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Squat Sets And Reps: Everything You Need To Know

Squats are recognized as one of the best leg-strengthening exercises available. They’re simple and you can gradually increase the reps and/or the weight you’re holding to increase your gains.

We’re here to help you understand the importance of squat sets and reps volume and help create your squat training plan.

Does The Volume Of Squat Sets And Reps Make A Difference? Yes. The more squats sets and reps you do the more you’ll build muscle size. However, volume isn’t the only way to strengthen your muscles or achieve hypertrophy. It’s also important to consider the weight you’re squatting.

Squat Sets And Reps

The Importance Of Squat Volume

You’re going to come across a wide variety of suggestions regarding optimizing your squat training plan. However, before you can define your squat reps and sets you need to understand the importance of squat volume. It will help you create the perfect training plan.

It should be noted that squat depth is also an important consideration. Research has shown deeper squats are better at developing specific lower body muscles, such as your glutes and inner thigh muscles.

In a nutshell, volume is the most important element of muscle growth and endurance. Studies show that muscle strength can increase with high and low volumes but hypertrophy is directly linked to higher training volumes.

This is worth knowing as you create your training plan. You should also consider the following:

1. Time Available

If you have limited time then your plan should center around lifting heavy with low volume. This will help you achieve the best possible gains with the time you have available.

2. Your Goals

Squats are excellent at improving lower body strength. However, you can’t just work on your lower body, you’ll want to balance muscle growth across your body. When creating a training plan you need to consider your whole body and whether you’re looking to gain strength or muscle size.

3. Training Days

This ties in with the time you have available and your goals. You’ll be able to define how many days you should be training and how many you can fit in.

In a moment we’ll go into some suggested training plans for you.

woman doing squats with dumbbell

Why Your Approach Matters?

When deciding your preferred squat sets and reps or how many sets of squats you should do, you must be clear about what your aim is.

It’s possible to get stronger without growing huge muscles. Equally, it’s possible to get huge muscles without gaining excessive amounts of stress.

Are you interested in getting stronger or looking more buff? Knowing the answer to this will help you answer how many reps of squats you should do.

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1. For Strength Growth

This approach favors lifting as heavy as you can while squatting. Your aim will be to do 4-6 reps and just 2-3 sets.

This approach allows you to lift your maximum weight, pushing your muscles as hard as possible, effectively maximizing your gains.

You should aim to be exhausted as you finish your sets. Because you’re pushing your limits with every squat, you’ll also need longer breaks between sets. Of course, the whole process will mean less time working out than with a high volume, low-weight routine.

Spotters are always a good idea but they are particularly important if this is your preferred approach as you’re pushing exhaustion with each set.

Of course, you can also see impressive strength gains if you gradually increase the number of reps you do with heavy weights. You will need to take it slow and you will be fatigued at the end, but this approach can boost strength and endurance, with impressive gains over several months.

2. For Hypertrophy

If you are looking to build your endurance then high volume with low weights is a good approach. You’ll need to choose a weight that you can lift 12-16 times for 3-6 sets. The rep range for squats is significantly bigger when doing high volume workouts, which is why it won’t be your one-lift max!

Front Squat by Female

It’s important to quantify that low weight doesn’t mean going easy on yourself. This should still be hard work and you will need to pick a weight that allows you to complete the squat reps and sets without exhaustion but still challenges you.

At the end of a high volume, low-weight squat routine you’ll feel pumped but not over-exerted. Research shows this is the approach favored by lifters looking to increase muscle size.

Understanding why you’re approaching a workout in a specific way will help motivate you and ensure you’re looking for the right results.

After all, if you’re looking to grow the size of your muscles and are focusing on high-intensity, low-volume squats, you’re unlikely to get the results you want.

How Many Sets And Reps Of Squats Should You Do?

Having worked out what your aims are you’ll be asking how many reps of squats should you do and how many sets of squats should you do. To decide this, consider the following:

1. Current Fitness Level

People doing squats for the first time may need to start squatting without weights. This will help to ensure you have good form before you start loading up. In general, if you’re new to squatting you can aim to do between 12-15 reps and 3 sets.

However, what you can actually do will be dictated by your fitness level. If you can’t manage that squat rep range, do less and work up to it.

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2. Intention

We’ve spoken about goals, specifically whether you’re looking to improve muscle strength or size. However, some people are doing squats as part of a goal to lose fat. In this instance 3 sets of 10-12 reps, ensuring you can just complete the reps, is likely to produce good results.

3. Your Overall Workout Plan

The higher the intensity of your squats, the longer you’ll need to leave between sessions. This may give you the time you need to target other muscles.

However, being consistent means muscle memories are created. In short, your body will get better at performing squats. This adaptation is lost surprisingly quickly. A recent study of 12 older women found that despite a 22-week training program, their muscles deadapted in just one month.

Front Squatting

In short, when creating a plan don’t leave too long a gap between workouts. A month may seem like a long time but if you opt for high-intensity and low-volume squats, you may leave 10 days between sessions. You only have to miss two squat sessions to start losing your gains!

