For most people, a single set of 12 to 15 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 to 15th repetition. As this becomes easier, gradually increase the amount of weight to maintain a 12- to 15-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.
April 18, 2018
See more Expert Answers
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- ACSM information on… Resistance training for health and fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/public-information/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.
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- AskMayoExpert. Physical activity (adult). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2017.