Are 2 Sets Enough to Build Muscle?

There are specific general rules and guidelines that athletes hear about and follow. Some are pretty popular, like completing 3 or 4 sets to gain the best results in an exercise. However, many people start to question the rules and wonder if doing more or fewer sets could help them towards their goals, as well?

Doing two sets for every exercise you have in your program can help you build muscles, but you’ll have to train harder to get the same effects as doing three or more sets. You’ll have to increase your workout volume by doing more reps in each set and lifting heavier weights. This way, you still manage to fatigue your muscles and make up for the low number of sets you’re doing.

Continue reading to find out more details about how a two-set workout plan can be effective in helping you build muscles and what mistakes to avoid in the process.

What Is the Difference Between a Rep and a Set?

To understand the answer to the original question, you first need to know the difference between a rep and a set. 

A rep that is the short form of repetition is one movement you perform to complete an exercise. It consists of an upward and downward motion.

For example, when you’re doing a bench press, pushing the dumbbells upwards and then lowering them to your chest again would form a complete rep.

Now, if you perform multiple reps continuously without a break, you have completed a set. A set can consist of 5 or 15 reps, depending on the workout plan. Once you take a break a rest for a while, the set is over. Afterward, you can start another set.

What Is a 2 Set Workout?

When you complete two sets of the same exercise with one resting period in between before moving onto the next exercise, you’re following a two-set training program. 

The number of reps you perform in each set, the number of weights you lift, and how long your rest period varies depending on your exercise.

What Is Training Volume?

Training Volume is a technical term used to describe how much weight you’ve lifted in each week. It depends on the number of sets, reps, weights, and training days you complete.

  • Training Volume= Sets x reps x weights x training days

For example, someone who lifts two sets of 10 reps at 4 kg three times a week has the same training volume as someone who lifts three sets of 8 reps at 5 kg twice a week.

The correct training volume differs for each person, depending on their fitness level and goals. However, when you find out your ideal training volume, say for hypertrophy, it should stay the same every week. Meaning, what you lack in sets, you’ll need to make up for in reps, training days, or weights to meet your target.

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Are 2 Sets Enough to Build Muscle?

Firstly, let’s determine the relationship between the number of sets and muscle gain. In a study, researchers gathered 48 men new to weightlifting to participate in a 6-month long strength training program. They split them into four groups. The first group did five sets per exercise, the second group did three sets, the third group did one set per exercise, and the fourth group did bodyweight exercises.

Even though every group had lost the same amount of fat at the end of the study, the group that did five sets has gained more muscles, strength, and endurance. Although there was no statistically significant difference in their muscle gains, there was still a clear trend:

  • 5-set group gained 7.3 pounds of muscle.
  • 3-set group gained 6.5 pounds of muscle.
  • 1-set group gained 1 pound of muscle gain.

This research has concluded that the more sets you do, the better your progress will be. However, that’s not the whole story.

The critical variable concerning muscle gain isn’t the number of sets but rather the training volume. The more the training volume, the more muscles you’ll build. That means that if you want to lower the number of sets you perform, you’ll have to make up for it by boosting the workout intensity. Doing more reps and lifting heavier weights will ensure that you get the same effects from a two-set workout.

To gain strength and size in your muscles, you have to push them beyond their present capacity. As long as you fatigue your muscles, it doesn’t matter how many sets you do; your muscles will still grow.

still grow

If you want to make sure you’re reaching the proper training volume when doing two-set workouts, you’ll have to train to failure. Depending on the number of reps you choose to perform, you should pick heavy enough weight that makes you finish your set very close to failure. At the end of the two sets, you shouldn’t be able to do another rep.

Also, don’t forget about progressive overload. When you gain more strength and feel like you still have energy left at the end of the sets, increase the weights, so your muscles continue to grow.

How to Make Two Sets More Effective?

If you decide to go with two-set workouts, you’ll have to stay more focused and work a bit harder to get the most out of every set.

Warm-up: Before you get started with your two-set exercise, always put enough time aside for warming up. Invest in five to ten minutes of cardio workouts, or do a warm-up set of that exercise with light weights.

Benefits of warming up

  • Focus and Go Slowly: To recruit all of your muscle fibers, you need to take your time for each rep and focus all your attention on the muscles you’re working on. Go slowly without bouncing or jerking the weights.
  • Pay Attention to the Reps: The hypertrophy rep range is between 4-40 reps, suitable for stimulating muscle growth. But when you’re doing fewer sets, staying within the 6-20 rep range will allow you to build more muscles and make every set count.
  • Choose Good Weights: Once you’ve picked the appropriate number of reps you’ll be doing, you’ll need to choose your weight wisely. Lift enough weight that you can only get through the set, and when the reps finish, you should be on the verge of failure. If you feel like you can keep going at the end of the set, you’re not fatiguing your muscles enough, and you should pick heavier weights.
  • Choose Good Workouts: Workouts that stimulate more muscles through a deep range of motions and challenges them will result in more muscle growth.
  • Rest Between Sets: Getting the most out of the two sets, you’ll be doing calls for resting long enough between two sets. 2-5 minutes of rest will allow your muscles to regain their strength and do their best in the next set.
  • Challenge Your Muscles Regularly: To build muscles and keep them growing, you must work them every few days. To do the bare minimum, training each muscle group twice a week. Read here to find out if it’s better to work out every day or every other day.

Conclusion

The path to gaining strength, endurance, and muscle growth isn’t unique. There isn’t any strict rule that says you need always to do three or four sets to succeed. As long as you keep up your training volume and work hard to exhaust your muscles, they’ll grow. So, adjust your workout plan to your liking, don’t stress out over an additional set if you have a busy life, and don’t limit yourself to general rules. 

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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