The BEST number of Sets & Reps for YOUR Kettlebell Workouts…?

If you want to skip the “trial and error” process and prefer the “built for you” option, a lot of guys are loving this “all-in-one” program.

I got a message from Luis the other day asking about if there was an optimum (a.k.a. “best”) number of sets he should aim for on one of my programs.
Before I answer that question, researchers and coaches have been attempting to answer this question for years.
To build muscle, Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, arguably the West’s most prolific hypertrophy researcher, has found you need more than 10 sets per muscle group per week.
And the range is as wide as 10 to 45 sets, depending on the muscle group.
The larger the number of sets, the more days you should train.
Rep ranges were all over the place: 1–6, 8–12, and as high as 30.

What about if you want to get stronger?

Peterson, et. al., suggests 2–6 sets per muscle group, per training session.
The Soviets recommended 200–500 lifts per month, depending on the lift.
Generally agreed upon is the fact that you need to keep your intensity in the 75–85% of 1RM zone for the majority of the time. Occasionally venturing over 90% — about 5–7% of the time.
Reps are generally in the 1–5 range.
The one thing very few people discuss, other than Pavel, Olympic lifting, some Powerlifting coaches, and myself is, the importance of technique.
Dialing in your technique goes hand-in-hand with getting stronger.
Most people — ex jocks trying to get back in shape — miss this part and just aim for either increasing their volume (the number of sets they can do) or their intensity (load used relative to their maximum).
The end result is usually injury.

What about conditioning?

Over the last 7 years or so, we’ve seen a trend inside the HardStyle kettlebell community moving away from “MetCon Beatdowns” — similar to “CrossFit Style” toward AGT — Anti-Glycolytic Training (again, pioneered/championed by Pavel).
So, instead of training to near exhaustion on every set, with short, seemingly non-existent rest periods, there’s been a transition toward high-power, luxurious rest period based training.
Examples are EMOM/OTM training, with low reps, like 5–10 reps OTM.
Total number of sets are between 10 and 30, sometimes as high as 40 to 60.

What if you want to lose fat?

Well those guidelines are all over the board, depending on who you listen to. I have my own based on 30 years of experience.
The short story is: Use your KBs and train like a power athlete (and eat like your grandma told you to).
So, back to Luis’ question:

How many sets should YOU do?

Well, ultimately that’s going to depend on:
[1] YOUR goal
[2] YOUR current strength levels
[3] YOUR current conditioning levels
[4] YOUR access to the right size KBs
[5] YOUR schedule
That’s why I rarely say things like, “Do 5 sets of 5…”
… Unless I’m working with a private client and I know his/her training and injury histories.
What I’ve found works best for most of us “over a certain age” is the following:
[1] Instead of following sets and reps and prescribed rest periods, set a training duration to which you can consistently adhere.
For example, “I’ll train for 30 minutes, 3 times per week.”
[2] Do as many sets of the prescribed exercise(s) for the prescribed reps, resting enough between sets to make every rep of every rep feel / look the same.
This will take some time to calibrate.
And your rest periods will most likely increase between sets as fatigue accumulates.
That’s normal.
[3] Once a week, maybe more, see if you can “underachieve” and get 1 more rep or 1 more set.
Some days and weeks will be great. Some won’t. That’s OK.
Record your progress in your training journal. (Make sure you keep one.)
That way, over the course of time — weeks, months, quarters, years — you’ll be able to measure changes and physically track your results.

How well does this work?

One of my private clients — we’ll call him “Ryan” for privacy purposes — packed on about 15 pounds of muscle — without trying — over the course of this past year and repeatedly PR’d his Military Press both in load and reps lifted, as well as his Front Squats, and Parallel Dips (which he couldn’t do previously due to shoulder issues).
This is significant because he’s brought some health issues to the table which typically make it difficult to gain muscle.
If you’ve been struggling to see results from your training / workouts, use the guidelines in this video.