When you’re starting a workout plan, you’re going to hear a countless amount of advice from people on how to do things perfectly. You’ll get tips on how much weight you need to start with, how many reps you need to do, and how many sets. This information will likely pertain to whether you’re trying to lose weight and fat, or if you’re trying to add muscle mass. Either way, many people will give you a determined amount of sets and reps based on their personal experiences.
While all of this personal advice may end up helping you out in the long run, not every good plan will work for every individual. What if there were scientific studies that showed how much you should be doing? Let’s take a look at what the studies have shown throughout the years and see if it develops the right plan for you.
Obviously, if you’re a beginner at lifting weights, you aren’t going to want to jump into the highest weights that you can possibly lift to start setting your personal record. Instead, there are studies that show that any beginner (lifting for less than 12 months) should start off with much lighter weights. This means that you should comfortably be able to perform 15 reps for each set without feeling pain.
At this point, your body is building a solid base to allow you to build up the strength required to even attempt these higher weights. You don’t want to begin to tear these muscle fibers before you even get going. Not only will you find yourself building strength without pushing yourself too hard, but you’ll see results in your body that make you want to continue to lift weights.
As for sets, you’ll want to do no more than three per muscle group. When you’re starting off from day one, doing just one set of 12 reps would be a good way to build a base. Over the course of the next few weeks and months, you can build up your strength to the point where you’re doing three sets of 15 reps for each muscle group.
Arizona State University conducted a large study that showed that the intensity should be at 60 percent of what you can lift at maximum when at the beginner level. After 12 months, you graduate to the advanced level where you can work out at 80 percent of your maximum with each set and rep.
Let’s say that you’ve been lifting for 12 months and feel good, with your body looking and feeling much stronger. You’re ready to take the next step, but you don’t want to overdo it according to the studies. As we mentioned, you should be working out at 80 percent of your maximum to continue to strengthen the muscle that you’ve built over the past year.
When it comes to the reps and sets, that number does indeed change. Instead of focusing on 12-15 reps per set, the number should be reduced to about six to eight reps, with the same one to three sets for each muscle group. The most advanced lifters will be able to do up to six sets when they’ve really gotten used to doing four or five sets per muscle group.
Studies show that there should be at least 48 hours in between muscle groups getting worked out. That means that each week, there should be two to three days per muscle group, but science says that the upper body should come one day, with the lower body coming the next day, then a day of rest or light cardio activity.
Don’t forget to try out different exercises for each muscle group, too. Muscle confusion is a good way of helping to build that muscle while burning fat, studies show. You don’t want to do bench presses or squats every single day as your body will get used to the exercises and it will be hard to improve upon while also increasing the chances of injury.
While the studies show the most effective ways in general, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the absolute best for everyone. As we mentioned in the intro, every body is different, and everyone will have different results from their workout. Make sure to do what feels comfortable for you while also getting results, and you’ll be enjoying your transition from beginner to advanced in no time.