What's better for strength training — one set or multiple sets?

Answers from Edward R. Laskowski, M.D.

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