The 3 Keys to Gaining Strength and Muscle Mass

Training research on the ideal rep range, number of sets and workout frequency to maximize results.


When it comes to the perfect training program, there are three key variables for gaining strength and muscle mass: the number of sets per bodypart, the number of reps completed per set and the frequency with which each bodypart is trained.

Yet, if you were to ask the bodybuilding industry’s biggest pros for their numbers of sets, reps and training frequency, you’d be surprised at how much their answers would differ. This means that different training schemes work better for some individuals than for others, which is often a frustrating realization for aspiring bodybuilders seeking the best way to train.

This topic is debated in local gyms, college strength rooms and exercise physiology laboratories. There are so many differing opinions that it makes even the smartest exercise scientist’s head spin. Searching through scientific journals only turns up conclusions that vary from one study to another. Most scientific studies have two major flaws. One problem is that they often involve only a small group of subjects (usually 10-20) who are supposed to represent the bodybuilding majority. The other problem is that many weightlifting studies use beginners as subjects. Even the least-educated bodybuilder knows that beginners respond to training much differently than experienced bodybuilders.

Fortunately, scientists from Arizona State University in Mesa, Arizona, have published a study that could give us some solid answers. They gathered data from 140 well-designed weightlifting studies and compared the optimum number of reps and sets and the best training frequency for inducing strength gains in both novice and trained (defined as having lifted weights consistently for more than one year) weightlifters. Then, the data was analyzed using a statistics method that calculated the optimal rep, set and frequency scheme for beginner and advanced weightlifters (see “Strong Results” chart below).


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