Science Reveals How Many Sets You Need To Do To Build Muscle

Science has revealed how many sets you need to do to build muscle

Is this really the magic number? New research says it is.

NEW EVIDENCE HAS shed light on the optimal amount of sets we need to be getting through in our workouts in order to build muscle.

Until this point, various studies have suggested that muscle gain will increase as volume increases, with different muscle groups requiring different amounts of sets for optimal muscle growth. However, it hasn’t been studied to the same extent as this recent research.

In a YouTube video shared by Dr Mike Israetel, a man who holds PhD in Sport Physiology, and sport scientist PhD Dr Milo Wolf, the two experts discussed the findings of the study, which was published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.

Focusing on the quadriceps and trained squats, leg presses and leg extensions, the study compared three training volumes:

  • Group 1 (Low Volume): 22 sets of quad training per week, split evenly over 2 workouts.
  • Group 2 (Medium Volume): 22 sets of quad training, adding 4 sets of weekly quad training every 2 weeks, resulting in 42 sets per week. This was 32 sets per week on average for the 12-week study.
  • Group 3 (High Volume): 22 sets of quad training, adding 6 sets of weekly quad training every 2 weeks, resulting in 52 sets per week. This was 38 sets per week on average for the 12-week study.

The results found that the high volume group (52 sets per week, 38 on average) resulted in greater muscle thickness and size as well as an improvement in strength gains. The study concluded that progressively adding four or six sets per week every two weeks elicited greater lower body strength and size over the 12 weeks.

Does this mean we should be completing 52 sets per week? The experts said it’s unlikely. Linking this study back to our training, it’s suggested that we could increase hypertrophy and strength by completing more than 22 sets a week. This could be achieved by adding 4-6 sets per week. However, that’s not as simple as it may seem.

The study also mentioned that the limited certainty of the findings warrants caution due to the variation between results. For example, in the groups there were quite wide differences in results between participants. It’s also important to add that in this study, the participants were training extremely hard.

To put this into context, the high volume group completed 26 sets of quads with 2 minutes rest. The program contained:

  • 9 sets of squats
  • 9 sets of leg press
  • 8 sets of leg extension

It’s pretty brutal to say the least, not to mention how much time this would take. A 30-minute lunch break workout this ain’t.

MH says: Not everyone can add more volume to their training, especially to this degree and with every single muscle group. Doing so would likely sacrifice adequate recovery and therefore increase the risk of injury, so of course work within your limitations.


Mark Wahlberg is on a workout mission

Jeremy Allen White details how he beefed up for ‘The Iron Claw’

By Men's Health Staff

More From