After training for about a year now, I am noticing I gained some muscle (not sure how much, but I'd say under 5kg/10lbs). So I would not say I am a beginner, but I'd like to add on at least 5/10lbs of muscle.

I go about 3-4 times per week to the gym, a session for every major muscle group (back, chest, legs and a session for all the rest). So far I am doing about 20 sets per major muscle groups, 8-10 for the smaller groups.

Recently I stumbled over a bunch of internet resources that suggest maybe going for less volume, and when I googled "optimal number of sets per muscle group per week" I found articles which point to 60-120 reps/week for large muscles and 30-60 reps/week for smaller ones. Considering that my sets are usually 8-12 reps (15-20 sometimes), I am doing around 20*10 = 200 reps/weeks for the major muscles and 8*10=80 reps/week for smaller ones. It looks excessive, but it's about one solid hour of workout where I rest very little (no more than a minute) betweek sets.

My question is very simple: what is the optimal number of sets/reps per week to maximize muscle gain (knowing that I am taking enough proteins) ? Is there anything on the scientific litterature to indicate or estimate that number ? What's your number from practices and what's your balance of intensity (weight) and volume (set-rep quantity) for that number ?


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    You should worry more about optimal frequency than about optimal volume, because in all honesty, you spent a year dicking around rather than training effectively. 7 days rest between exercising one muscle group is waaay to much downtime unless you're roiding. I strongly suggest you restructure your regimen to a full body workout, or maybe a two-way split if you manage to train 4 times a week frequently. More details im my answer here: fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/37916/… Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 12:16
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    Thanks for the answer, although the dicking around part is not what I was expecting. Furthermore, I don't see an answer to the question, if you think the question is irrelevant that's maybe another matter. Say I go for the two-way split, which volumes do you target from experience for efficienty ?
    – Akheloes
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 12:35
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    Well that's why I provided a comment and not an answer. Don't think your question is irrelevant per se. Check this routine out: canditotraininghq.com/app/download/956915124/… It's a 4-day two-way split. Personally, I had great results with it. Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


Optimal is different from people to people and I can hardly find credible scientific literature. They usually extrapolate from couple of hundreds people experiments, questionable training experience (people with sedentary lifestyle can improve a lot just with better eating and suboptimal training), etc. If there would be a one-regimen-fits-all, no coach would be needed.

It doesn't matter what training regimen works for others. Just don't get injured. With a busted knee your squat 1RM is exactly 0 kg.

The rule of thumb is you should - train as much and as frequently as possible - with good form - with high intensity to failure or beyond failure with repeating just the easier parts of an exercise. The easy part is usually the negative, e.g. when you descend from a pull up, so you step up to a stool and just practice the negative - add weekly variety to the intensity:volume ratio (I'd recommend to see Juggernaut Method, that one worked for me the best.)

Now, what I noticed the recovery is the key. When you are young, doing reps in a rush, bad form, training frequently can be all ok, but as you get older or collected your first busted joints you realise working in a recovered is more important than working heavy.

Unfortunately there is no generic rule. I know some people who can deadlift 200kg+, but training with isometric exercises (timed static muscle contractions) only. Some people does Heavy Duty HIT with super slow movements and dead strong with low volumes. Some do low weight 10x10 sets… Some of us do 100 pull up every day, but just 10 at a time (e.g. if you work from home), not until failure, so they can train every day. These regimens can all be perfect for some.

If nothing helps, I'd recommend to try the Juggernaut Method, which is a twister variation of 5-3-1. It incorporates hypertrophy training and strength training. There are bunch of videos on Youtube, and the spreadsheet that calculates the whole 16-week “macrocycle” can be handy.

  • Welcome and thanks for your answer. Obviously, there's no fixed magical number of sets per week for maximed gains, but my question was motivated by some video's relating some studies that would suggest that 10-20 sets (with more sets for more advanced practionners) is a basic rule of thumb. youtube.com/watch?v=EspBPvst5Qc&t=760s.
    – Akheloes
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 20:19
  • @Akheoles: thanks! I had taken the time to check the research that Jeremy refers in his video: researchgate.net/publication/… . The studies' sample is 5-40, mostly untrained young men and elderly women, each. I wouldn't base my regimen on that, spent after years under the weights. Dr. Mike Israetel says 3x4-5 sets per week per muscle group is usually optimal. youtube.com/watch?v=R7b5hOWfwdc for advanced lifters.
    – aries1980
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 8:25
  • Not the first time I hear this idea. I am going to give it a try now, going for multiple full body routines per week. I am just going to break up the volume (20 sets) over those sessions, as you said, should be around 5 sets per session for 4 sessions a week. Thanks again !
    – Akheloes
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 12:14
  • One of the benefit of breaking it up is it allows you to train with heavier weights more often. For me it doesn't work to work to failure in one exercise for the same body part, then do other exercises to the same body part. I have to use lighter weight on the other exercises, which is not ideal for me. Also, being almost 40, my recovery determines the type of exercises I can do in one visit. My triceps can stand more thrashing, but my biceps not, so I rarely do curls any more, because that can mess up my backwork too.
    – aries1980
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 19:02
  • I've actually noticed that I can get maybe 4 heavy sets before having to start going for lighter weights, so I agree with you that full 20-sets thing would be sub-optimal in that sense, but I used to work around it by lowering the weights and focusing more on contraction, tempo, etc.
    – Akheloes
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 21:08

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