For that reason, higher volumes and lower weights, with a target of 3-6 sets of 12 reps could be your best option.

Training Squat Plan Depending On Your Goals

Now you know what you want from your squats you’ll be able to decide the right volume and even the depth of the squat you’re aiming for.

Here are some possible plans:

1. For Muscle Hypertrophy

If your goal is to get large muscles then you’ll need a muscle hypertrophy plan, such as this:

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4
Back squat 4 sets of 8 repsBox jumps 4 sets of 6 repsFront squats 4 sets of 8 repsKettlebell swings 4 sets of 8 reps
Bulgarian split squats 3 sets 10 repsPlyometric lunges 3 sets of 8 reps per legHack squats 3 sets of 8 repsJump squats 4 sets of 6 reps
Romanian deadlifts 3 sets of 8 repsSpeed squats 4 sets of 5 repsGood mornings 3 sets of 10 repsOlympic barbell thrusters 3 sets of 8 reps
Leg press 3 sets of 10 repsDepth jumps 3 sets of 6 repsWalking lunges 3 sets of 12 reps per legBox jumps 3 sets of 8 reps

On day five, have a rest day before repeating.

2. For Strength Development

To build strength you’ll want to do the following:

Day 1Day 2Day 3
Bench back squat 3 sets of 4 repsLeg press 3 sets of 4 repsFront squat 3 sets of 4 reps
Paused back squat 3 sets of 4 repsStiff-leg deadlifts 2 sets of 6 repsThree position squats 2 sets of 4 reps
Narrow stance squat 2 sets of 5 repsLeg extensions 2 sets of 6 repsGoblet squats 3 sets of 6 reps
Wide stance squat 3 sets of 6 repsLeg curls 2 sets of 6 repsSplit squats 3 sets of 4 reps

Take a rest day before repeating.

3. For Endurance

An endurance plan will look like this:

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4
10 minutes of dynamic stretches targeting the lower body10-minute warm up with high jumps and tuck jumps10-minute warm up focusing on dynamic mobilityWarm up for 10 minutes with full-body stretches
Back squats 5 sets of 5 repsJump squats 4 sets of 6 repsFront squat 5 sets of 5 repsSquat pyramids 10 reps, followed by 8 reps, 6 reps, then 4 reps, increasing weight as you lower reps
Pause squats 3 sets of 4 repsBox squats 4 sets of 6 repsSumo deadlifts 3 sets of 8 repsBulgarian split squats 3 sets of 8 reps
Walking lunges 3 sets of 12 repsGoblet squats 3 sets of 10 repsCalf raises 4 sets of 15 repsLeg curls 3 sets of 10 reps

On day 5 have a rest before starting again.

FAQ

How Many Squats Should I Do?

The answer to this depends on your current fitness level and your goal. Doing more squats with lower weights, such as 12-16 reps and 3-6 sets, is good for hypertrophy.

In contrast, 2-3 sets of 3-6 reps at maximum weight is better for strength.

Should I Do 8 or 15 Reps of Squats?

Eight reps allow you to lift heavier and will help build strength. Trying to do 15 reps will mean a lower weight. That’s generally considered better for building hypertrophy.

Should I Go Heavy on Squats?

This depends on your aim. Going heavy focuses on muscle strength over size. However, you need to know your limits before lifting heavy. The aim is to only just be able to lift the last rep of the last set.

It’s often best to mix high-volume and low-volume training.

Do I Need to Squat Till Failure?

If you’re aiming to build strength then yes. Squatting to failure means you’ve pushed your muscles to their limits. You’ll have created microtears in them which leads to stronger muscles as they heal.

It’s a good idea to push yourself to failure sometimes.

Conclusion

Choosing the right number of squat sets and reps is a personal decision. It’s defined by your goals and your current fitness level.

Our training plans will help you get started and we’re here to answer any questions. All you have to do is get started, and there is no better time to do that than now!

Referenses:

  1. Kubo K, Ikebukuro T, Yata H. Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019 Sep;119(9):1933-1942. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04181-y. Epub 2019 Jun 22. PMID: 31230110.
  2. SCHOENFELD, B. J., CONTRERAS, B., KRIEGER, J., GRGIC, J., DELCASTILLO, K., BELLIARD, R., & ALTO, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 51(1), 94-103. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764
  3. Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
  4. Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
  5. Rodrigues, B., Gonçalves, O., & Uchida, M. C. (2017). Effects of a short-term detraining period on muscle functionality and cognition of strength-trained older women: A preliminary report. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 13(5), 559-567. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1735010.505

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Jason Li avatar

Author: Jason Li
Personal Coach, Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist

Experience: 10 years

Jason is an NYC personal training expert and National level Olympic Weightlifting Coach with over 10 years of experience training everyday clients to high levels of performance. He has trained everyone from youth (13 years old and under) to masters (60+ years old) to regional and national rankings for powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Short distance (up to 200m) sprinting, discus & hammer throwing.

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