How Many Sets Of Pecs A Week Is Enough For Growth?


The chest muscles are an important muscle for a strong looking physique. Growing the pecs is high on the priority list for many people going to the gym but how much do you actually have to train them for optimal growth? Here’s what you want to know. 

While absolute beginners will see some growth of the deltoids with just 4 heavy working sets a week. For optimal growth, two workouts with 10 heavy sets per workout is about the maximum people can recover from. 

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. 

How Many Sets Per Week Is Enough To Grow Pecs? 

What is enough depends on your goals of coarse. In this post, we’re going for the optimal amount of muscle growth. Everyone understands that to grow a muscle, you have to train it. And there is a  pretty clear trend that people who go to the gym more often and/or for longer have bigger muscles. But is there a limit? 

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 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 recovery. Once you can’t properly recover from a workout before the next one, you can’t train any more. But how much can most people train their pecs? 

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Most people need 6 sets of direct pecs 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.

However, for optimal growth aim for at least 4 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 it out over 3 workouts if that works better for you. You want to pick 2-3 exercises and spread the sets over those. 20 sets is a lot and for beginners that amount of volume is not necessary. About 12-16 sets per week is great for beginners to grow their pecs. 

Read more about workout volume for pecs here

More than 20 sets per week is going to be a problem for many people because of recovery reasons. Workouts break down the muscle and this has to be repaired for the muscle to grow. If the muscle isn’t fully recovered before the next workout, you’re taking one step forward but two steps back. The pecs are quite large muscles and take a lot of damage during heavy exercise so you have to keep an eye on if you recover quickly enough. If you don’t recover before the next workout, reduce the amount of sets a little while keeping the weight and repetitions the same. 

As said, these are general guidelines that work for most people. There are always genetic outliers that can handle much more or less. Also, this is for people that train without chemical ‘help’. If you do use performance enhancers this goes out the window since most of what those compounds do is make recovery faster. Also keep in mind the other workouts you do have an impact on recovery. 

What Is A Set?

Maybe it’s good to quickly think about what a set actually is. When you go to the gym or anywhere else you work out, you do exercises in short bursts of roughly 5-20 repetitions. One of those bursts is called a set. A set consists of a number of repetitions and you usually perform more than one set of one exercise. Three sets per exercise is very common but up to 5 sets per exercise is fine. 

You do this because doing 100 repetitions in a row is not possible in most cases unless you use really light resistance and then it becomes less useful to begin with. Sets give you the time to recover a little and then you can put your muscles through more stress in total. The amount of sets in workout has a big impact as you can see above but also the amount of repetitions in a set. 

In general, the lower the amount of repetitions is per set, the more the exercise focusses on strength, the more repetitions, the more focus on growth. However, that has to go together with the resistance. At the end of a set, you want to keep about 1-4 repetitions in reserve. That means for a set with higher repetitions, you use lighter weights (for you) and vice versa. Doing low repetitions with low weight isn’t going to do much and high repetitions with high weight will mean you fail prematurely. 

For pecs growth, doing sets from 10-20 repetitions is the best. Most people do sets in the 10-15 rep range and this is a good balance between building strength and size. However, if you exclusively want to focus on size, high rep sets might work a little better. 

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) 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. 

Do All Sets Count?

So when you see the amount of sets above, do you count everything?

As already mentioned above, the sets outlined above for optimal muscle growth is the ‘working’ sets. That means warm-up sets don’t count. Warm-ups are just that. You’re not really stressing the muscle, you’re just warming it up and getting some blood flow to them. Warm ups prime the muscles to perform their best. So only count the sets you perform with the target weight for the exercise. As mentioned above, that weight should be heavy enough so you finish the set with 1-4 repetitions left in reserve. 

The amount of sets mentioned above is direct chest work. That means exercises where the chest is targeted hard and is the main mover. There are some exercises where the pecs do a little of the work but aren’t the main muscle that’s targeted. Those sets don’t count as chest work. Of course many exercises don’t only use the pec muscles but the pecs are still heavily targeted so those do count. 

In the end it’s not a legal system, the amount of sets is just an indication of if your body is getting enough of a training impulse but not too much so you can’t recover. Counting the sets in this way is a way to keep track of the total training impulse you’re getting while avoiding overtraining.

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Examples of exercises that target the chest muscles are; Bench press, dumbbell press, dumbbell flies, push ups, pullover and all the variations on those exercises. You can use bodyweight, but for heavy resistance a dumbbell, barbell or cable machine is the best. Also, doing exercise variations on a flat bench and incline bench targets slightly different parts of the pecs.

Is Working Out Your Pecs Alone Enough?

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 pecs growth if you follow the prescriptions above. 

However, working out is the signal for your body to grow a muscle if you do it right. Doing the sets above is the optimal amount of signaling for most people. That way, the signal 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 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 there are some genetic and hormonal factors that 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 gram 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. 

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Matt

Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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