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How many bench press sets should you do? [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Feb 24, 2017 10:00:00 AM

how many sets

How many bench press sets should you do?

The easy answer is somewhere between 2 - 10 depending on your goals. The lower range is more suited for strength gains, the midrange for muscle and strength, the upper range for mainly muscle gains on the bench press.

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Guide to reps and sets


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Every week it happens again. Every week you go into to your local gym and do your program. You know exactly what you do want to do before you walk in there. You grab your things, you get shit done and then you walk out again. Right? Well at least that is how it should be, but at the beginning of your training journey and without a coach things can get quite confusing quite quick. The less clear your goals are the sooner someone will be able to confuse you or for you to confuse yourself. 

Why do you lift?

One of the questions that might pop to mind is how many sets you should do when you go to the gym. How to decide on how you want to split the repetitions and how many sets you actually are going to do when there are no reference points whatsoever? This all depends on your fitness level and your goals. From there you can determine what the gap is to reach your them. The bench press is usually one of the more advanced and specific exercises. Most of the individual goals are:

  • Increase strength
  • Increase muscle mass
  • Both at the same time
  • Competitive achievements

Depending on your goal it will be easier to decide which rep scheme helps you best and whether the bench press is an exercise you can and should do. So before reading any further I would challenge you do take a day to decide what you really desire and whether the bench press will help you obtain it. If not, it is just a distraction. Do something else. If a good physique or a big bench press gives you satisfaction in life, pursue it. Protect it. I like training as it is something that I can control and gives me pleasure as I, unfortunately, have been let down by people in my life and I let them down vice versa. So what is your reason? 

How to decide on your sets

Once you know which takes priority, physique, strength, health or winning you can decide on the intensity of your training. The more intense your training is the more likely it will become that you will injure yourself and get a career stopping injury. If you want to compete and win, that is where you have to go, as others will too. Make a conscious choice and forget about what people around you say. Keep the long term game in mind. It is of no use to you if you cripple yourself by training too hard within a year. Based on this the prelipin chart is a good point to start to decide on your volume:

Image result for prilepin's chart

As a beginner on the bench press start with a higher volume of repetition with an empty bar or very low weight to learn the movement pattern correctly. This will most likely be the first 3 - 6 months of your training. After that test your one repetition maximum with the help of your coach or friend to spot you. Based on the result calculate the percentage of your one repetition maximum. The prilepin's chart is used best when you want to optimize for strength. Just pick the number of reps and sets based on the table. For hypertrophy training work with 8 - 12 repetitions per set for a total for the day between 60 - 100. This is an easy overview for beginners. If you like to follow a more structured approach to increasing your bench press I recommend Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength.


If there is no clarity about your goals, neither picking sets, repetitions and intensity is a worthwhile exercise, so start with your goals. Once your goal is clear break down what you need to do in accordance to reach them. This will not be an overnight experience. You most likely will embark on a life journey. So ask yourself whether you are up for that.

Further reading


Topics: Lift stronger, Bench Press, Powerlifting