I am staying away from the "as-much-as-you-can". Now, in the dumbbells part of my workout I simply mimic a linear load progression at fixed number of reps, á la SL5x5. I just use smaller increments and a slightly higher rep range.

But I need an explanation of what I should do with the number of sets. What is the recommendation for a middle-aged person whose priority is to avoid screwing up his tendons?

Is it safer to restrict the number of sets to 3 instead of 5, or will that inhibit the progress too much? I don't mind to slow down the progress (as long as there is some) if that is safer.

Specially, my priority is giving room for my wrist tendons to keep up with the progress. In most workouts plans I have seen, the number of sets specifically dedicated to forearms is usually low in relation to the main exercises. But I don't know if that is due to the fact that the forearm training is seen as a mere addition that should not interfere with the big exercises, or if that is due to an specific need of low volume for the most grip-taxing exercises.

In any case, my question is about the number of sets in general, not only for the forearm specific work, since wrists take part in nearly all exercises.

  • I think the title could be a bit catchier, I had to read the whole question body to get it. Something like "Is there an optimal number of sets regarding tendon development?"
    – Baarn
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 10:56
  • @Informaficker, well, I would like to have an explanation on the influence of the number of sets and work volume in general in tendon strengthening. Perhaps some user can give some clues or references without having to know the exact numbers. The guidelines for muscle strength/hypetrophy/endurance are popular wisdom, but I don't know if tendons are different. I suspect that slowing down the gains and stretching regularly must be in any case important.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 15:37

2 Answers 2


Sets are primarily a method of controlling volume. More volume means more training stimulus, which means a harder but hopefully more fruitful recovery period. I don't know of any relevance the total volume has to tendon health. A moderate weight done for 8 to 12 reps in a slow, controlled fashion is the important part for tendon health. I would increase the weight regularly but less often than every workout--once a week would be reasonable.

I would keep the number of sets low, in light of your repeated self-injury due to age and poor conditioning. One to three sets would be reasonable.

  • In fact, guess what? I nearly have caused myself a new problem. I was never told, or have anywhere read, that stretches could be harmful if done directly, without warming up (I even thought that stretches were part of any warm up). After repeated pec stretch, I feel a discomfort in one shoulder now, which seems nothing serious but has restricted my workout to only air squats and wrist work for some weeks. I have started to run on the beach too. The lack of information is a great problem. Hence all my questions and comments here...
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 23:37
  • 1
  • You are right, but I can't afford that now. All this could have been avoided if I had had the information. This last issue, for example. There is thousands stretch exercises around internet. But they never warn you about warming up first, neither do they tell you how often. Stretches are shown as kind of a very healthy and harmless thing that you can do whatever you want. Had I explicitely read "Don't do this pec stretch more than once after each workout, and at the end of it because it is dangerous to stretch without at least some minutes warm up", then I wouldn't have injured myself.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 18, 2013 at 0:03
  • All they usually say is "do the stretches gently, avoid any pain" but nothing about warming up nor about how often and what would be considered stretching too often. This is frustrating and it seems that there is no option other than avoiding exercise. I am reading a lot about how to do the exercises safely, I am reading a lot about preventing rotator cuff injuries by doing light lateral rotations and other exercises. This shouldn't be so complicated, but it seems it isn't enough. It seems easier to learn particle physics than learning how to exercise without injuring yourself. It is crazy.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 18, 2013 at 0:06

Keeping your rep range between 8-12 will allow you muscles to reach hypertrophy (You can Google for many studies around this) and as soon as you can lift 12 you increase with the smallest amount possible. Always lift to positive failure and you will have tendons adjust to your new weights in no time.

What is supposed to and what have been actually studied are two different things. It seems very hard to find anything scientific around the 5x5 method (I am not saying it is not working) but I will reference one of many studies in regards to what I am stating above Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults

In regards to muscle activation differences between using dumbbells and a machine it is fairly minimal which would mean you could employ using machines with the 8-12 range and safely increase your muscle mass without the fear of being injured as this study confirms A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest-press exercises with different stability requirements

  • What do you mean by positive failure? I hope it has nothing to do with "as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form", because that is what I think is risky when you lack a well trained proprioception.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 15:26
  • Additionally, please note that my question is about the number of sets and that the number of reps per set is fixed.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 15:29
  • If you can get 2, or 3, or 4 reps (or 100 for that matter) more on a given set than your previous performance you will need to do it to increase performance. Positive Failure: When you reach the point in a set where you cannot possibly complete another positive repetition unassisted, you can say you’ve reached failure.
    – Petter
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 7:52
  • But the blind, fixed load increment at fixed reps is supposed to be one of the strong points of the 5x5 programs, and it greatly reduces the chances of not properly judging by yourself where is that failure point and thus getting injured. Does that not apply equally well to a dumbbell exercise? I can't imagine why.
    – Mephisto
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 16:13
  • @Mephisto I had to edit the post as this was to long to add as a comment.
    – Petter
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 7:11

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