Zach Even-Esh

How Many Sets & Reps Build Muscle Fast?

I’ve been getting asked the same question lately, “How many sets should I do when focusing on building muscle?”

With my years of experience in training dating all the way back to 1989 and being a successful bodybuilder back in my day and now a Strength Coach, I’ve experienced AND experimented on MANY variations of set – rep combos.

I’ve found what works best, what doesn’t work well and what is a waste of time.

I’ve tested and experimented how to build strength without muscle or excess weight gain (training wrestlers who need to stay in a weight class) and have seen how small tweaks in their sets and reps can help them either gain weight / functional muscle or remain the same weight while gaining strength, power & stamina.

I’m gonna keep this short, sweet & to the point.

For Muscle Building, here is what I found to work best for building muscle FAST:

– Progressive Overload. You gotta get stronger to hit new muscle fibers and pack on muscle. It’s NOT just about “volume” training. Sure, you’ll see guys on steroids packing on muscle yet they mainly train with “pump weights”. This will NOT work for a natural lifter. You MUST get stronger to build muscle. This is the oldest stand by for adding muscle, it’s worked from centuries ago and you can’t deny it.

– On “Big” lifts, such as squats, bench, deadlift, military press, I have found that hitting 2 or 3 hard sets works best, BUT, that doesn’t mean we never stray from this type of set protocol. Our big lifts tend to be in the 2 – 6 rep range for working sets, here and again, we crank high reps with these BIG lifts as well as sometimes dropping in weight on our final sets for a finisher set and hit anywhere from 8 – 20 reps on that “finisher set”.

– On supplemental lifts, such as dumbbell rows, weighted push ups, recline rows, dumbbell benching, etc, our rep range can typically range between 8 – 15 reps. Sometimes, this drops a bit or rises a bit, it’s NOT completely written in stone. Our sets on these exercises range anywhere from 2 – 5 sets.

Other factors that will affect how fast (or slow) you build muscle will be:

– Your overall volume of lifting per workout, per week / frequency, etc.

You will notice that there are MANY powerlifters and olympic lifters who primarily perform sets in the 1 – 3 rep range yet they perform tremendous volume in these rep ranges. The volume of sets adds up, coupled with progressive overload and you will build muscle fast.

– Supplemental exercises are still used and help build muscle / overcome weak areas.

Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters also perform supplemental lifts to attack weak areas. These weak areas often need added strength and muscle, so you’ll notice reps that resemble what many bodybuilders do, often times ranging in the 6 – 12 area, sometimes higher, especially if the powerlifter is using band exercises.

If you’ve got comments or questions, please drop them below. I love reading your comments and answering questions so don’t hesitate to drop comments :)

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Details on The Muscle Building Program I Used In A No Frills Home Gym To Pack On Serious Muscle Using Only Free Weights & Bodyweight.

Details are HERE

Category: Articles, muscle building, old school strength, Q & A, Strength Building, Zach's Workouts Tags: , , , , , , .

8 Responses to How Many Sets & Reps Build Muscle Fast?

  1. Dustin W. says:

    Come on where is the secret numbers! You’re holding out on us!
    Just kidding!
    Great post! At the gym one day Grimek noticed a person taking their time to set up to lift. He yelled over, “Just lift it!”
    How do you get big and strong, “Just lift it!”
    Personally I enjoy the experimentation process that comes with finding the right exercises, sets and reps. I understand that most want it right now so they can gain quickly. ONly to quit before they reach their full potential.
    Lift, Eat, Grow!
    Great Stuff!

    • admin says:

      Lift It…. again and again and again.

      Do it today, next week, next month and next year

      Do it for years on end….

      Started when I was 13, today, 36 1/2 yrs young….

      23 yrs of lifting and still getting better!?!?! YEP!

  2. Sven says:

    Zach – that is a helluva crazy picture of Big A. Holy smokes!

    Todays workout: Changed my weekly routine. As I don’t have much time in the next couple of weeks I switched over to “chaotic HF-Training”. Meaning I have several, small, intense units during the day. Usually some mobility in the morning, some ass-kicking bodyweigth just before lunchtime and some KB lifting in the evening. Trying to throw in a run or two weekly. Works great so far.

  3. Will M. says:

    This is refreshing to read. I like to mix things up too and don’t believe that there should be set-in-stone rules on rep ranges (even though I usually prefer low reps). I think as long as you push yourself to your limits and are dead tired after training, then you’ve worked hard, at least in my experience. However Zach, I did have one question… What’s your opinion on training frequency? Sometimes I feel great the day after a hard full-body workout and just wanna get in there and do it again; sometimes I even feel like I can go twice in one day. But friends and the dreaded internet always advocate fervently the old “you need to wait 48 hours to let your muscles recover!” Is this B.S. or is there truth to it? Sometimes I feel that this mantra on training is just an excuse to be weak & lazy and that dedicated/professional athletes train a lot more often than people might want to believe. Your thoughts? It would really help me out! I don’t want to hurt my body or set myself back, but I honestly do really enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that intense training brings me.

    • Will M. says:

      Forgot to check the box about follow-up comments, but please let me know!


    • admin says:

      Will – hey bro, I am very experienced, having been training for 23 years, I KNOW how to go according to how I feel.

      High energy days get high volume and intensity, Lower energy days I listen accordingly.

      I have seen MANY of our athletes do extra workouts in addition to 3 tough workouts a week and they thrive on it in addition to high activity of wrestling (a big time calorie burner).

      You can train w/greater frequency if the volume per movement isn’t as high.

      Bodybulders often performed 9-15 sets per body part so the recovery takes longer than someone performing full body workouts yet not as many sets.

      Try doing full body workouts 3 x week for 2 months, then try upper/lower splits every other day for 2 months.

  4. Drew Stegman says:

    Great post! Building muscle isn’t really difficult, it just requires that we train hard, watch our nutrition and sleep like a baby. Am I right? I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Zach Even-Esh is an Author, Founder of The Underground Strength Gym & Creator of The Underground Strength Coach Certification.

Zach's inspiration in training comes from the Golden Era of Bodybuilding & Days of Old School Strength. His mission is to help You kick ass & take names in Life AND Lifting without the hype, fancy fads or gimmicks. Zach's Commitment To Your Success Is Unmatched. He Knows What It's Like To Go From A Weakling To An Unstoppable BEAST In Charge Of His Life, Business & Destiny. Zach Made It Happen Through The Iron and Now it's Your Turn!

Zach Even-Esh