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A big strong chest is important for getting a good physique. How many sets and reps do you have to work out the chest muscles to get them to grow? Here’s what you want to know.
6 sets is enough for most people to maintain pec size and for beginners to see some growth. For optimal growth, from 12 up to 20 sets spread out over 2 workouts a week is recommended. Doing 10-15 repetitions per set works well for growing your chest.
Let’s take a look at the details of those sets, which exercises you should count and how many repetitions per set works well as well as if exercise alone is enough to grow the pecs.
Too much of a good thing turns anything bad and working out is no different. You can go too far. While there are differences between people and how much they can handle, there are some general guidelines for the optimal amount of sets that will get you to the optimal amount for most people. In general, more sets will be better for muscle growth but at some point, you run into the limits of what you can recover from.
Most people need 6 sets of direct pecs to work a week to maintain the size. That’s for intermediate to experienced weightlifters though. Beginners will likely see a little bit of growth even with this amount of sets.
For chest growth, aim for at least 6 sets of pecs work per week but up to 20 sets per week, spread out over 2 workouts (10 sets per workout) is best to grow your pecs. You can also spread out those 20 sets over 3 workouts if that works better for you. Pick 2-3 exercises and spread the sets over those.
20 sets of chest exercises per week is a lot and for beginners, that amount of volume is not necessary. About 12-16 sets per week are great for beginners to grow their pecs. Slowly build up from there.
More than 20 sets per week are going to be a problem for many people because of recovery reasons. Those 20 sets should be hard and challenging. Doing more than 20 of those a week will mean you don’t recover fully before the next workout and it becomes detrimental.
Above we looked at how many sets you should do but how many repetitions per set is also an important factor.
In general, the lower the number of repetitions per set, the more you focus on building strength, the more repetitions, the more focus on growing the muscle. That means you have to adjust the weight for how the number of repetitions you want to do. Ideally, you use a weight where you keep 1-4 repetitions in reserve at the end.
For chest growth, doing sets with 10-20 repetitions is best. Most people do sets in the 10-15 rep range and this is a good balance between building strength and size with a focus on building size.
Alternatively, you can do a high repetition (15-20 reps per set) workout once a week and a low repetition (8-12 reps per set) during the second workout. The higher rep sets would be done with lower weight and vice versa. That way you focus on both strength and size but in different workouts.
If you do the amount of sets and repetitions described above with the right resistance, is that enough to grow your pecs? Most people will get good pec growth if they follow the prescriptions above.
However, working out is the signal for your body to grow muscle if you do it right. Doing the sets above is the optimal amount of signaling for most people. That way, the signal is strong enough without becoming detrimental. While that’s a necessary part to grow your muscles, it’s not the only factor in play. One of those factors is already built into the amount of work described above and that’s; recovery. If you do too much, you break down the muscles so much that your body can’t recover quickly enough and you have to wait longer for the next workout which works out sub-optimally in the end.
But your body does not just have a set amount of recovery it can do. While some genetic and hormonal factors are difficult to control, there are some things you can.
Recovery is also largely dependent on diet and sleep. The diet gives your body the fuel to grow muscle. Sleep is where most of the muscle repair actually happens.
Eat enough clean food that gives you a good amount of vitamins and other micronutrients. Eat about 200-300 more calories than you need on a given day. It’s difficult to build muscle in a calorie deficit. You can calculate your daily calorie needs although those calculators aren’t too accurate usually so it might take some precise tracking of calories, weight, and muscle mass to figure out if you’re in the right ballpark. This is the most difficult part of growing muscle.
Besides enough calories, it’s a good idea to get enough protein. You don’t need to drink protein shakes the whole day although shakes can be good to supplement your diet sometimes. Most research papers seem to suggest that there is no benefit in consuming more than 0.8 grams of protein per lbs. of body weight and a bit less than that is perfectly fine for the majority of people. So if you weigh 100 lbs., consuming 70-80 grams of protein per day is plenty.
Sleep is very important to recovery and you should aim to get about 8 hours a night. Some high-level athletes sleep a few hours more than that just because their body needs more recovery time. And if you don’t have time to sleep more, improving sleep quality will make a massive difference as well. Not only for muscle building but for your quality of life in general.