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How Much, How Many, How Often?

Many people are becoming more aware of the need to do some sort of strength training alongside their running/cycling/swimming to reduce their risk of injury and improve performance. Once you have your list of sport specific exercises to do though, it doesn’t end there.

Often people go with the classic “3×10” – 3 sets of 10 repetitions, which can be a good starting point if you’re learning a bodyweight movement. It isn’t however, particularly specific to you, your goals and progress can sometimes halter.

Once the movement pattern is established and you’ve learned how to do it, the next step, which we often see people miss out is loading it sufficiently. Adding some form of resistance either with a band or weight can really help you maximise what you’re getting out of doing the exercise, improve your strength and give you an easy way to progress. As you begin loading the movements more and you’re initiating more real change in your strength. It also means thinking more about how many reps, sets and how many times per week you’re doing these exercises.

For example, if your exercise to begin with is bodyweight squats, you can probably do 3×10 every day if you needed (or remembered to!). This will only get you so far.

To really maximise the potential from the exercises you’re doing, once you’re happily doing bodyweight squats, the next phase comes in: adding resistance. How much resistance and how many sets and reps depends on your goals and phase of training. For example, a long distance runner might do a strength phase followed by an endurance phase rather than power.

A nice rough guideline to go by is

                                               Reps              Sets             Difficulty (RPE)
Strength            4-6                2-6                  7/8
Power                 <3                   1-3                   9+
Endurance       8-12+             2-3                  6/7

RPE = Rate of perceived exertion (how hard it feels if 10 was maximal and 0 was no effort).

It’s worth noting that nothing magical that happens after 6 reps for example, it’s more like a continuum. Generally heavier for less reps is beneficial for power, as it requires hard and fast energy output then more moderate for strength then lower weight and higher rep ranges with shorter rest periods for endurance.

Once it gets too easy increase the weight! It should be challenging but achievable with good form. The amount of rest between sets also varies depending on your goals. By the time you’re loading the exercises effectively, you’ll find that it’s not possible to do them every day, but probably more like once or twice a week and it’ll need to fit in with your other training as well without affecting performance.

If it involves the gym it may well feel like a big undertaking alongside your usual training but this is why it’s so important to make use of your “off season” and periodise through the year. Spending some time doing some strength training may be more beneficial than solely running on a treadmill during the cold rainy months. At Agile, we can help you to work out a programme that works alongside your current training to improve performance and enhance your recovery from injury.


Baechle, T. and Earle, R. 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Ed). Champaign: Human Kinetics

Kiaer, M., Magnusson, P., Krosgaard, M. Boysen, M.J., Olesen, J., Heinemeier, K., Hansen, M., Haraldsson, B., Koshinen, S., Esmarck, B. and Langberg, H. 2006. Extracellular matric adaptation of tendon and skeletal muscle to exercise. J Anat (4) pp. 445-450.

Storen, O., Helgerud, J., Stoa, E.M., Hoff, J. 2008. Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Med Scie Sports Exerc 40 (6) pp. 1087-1092.

Rebekah Knight Physiotherapist at Agile Therapy

Written by Rebekah Knight, Physiotherapist.
Rebekah graduated from Cardiff University with a BSc Physiotherapy in 2013.

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