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How Many Sets And Reps Should I Do?
I am a Junior in high school. I enjoyed reading your articles. I feel as if you know and understand a great deal about muscle development and safety, while lifting. I was particularly interested in the article about the volume of weight over a time. What I mean is when you talked about the lifter squatting a 1 rep max of 300 lbs. I was wondering if you think that it is better to do 5 sets of 5 reps at 225 lbs to equal 6375 lbs or is it better to do 3 sets of 10 at 225 lbs to equal 6750 lbs. I understand parts of the article but I am trying to get together a fitness program for myself and I don't understand enough about the number of sets of each lift I should do. I am very much into sports but my main concentration is to get stronger/leaner throughout, because I am a pitcher in baseball. (It's the sport I love!)
WOW, this is one of the best questions I have ever received. I have to commend you on actually taking somewhat of a complicated theory and trying to understand how it works in practice. To truly answer that question we have to think about the goal of the program. I find for athletes, they will typically get bigger, stronger, and leaner from my programs without any emphasis on bodybuilding techniques. This is important to realize off the bat because if an athlete focuses on body composition as their main goal they will be neglecting the much more important qualities such as range of motion, speed, agility, and skill.
Not to make your question even more complex, but when you are developing a program you must also distinguish the volume of core lifts (i.e. Olympic lifts, squats, or deadlifts) versus supplementary lifts that are primarily used as prehab. It is also important to realize how the volume of work done in the weight room will impact and be affected from other forms of sports training such as sprinting, GPP, and skill work.
Now to answer the question you asked more directly I would prefer to think of it in several different ways. For one, if the volume is the same I would personally prefer the method with more sets and less reps. The reason is that this would be most likely allow the lifter to create higher tensions than the person with more reps. As fatigue in the higher rep set occurs, the tension is lower, in addition the weight that can be handled is less. So, in your above question you probably have somewhat of an unrealistic scenario. Let me explain by rewording a more realistic case. If we assume your 5 sets of 5 reps with 225 case, that would be approximately 85% of the lifter's 1RM. So, 10 reps equals approximatley 75% of one's 1RM (Note: these are only rough estimates and do not always hold true).
5 sets of 5 reps with 225 = 5625
3 sets of 10 reps with 198 = 5940
With this scenario, the first would be more appropriate for strength with some hypertrophy (muscle growth) because of the lower volume, but higher intensity. The second would be better for hypertrophy and less strength because of the higher volume and lower intensities. However, the way I normally prefer to perform hypertrophy training is the following:
5 sets of 5 with 198 = 5940
3 sets of 10 with 198 = 5940
The reason is that the first scenario will allow me to accelerate the weight to cause higher tensions. You can use the traditional 3 sets of 10 method every now and then, but it does not produce functional mass like other methods. So, in sport this is very crucial to realize.