Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

How many sets is enough? 

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

If you’re trying to build muscle size, how many weight-lifting sets should you do? One set? Two sets? (Red set, blue set?) More? James Krieger’s 2010 paper in Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research is the best review of the evidence to date. While it can’t conclusively settle the issue until there’s more data, it does strongly suggest that “more is better,” and yet at the same time it reaffirms that “less is fine.” Single sets will get the job done, which is ideal if your goal is bang-for-buck. (If you want to be “hyooge,” though, definitely go with more sets. It’s all about goals.)

Alas, there wasn’t that much data to review, just 8 studies, and only 2 of those included higher numbers of sets. That’s not a lot to work with. But the results are consistent with the more complete data about strength (see Krieger’s 2009 review), and strength and muscle size do tend to go together. Both citations are now included in my article about strength training bang-for-buck, see: