Suppose that you want to gain muscle mass by using a pair of dumbbells which are NOT so challenging for you anymore.

You could probably increase the resistance with heavier weights, but you train at home and don’t have heavier dumbbells.

What about the following strategy?
Performing every set in the 8-12 rep range till you arrive at a set (maybe the sixth-seventh one) where 8-12 is challenging and produces failure.

I don’t know if I am clear: I basically want to mantain the 8-12 rep range and just increase the number of sets. So, if you are well trained and the exercise would be easy for you in case of just 3 sets, you increase the set number instead of the rep number to reach the desired failure. Your first 8-12 rep sets won’t be enough for reaching failure but probably your ninth set will be challenging.

I am surprised that nobody seems to encourage this strategy I've just talked about.

  • Well, Kate, the fact is that a lot of experts seem to suggest a maximum of 5 sets or so. In other words, as to the strategies needed to increase the difficulty of an exercise performed with weights that are not so heavy for you, no article takes this strategy (increasing just the number of sets) into account, at least in my experience as a reader.
    – Alessandro
    Oct 13, 2013 at 19:56
  • The fact is this. I am training at home, so I don't have a huge possibility of choice, as to the available weights. I only have 20 Lbs dumbbells. But my problem is that 20 lbs per dumbbell is not enough for reaching failure in the 8-12 rep range in 3 sets of bench press. The only thing I can do to reach failure in the 8-12 rep range is performing 6 sets one after another, but nobody suggests to increase the number of sets, so I am worried that this strategy, for some reason, is not good.
    – Alessandro
    Oct 13, 2013 at 20:11
  • 1
    Consider buying a pair of gymnastic rings or a pull-up bar. There are a ton of bodyweight exercises that are easily scalable and as effective for building muscle mass as training with weights. Oct 13, 2013 at 22:33
  • You are right. I adore bodyweight training.
    – Alessandro
    Oct 13, 2013 at 22:55
  • Buy heavier dumbbells. Oct 15, 2013 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


You are right, for increasing muscle mass, training at intensity that allows you to perform 8-12 reps per set is reasonable.

But note that it's not the number of repetitions per set that make the muscles grow, but the intensity of each repetition. If you are able to do more than 8-12 reps per set with a certain weight, the intensity of that weight has decreased for you, and training with that weight will not have the same effects than before, even if you increase the number of sets.

  • Thanks for your reply. But there's something I wouldn't totally agree with. I am doing bench presses with two 20 lbs dumbbells. Now, even though I can pretty easily go over 8-12 in a single set, I reach my failure at about 10 at the fourth set (still performed with 20 Lbs).
    – Alessandro
    Oct 13, 2013 at 20:04
  • 1
    Ok, but that doesnt contradict with anything i stated, does it? Being able to perform x reps in a single set does not imply you can do arbitrary many of those sets consecutively, especially if your breaks are short. Chose the number of reps per set such that each set has the same number of reps and you finish the last one short of failure. Oct 13, 2013 at 22:24
  • Perfect. So you are saying that I can use the strategy of increasing sets (not reps) in order to reach failure (= getting benefits) with no more challenging weights! Thank you. P.S.: There are situations where you don't have access to heavier weights, but you want still to get benefits from the weights you possess).
    – Alessandro
    Oct 13, 2013 at 22:59
  • 1
    No that's not what I meant :) I meant you should aim for sets of equal number of reps. Once you've reached 5 or so sets, you should increase intensity, meaning weights. Oct 14, 2013 at 3:40
  • Understood. So there's no way to develop mass by using no more challenging weights. That means I have to buy other weight plates even though I don't have enough space in my house :)
    – Alessandro
    Oct 14, 2013 at 7:37

look up GVT (german volume training) As you start with a weight that you can easily do around 20 reps or so and do 10 sets of 10 wherein, usually at least the last two sets will challenge you.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.