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A no nonsense guide to designing your workouts - Part 2
by: Michael Furci
Pg 2 of 3

How many sets? 

This is another frequently asked question. First, I need to define a set. A set is a group of consecutive repetitions. There are several types of sets, which will be discussed at length in future articles. The quality of the set is much more important than the type of set.

The following factors will help you determine how many sets you need.

  • Level of fitness

For beginners I will always prescribe fewer sets, one to two per exercise. Intermediate or advanced athletes will do up to five sets per exercise.

  • Muscular size

The number of sets performed is always inversely related to the size of the muscle you are training. Larger muscles take longer to recover than smaller ones. Larger muscles include: Back, chest, and legs. You should perform, fewer sets for your quadriceps than for your biceps. Keep in mind that you are also stimulating your nervous system when training. The larger the muscle group, the more your nervous system is being stimulated. Nerves take much longer to recover than muscles.

  • Recovery ability 

As discussed in part one, we all recover from exercise at different rates. Many people who recover quickly have reached a high level of success performing a high number of sets. Many who recover slowly have also been very successful performing low numbers of sets. Because everybody is unique in their ability to adapt and recover from different programs, the number of sets needs to be individualized. Without Keeping a detailed journal it will be almost impossible to determine what workouts where successful and which ones were not. 

  • Number of exercises 

The more exercises you perform, the fewer sets you need. The optimum amount of time you should be training is between 45 and 60 minutes. Hormone levels decrease sharply after about an hour of training. This does not include warming up. Not only do your testosterone and growth hormone levels decrease, but, your cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is a catabolic (muscle wasting) compound that we naturally secrete as a result of stress. Training over an hour puts you in the best environment for destroying muscle. So if you add exercises but do not decrease the number of sets to keep you in that time frame, you're going to have a very hard time making gains.

Other Columns By Michael Furci

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