Exercise sets: How much is too much?

If you’ve read the ZadBod philosophy, you know how much I looovveee the minimum effective dose when it comes to training – which basically means why do more when less will do the same.

I apologize for that sentence. Read it twice because it was confusing to write so I can only imagine how it is to read.

One of the first questions I always get is – How many sets should I being doing per body part per week?

Said in another way, as a busy dad, what’s the minimum effective dose in the gym to get rid of my DadBod?

How many sets does it take?

If you look at the research, you’ll get the “expert’s answer” of – it depends.

Not very helpful.

If you look at the reviews provided by some of the best fitness bloggers/researchers on the internet (James Krieger, Eric Helms, Greg Nuckols), you’ll see a range from 10-20 sets per body part per week.

Slightly better but still not too helpful.

In my humble opinion, Lyle McDonald gave the most helpful answer in his review of the research. He also agrees with the authors above (10-20 sets per body part per week), but he gets a little more specific. An individual workout should rarely go above 10 sets per body part, or it runs the risk of tossing too many junk sets in there that does little more than impair your body’s ability to recover.

So, for the large majority of the time, two workouts per week using 3 sets of 3 different exercises per body part should be sufficient.

In my programs, I usually always train a body part twice per week because my body’s recovery ability is on the less than average side. A 15+ set workout really takes its toll on me, often keeping me from my dad duties.

So, by spreading the total volume into two workouts instead of one, my intensity can stay elevated throughout each workout, and I can still mow the grass, chase the kiddo around the yard, and take out of the trash as a cool down. I’ll do anywhere from 6 sets to 9 sets in each workout depending on the phase of my workout.

The short

Hit each major muscle group (chest, back, shoulders, and quads/hamstrings) TWICE each week using 3 sets of 3 exercises. That’s more than enough volume to stimulate muscle growth without killing yourself in the gym.

So for the chest, it’d look like:

Workout 1:

Low Incline Barbell Press 3×6-8

V-Bar Dips 3×8-10

Incline Cable Flyes 3×12-15

Workout 2:

Barbell Bench 3×6-8

Decline Dumbbell Bench 3×8-10

Cable Crossovers 3×12-15

I know those workouts look really simple and lack the masculinity you normally see in the magazines (drop sets, supersets, extended sets, etc), but for the busy dad, these are the kind of workouts that get the best results.

Keep it simple stupid (KISS).

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