Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

Weight MachineWhen it comes to resistance training there is not a one size fits all answer regarding how best to train, as the amount of weight lifted and the number of repetitions and sets completed depends on a variety of factors, including individual fitness goals and current conditioning level.


What is your objective?

There are a variety of developmental objectives that can be attained through resistance training, including increased muscular strength (the maximum force that a muscle can produce against resistance in a single, maximal effort), increased muscular endurance (the capacity of a muscle to exert force repeatedly against resistance or to hold a fixed contraction over time) and increased muscle hypertrophy (physiological process of muscle-fiber enlargement).


Wondering what that means to you?

  • If you’re new to resistance training and your goal is general muscle fitness and improved health, begin with lighter resistance and aim to complete 1-2 sets of 8-15 repetitions of each exercise with a 30-90 second rest interval between sets.
  • If your goal is increased muscular endurance,  use somewhat lighter resistance aim to complete 2-3 sets of 12-16 repetitions of each exercise (*the amount of weight used should fatigue the targeted muscle at the conclusion of the exercise set) with minimal rest (30 seconds or less) between sets.
  • If muscular strength is your objective, use heavier resistance and strive to complete 2-6 sets of 4-8 repetitions of each exercise with a longer rest period (2-5 minutes) between sets.
  • If you are seeking muscular hypertrophy, use somewhat heavier resistance (higher intensity than that used for muscular endurance, yet a lower intensity than used for muscular strength ) and complete 3-6 sets of 6-12 repetitions of each exercise with a moderate 30-90 second rest interval between sets.


Where are you presently?

While fitness goals play a large role in determining appropriate training volume, your current ability level is also important to take into consideration. If you are new to resistance training, keeping the training volume relatively low, at least initially, will not only allow your body time to adapt to the training stress, it will also help to feel more successful which ultimately can lead to long-term adherence to the program.

While the exact program will vary from one individual to another, one of the main goals of any resistance training program should be to perform each exercise with proper technique. Focusing on the quality of the movement versus solely the quantity of repetitions will help reduce the risk of injury and also ensure that the muscle the exercise is designed to target is worked effectively.

Looking for a routine to get you started? Searching for a little variety in your current program? Try one of our free sample workouts!

Sources: Baechle, T.R. & Earle, R.W. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd ed.). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics; Westcott, W.L. (2003). Building Strength & Stamina (2nd ed.). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

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