For most people, a single set of 12 repetitions with the proper weight can build strength and improve fitness as effectively as can multiple sets of the same exercise.
The one-set approach also has the advantage of saving time, which makes it easier to fit into an exercise routine. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating strength-training exercises into a fitness routine at least two times a week.
During strength training, simply choose a weight that tires your muscles around the 12th repetition. As this becomes easier, gradually increase the amount of weight to maintain a 12-repetition fatigue.
It's important to use proper technique to avoid injury. Also, take time to rest between each exercise to give your muscles time to recover.
Although a single set of strength training exercises can improve muscle strength and fitness, the number of sets that you perform may differ depending on your fitness goals. For example, if you're a bodybuilder or an elite athlete with specific performance enhancement goals, then additional strength training sets may be appropriate.
March 26, 2015
See more Expert Answers
- AskMayoExpert. What are the components of a strength-training program? Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research;2014.
- ACSM information on… Resistance training for health and fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/brochures-fact-sheets/brochures. Accessed March 12, 2015.
- 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/PAGUIDELINES/guidelines/default.aspx. Accessed March 10, 2015.
- Pescatello LS, et al., eds. General principles of exercise prescription. In: ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer Health Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.
- Bushman BA, et al., eds. Resistance training programs. In: ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer Health Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.
- Baker JS, et al. Strength and body composition changes in recreationally strength-trained individuals: Comparison of one versus three sets resistance-training programmes. BioMed Research International. 2013;2013:615901.