How many sets and reps should you do for strength training?

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What rep range should you be training in if gaining strength is your goal? Fitness trainers answer the most googled questions

Strength training’ is a broad term that is used when discussing the action of lifting weights, as opposed to doing cardio. It’s true that almost any form of resistance will make you stronger in both your workouts and your everyday life, but there are certain styles of training that will help you reach that goal faster.

“My favourite thing about strength training is that, yes you can learn a lot about your body, but you also get to see how strong your mind really is. To get through those really hard sets you have to be so strong willed,” says Alice Miller, Strong Women ambassador and strength training advocate. 

While we might all be without our gyms at the moment, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get stronger. Each week, Stylist’s Strong Women ambassadors Alice Miller and Emma Obayuvana to answer some of the most asked questions from women who want to get into lifting. Today, they’re explaining the best rep and set ranges to do in order to get strong.

WHAT REPS AND SETS SHOULD YOU DO FOR STRENGTH TRAINING? 

ALICE MILLER:

“As a general rule, I wouldn’t go for more than six reps during strength work. If you’re doing more than six reps then the weight is probably too light, and in order to be building strength you need the reps to be really taxing on the body.

“In strength training, we work with percentages of your one rep max. The lower the reps the heavier the weight, and a higher percentage of your 1 rep max we work with.

“Then you’re looking at around three to six sets of each exercise.”

Alice Miller explains how to get strong

EMMA OBAYUVANA:

“If you’re training for strength you should be doing less than eight reps per set. The upper end of that, so five to eight reps, will also be building muscle as well as strength. But for pure strength, you need to focus on doing lower reps and you need the weights to be really heavy and really challenging. You want to not be able to get anymore reps out when you’re finished with your set.

“More sets aren’t always better. I always think four sets are enough: it will challenge the body and load up the muscles for them to develop enough and get stronger.”

WHAT EXERCISES ARE BEST FOR BUILDING STRENGTH?

ALICE MILLER:

“When we look at building strength, we usually want to do the big compound lifts. So squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press and, for women especially, dips and pull ups, as these are the moves that engage a lot of muscles and so can go extra heavy. It’s important to note that it’s not just about what you do in the session: recovery and food plays a huge part in building your strength.”

HOW LONG SHOULD YOUR REST BREAK BE WHEN STRENGTH TRAINING?

ALICE MILLER:

“We add in longer rest periods when strength training because your central nervous system and your body needs time to recover from such stress. Your muscles need to be refuelled before you go in again. If you take a standard 60-second rest then you will be failing on the second and third set, which won’t get you stronger, so aim for a couple of minutes break.”

EMMA OBAYUVANA:

“The rest breaks can be anything up to two minutes. That’s because you’re lifting a huge amount of weight off the floor, and your body will really need some recovery work.” 

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Images: Getty / Alice Miller

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