multiplied by 10 reps).

How many sets should I do to build muscle and increase strength based on science?

A meta-analysis of 9 studies shows that medium weekly set (5-9 sets) and high weekly set (≥10 sets) amounts were more effective for strength gains than low weekly set (≤5 sets) amounts. [1]

The meta-analysis cautiously advocates the use of MWS (medium weekly set) for beginners, novice trainers, or the time-dependent trainer. For well-trained individuals, the use of either MWS (medium weekly set) or HWS (high weekly set) strength training may be appropriate. [1]

A systematic review of 15 studies says that multiple sets per exercise produced greater lower-limb strength and muscle quality gains than single sets in middle-aged and older adults. [2]

One meta-analysis also revealed that 2 to 3 sets per exercise were associated with 46% greater strength gains than 1 set, but no further benefit was observed with 4 to 6 sets. However, the results for 4 to 6 sets compared with other set categories should be interpreted with caution because of lack of data. [3]

Although, another meta-analysis showed that higher volume training (5 sets per exercise) results in greater increases than low-volume training (1 set) for strength, local muscular endurance, and hypertrophy. [4]

A meta-analysis reported multiple sets to be associated with superior strength gains in trained individuals but not untrained individuals. [5]


So, are you asking yourself how many sets should I do to build muscle based on science? Well, then here’s the answer to this question. It looks like scientific research shows that doing about 5 sets per exercise is significantly more effective for strength gains than doing 1 set or even 3 sets per exercise.

Also, research shows that 5 or more sets per week are more effective for strength gains than 4 sets per week or less.

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