Doing set after set of chest presses will certainly make your chest sore; however, if you know how many sets you really need, you can avoid the unnecessary pain. The number of sets you do on your chest -- or any muscle -- shouldn't be based on how badly you want it to grow; instead, it should be based on how many sets will give you the best result. Being informed about how many sets you should do and how many days per week you should do them will save you time, effort and unnecessary pain.
General Health Guidelines
If you are interested in maintaining general health and adding a little strength, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a useful guide. According to the guidelines, you should train every major muscle group at least two times per week. While one set per muscle group will increase your strength and maintain your health, two to three sets offers better results. If you are just starting out on your fitness program, these general guidelines prepare you for more advanced training.
Major vs. Minor Muscle Groups
According to Applied Exercise & Sport Physiology, basic training recommendations include two weight-training exercises per body part per training session. After a 48-hour rest period, two different exercises for that body part can be done. Three to five sets per exercise of large muscle groups is recommended, while small muscle groups requiring three sets. Your large muscle groups include the chest, upper back and legs; your small muscle groups include the arms, calves and abdomen.
An Example Workout
A workout for upper back and biceps consists of two upper-back exercises and two biceps exercises. For upper back, do four sets of barbell bent rows and four sets of lat pull downs. For biceps, do three sets of alternate dumbbell curls and three sets of EZ-bar curls. Use a repetition range -- for back and biceps -- of six to eight reps for hypertrophy, or increase the weight and aim for four to six reps for strength. For endurance training, use two sets of each exercise with 15 to 20 repetitions.
Extra Tips for Training
To get the best bang for your workout buck, choose multi-joint exercises when possible. For instance, choose squats instead of leg extensions or alternate dumbbell curls instead of preacher curls. Multi-joint exercises allow you to train more than just that one specific muscle when working out, so the intensity of your session is increased. Remember to warm-up your muscle groups before training with a couple of light weight sets before moving on to your heavier workout. Take a few minutes to cool down and stretch after your workout to maintain joint flexibility as well.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults.
- Applied Exercise & Sport Physiology; Terry Housh, Ph.D. et al.
- Photo Credit Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images