The squat is often referred to as the king of exercises and many want to learn how many sets and reps of squats they should be doing. The short answer is, it depends!
The ideal sets and reps for squats will depend on your experience level, what your current goals are, what else you will be doing in your workout, and what type of squat variation you perform.
For the average gym goer, 3 - 4 sets of anywhere between 3 - 12 reps of squats will help you build strength and muscle. Rest 3 - 5 minutes if you do between 3 - 5 reps as this is considered more of a max strength lift or 2 - 3 minutes if you do 6 - 12 reps as this is more hypertrophy (muscle building).
Let’s break down what type of squat rep scheme is best for you.
Squats are an advanced exercise that take time to learn and perfect. As a beginner, the most important thing you can do is take the time to learn perfect form before you start aggressively increasing weight. For most of my online and in person clients, I start them with goblet squats before we dive into barbell squats.
If you don’t take the time to learn proper form, you risk having bad form that can lead to knee, hip, and lower back pain. Generally speaking, you want to stay away from low reps (which means heavier weight) until you feel confident with the movement.
Here's a great leg workout with dumbbells only that will incorporate different squat exercises.
Guidelines for squats sets and reps for beginners:
- Start with a squat variation that you feel confident with and can perform pain free and with good form.
- Perform 3 sets of 6 - 10 reps.
- Rest 2 - 3 minutes to ensure you are fully recovered.
- Before beginning the first of your 3 sets, perform 1 - 2 rounds as a warm up round with lighter weight.
- Find a weight that you do for the 6 - 10 reps and still have 2 - 3 reps left in the tank. For example, if you do a barbell squat with 135 for 6 reps, you should be able to do 8 - 9 with confidence. This is a safe spot to train as a beginner.
Once you get comfortable with the squat variation of your choosing, you can start experimenting with a wider range of reps that can focus more on hypertrophy or maximal strength.
Additionally, you’ll feel more comfortable pushing the intensity with your squat, allowing you to get closer to failure with your reps.
Guidelines for squat sets and reps for intermediate and advanced lifters
- Perform 3 - 4 sets of 3 - 12 reps.
- Rest 3 - 5 minutes for a rep range of 3 - 5 and 2 - 3 minutes for a rep range of 6 - 12.
- Do 1 - 2 practice rounds as you get into your working set weight.
- Leave 1 - 2 reps in reserve (RIR) on each set.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. The best type of squat is one that you enjoying doing, can perform with great form, and you can do pain free.
For most of my clients we start on with goblet squats and then mix in unilateral squat movements such as split stance squats and Bulgarian split squats. They are easier on the joints and don’t put excess stress on your spine. If you have any back pain, try this leg workout.
Once I can tell my clients have great range of motion, their knees and back feel good, AND they want to do a new exercise, I’ll implement barbell back squats.
I have plenty of clients that could do them if they wanted but they have no desire.
Again, find what works for you and that you enjoy.
Since squats are a big compound movement that work multiple muscles, it can be very taxing on your central nervous system depending on how many reps you are doing.
Also, it depends on what type of squat you do. 5 sets of bodyweight squats is much easier on your body than a bunch of weight on your back with a barbell back squat.
If you are picking weights that make each set challenging, 5 sets is going to be too much for most people.
Stick to 3 - 4 rounds and make sure each round is challenging.
Maximal strength for squats is done in the rep range of 1 - 5. Going heavy on squats is fine if you don’t feel any pain.
To reference my clients again, we stay in the 3 - 5 rep range if that is their goal. The risk versus reward isn’t worth it doing 1 - 2 reps. You are better off going slightly lighter and adding extra reps to prevent injury.
Depending on the type of program you follow, 1 - 2 squat sessions a week will be adequate for strength and muscle gains.
This doesn’t mean you have to do the same movement each day though.
I would recommend prioritizing one main bilateral squat movement, such as barbell squats, one day, and on the other day prioritize a big unilateral movement, like a Bulgarian split squat.
How Many Sets And Reps Of Squats Should You Do Recap
As you’ve learned, there is a wide range of options when picking your sets and reps. If you’re a beginner, stick with slightly higher reps for less sets and focus on form. Once you get more advanced, add more sets, more variety with rep ranges, higher intensity, and harder variations.