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Choosing Repetitions, Sets and Where to Exercise


Updated July 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How Many Reps/Sets To Do

You've figured out the exercises you should be doing, but what about the number of sets and repetitions? Your decision should be based on your goals. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 8-12 reps for muscular strength and 10-15 reps for muscular endurance. They also recommend at least 1 set of each exercise to fatigue although you'll find that most people perform about 2-3 sets of each exercise. In general:

  • For fat loss: 1-3 sets of 10-12 reps using enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired reps.
  • To gain muscle: 3+ sets of 6-8 reps to fatigue. For beginners, give yourself several weeks of conditioning before going to this level. You may need a spotter for many exercises.
  • For health and endurance: 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps using enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired reps.

How Long To Rest Between Exercises/Workout Sessions

This will depend on your goal. Higher intensity (i.e., when lifting heavy) exercise requires a longer rest. When lifting to fatigue, it takes an average of 2 to 5 minutes for your muscles to rest for the next set. When using lighter weight and more repetitions, it takes between 30 seconds and 1 minute for your muscles to rest.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends training each muscle group 2 to 3 times a week. But, the number of times you lift each week will depend on your training method. In order for muscles to repair and grow, you'll need about 48 hours of rest between workout sessions. If you're training at a high intensity, take a longer rest.

Where to Workout

You don't have to join a gym to get a great strength training workout. A gym is nice because you'll have access to both machines and free weights, so you have plenty of variety. If you do join a gym, it's a good idea to incorporate both types of equipment into your workout routine for variety. Learn more about free weights vs. machines.

If you decide to workout at home, here are a few items you might want to consider buying:

  • Resistance bands are around $6 to $15. They're small, light, travel well and you get get a full body workout with it.

  • Dumbbells are relatively inexpensive and you can do a variety of exercise with them. Find them at your local Target or Walmart. Other options include a barbell set, an exercise ball and/or a weight bench.

  • An exercise ball can be used for everything from core work to a weight bench and is a great way to work on balance and stability while building strength and endurance.

  • For more, see Home Fitness Equipment

For more about exercising, see Exercise 101, Beginner's Corner and the Workout Center.

Next: Choosing How Much Weight to Lift

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