The lowest I have gone is 6 reps per set for heavier weights and up to 20 reps for lighter weights. I will often do a high number of sets when I use the pyramid method, ranging from 8 to 20 reps depending on the weights used and if I'm increasing or decreasing weight.

But I just read an article where the writer mentioned in passing doing 2-3 reps per sets. Does this particularly achieve anything? Usually if I do really heavy weights, I will push for 6 reps, but never actually aim for less.

So the question is, is there any benefit to doing a really high number of reps and particularly an extremely low number of reps.

  • When I lift weights, I do 10-8-5 sets. Ex, if I'm doing a lat-pulldown I'll start on an easy weight like maybe 75lbs and do 10, increase the weight by 10lbs and do 8 more, and finally increase 10lbs more and do 5 or until failure (more often than not I fail on the 'hard' set). It takes a little time to figure out the 'sweet spot' when it comes to selecting weights but you should feel the results from the switch. This workout is obviously geared to building muscle mass. For a lean figure (Type I muscle) then more reps is definitely the way to go. Jun 10, 2011 at 17:11
  • What I will do sometimes, depending on the exercise, is do 3-4 sets of 10 reps starting at 50lbs, then 60lbs, then 70lbs. Then go back down until failure: 50lbs, 40lbs, 30lbs, etc.
    – Salsero69
    Jun 10, 2011 at 17:40
  • 1
    If you're doing strength training, why sets of 10? And, what's the point of the pyramid? Is there any benefit to stepping back down. I thought max effort = max hypertrophy. While doing pyramids during cardio allow your body to recover in the aerobic range, the same isn't true of lifting because even lifting weights in the moderate/light range you are still considered to be using maximal effort (with very little or no aerobic gains). It's not really necessary to do more than 30 reps of any particular muscle group. I'd suggest 25 reps (like the 5X5 program) or less for maximal strength gains. Jun 10, 2011 at 18:52
  • Could you link the article?
    – smaclell
    Jan 5, 2014 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


Based on this position statement from the American College of Sports Medicine, the answer to both questions is yes.

According to the ACSM, sets of 15-25 reps (using light loads) are most effective for increasing muscular endurance, and have also been shown to increase strength in moderately trained people. High rep sets may also supplement a conventional training programs:

Goto et al. showed that the addition of one set per exercise (to a conventional RT workout) consisting of light loading for 25-35 repetitions led to increased muscle CSA [cross sectional area] whereas conventional strength training alone (e.g., multiple sets of 3-5 RM) did not increase muscle CSA. The addition of the high-volume sets led to greater acute elevations in GH [growth hormone]. However, light loading alone may not be sufficient as Campos et al. have reported that 8 wk of training with two sets of 25-28 RM did not result in Type I or Type II muscle fiber hypertrophy.

Incorporating some low-rep sets is recommended for advanced hypertrophy (bulking up) training:

For advanced training, it is recommended that a loading range of 70-100% of 1 RM be used for 1-12 repetitions per set for three to six sets per exercise in periodized manner such that the majority of training is devoted to 6-12 RM and less training devoted to 1-6 RM loading

If you're doing power training (training to apply strength quickly; important for many sports), you should incorporate some faster-paced sets. These sets should have relatively low reps:

It is recommended that concurrent to a typical strength training program, a power component is incorporated consisting of one to three sets per exercise using light to moderate loading ... for three to six repetitions

  • Nice answer @Barbie
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jun 5, 2011 at 19:02

I found this article in Men's Health very interesting and have shaped my workouts on it over the last month or so. The page I linked to breaks down the reps/sets combinations for your different goals.

I'm a flabby weakling, and am working on building strength just to get started. I'm doing 6 sets of 4 reps of a very few basic exercises at about 80%-90% max weight, and I definitely feel the burn when I get the weight right. My workouts don't take all that long and have been very satisfying with low reps at high weight.

  • If you're a 'flabby weakling' as you say then you should focus on building your fitness level first by doing cardio (starting light and gradually increasing to anaerobic); then, switch to lifting. You won't see results as fast if your circulatory system isn't in good shape to transport nutrients to your muscles. More likely than not you'll end up achieving mediocre results with more soreness post-workout than necessary. Jun 10, 2011 at 17:16
  • @EvanPlaice I think what you just described is happening to me. Where can I find more information about that?
    – Luciano
    Oct 11, 2011 at 1:10
  • @Luciano It's nearly impossible to find a good unbiased source because of the 'religious wars' between the 'weight lifting types' and 'endurance types'. I could probably write a book about it but the gist is. Cardio is bad if you do the wrong type (ie endurance). What you want to do is focus on higher intensity cardio. That will both strengthen your heart making your body more effective at transporting nutrients/oxygen during lifting and also help you better process the byproducts of anaerobic metabolism (ie the type that creates 'the burn'). Fewer byproducts = less soreness. Nov 14, 2012 at 7:35
  • (cont) The argument from the 'weight lifters' front is that cardio makes you lose muscle gains - and they're right - if you're doing endurance cardio. But not all forms of cardio produce the same result. Look at the body types of marathon runners vs sprinters. Search for the phrases 'anaerobic vs aerobic' 'lactate threshold' 'endurance vs high intensity' 'Type I vs Type II muscle', etc... Keep an eye out for people who are biased in favor of one side. Nov 14, 2012 at 7:46

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