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I have read the old saying that one should focus on more weight and fewer reps for muscle gain and vice versa for endurance gain. I have also read about most exercises that a set should be between 8 and 12 reps and should be done with the weight that fatigues you on 12 reps. If you can do more reps using a particular weight, you should progress to a higher weight.

With that in mind, I decided to go with 5kg for my dumbbell curls because that's the weight that fatigues me after 12 reps, which is fine. The only problem is that I can only do one set of 12 and another of 5 with that weight. Is it okay to continue like this or should I reduce the weight to be able to do more sets? My aim is to gain muscle mass.

I face the same problem with other weight-related exercises (pecs fly, shoulder press, etc.) as well. I can do only one perfect set with the right weight that fatigues me in about 12 reps but unable to follow through with subsequent sets. If I reduce the weight, I can do more sets but then it allows me to do more than 12 reps in the first set. I fear it might be less efficient but not sure.

  • How much time are you taking between sets? – Eric Jan 9 '16 at 16:43
  • 30 seconds to a minute – TheLearner Jan 9 '16 at 19:16
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Anything that allows you to put in more overall fatigue inducing volume will be good. If you can do the first set at 12 reps, you have a few options:

  • Do 3 sets at whatever you can get, and focus on building up even one more rep each time you do the exercise until you have the full set/reps
  • Reduce weight for each set and use the last set to get as many as possible
  • Instead of 12 reps, do 8 or 10 reps per set and focus on more sets.
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(This answer is according to your goal, hypertrophy)

Reaching failure shouldn't be your goal. According to a few articles I read (a very good one can be found here), training constantly to failure may hinder your results. I have two main rules in this topic (both also appear in the article):

  • Set weight that lets you reach failure only on the last set of each exercise (or lets you finish all the reps as you get close to failure).
  • Use dropsets only as the finisher of the training session.

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