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Performing 3 sets of 12 reps for the exercises your workout is likely killing your gains. Now, don’t get me wrong…I actually like the 10-12 rep range when it comes to building muscle and when the goal is muscle hypertrophy. The problem is, the focus is misdirected as it often times gets put on the number of reps and not the quality of the reps or the time it takes you to perform them. Let me explain.

The genesis of the whole 10-12 rep recommendation for muscle growth actually came from the time under tension that that number of reps would equate to if you performed them with the right tempo. If you did an explosive one second up on the concentric portion of the lift and a slow eccentric lowering of 3 seconds on the way down (another way to increase the tension on the working muscle) then you would be at 4 seconds per rep which would equate to 40-48 seconds of tension in that set.

Research shows that crossing the threshold of 45 seconds is important, and when paired with a high intensity effort which brings you to failure beyond this point can lead to more impressive muscle gains. What winds up happening however is that we don’t perform our reps at this speed and we end up performing them much faster. As you can see in this set of dumbbell incline bench press performed by Jesse, he finishes the set in just 26 seconds.

But that is lost on most people that lift weights and train and instead they focus on the number of reps and doing anything they can to reach that goal number to determine whether or not their set was a success or conducive to new growth. Big mistake. If you were performing a set and noticed after completing three perfectly performed reps that there was no way you were going to be able to maintain that form for the entire set of 12 reps so you shortened your range of motion, that would be a critical mistake. What you wind up with is sub maximal reps at every point in along the way to twelve as explained in the video.

Instead, you would want to accept the fact that you were not going to be able to make it and just do as many reps as you could until reaching failure. Each one would be performed as hard and with as most effort as you could generate. If the number wound up falling drastically short of the twelve that you set out to do you could always drop the weight on the subsequent sets to get you back into that range.

If you picked a weight that happened to be too light and didn’t take you close to failure, you would want to continue to rep out no matter how many reps it took to eventually get you to failure and then adjust the weights up on a subsequent set. Alternatively you could stop the set at 12 reps if you knew you were far too light on the weights and consider it a warmup set and then adjust the weights up and start again.

Either way, the point is not to focus on the number of the reps since after all, your muscles can’t count they can only feel tension. If you are skirting tension in an effort to reach a magic number I can guarantee you are shortchanging the amount of muscle that you can ultimately build in your workouts. Focus always on finding ways to direct more tension to the muscles that you are trying to grow instead of avoiding it and you will be much happier with your overall results.

If you are looking for a complete workout and nutrition program that never takes the easy way out but delivers much more powerful results than those that do, head to and get your ATHLEAN-X Training System. See why when you train at a high intensity your workouts don’t have to be long to be effective. Start building muscle and making much faster gains by training like an athlete step by step.

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    65 replies to "“3 Sets of 12” is KILLING Your Gains!!"

    • ATHLEAN-X™

      Can you guess the reason why I am standing the way I am for the entire video?

      A. I had to stay low to make sure my head stayed in frame with Jesse sitting down.
      B. My “Sore in 6” Legs workout (to be released Saturday!) has left me plastered to the floor in this position!
      C. Giving “the boys” some fresh air and room to roam.
      D. All of the Above

      • Os Wb


      • James Gilmore


      • The Humphreys

        D makes the most sense but I definitely noticed it looked weird before I saw your initial multiple choice 😃

    • Bassem B.

      “Remember, your muscles can’t count, they can only feel” – LOVE it

      • Mango 319

        Bassem Boustany wel spoken!

      • mar

        Bassem Boustany be water

    • johndavies115

      I watched all of these videos and made a list of what not to do. Now I don’t lift at all and I’m soooo happy.

      • TrueWork


      • Clay Campbell


      • AMC Shares

        What I got from this was that every set should be to failure, you should do full range of motion, keep elbows tucked instead of wide and dor 3-4 second reps….

      • AMC Shares

        Atleast your happy I guess.

        I just take little on board at a time, stick to a routine and I am sooo happy 😊

        Each to their own.

        Jeff’s advice is legit. Just take it in small doses I’d say, mainly focus on form.

      • Manish Gurawalia


    • Kyle

      Jesse, blink three times if Jeff won’t let you leave the gym.

      • dinotank273

        Jesse, why is Gus with Jeff?

      • Evandro Poli


      • Green Neighbour (Art Lightstone)

        So funny.

      • MadChristoph

        I heard this in Walter White’s voice

      • Footy4life


    • Matthew

      “But I’ve got more sets..” damn, that was a BIG eye-opener and helpful tip. Thank you so much for everything I’ve learned the last couple months.
      Really got into bodybuilding a few years ago but couldn’t get a good routine and didn’t have the best advice even after watching a ton of bodybuilders just takes time to find reliable and accurate information, and to sort out any destructive/false information I learned. So much BS from massive-sized trainers who give way too much advanced advice for everyone.

    • K4zuki

      Short story: Just do slow rep

      • BriGuy Patriot

        Exactly! All that to say that!

      • suhai tan

        Thank u, i really dont understand the video, lol

      • dicko195

        but the science is what we came for

      • Harold the Nihongo Student

        Not exactly. Keep the tension in the eccentric contraction for 2 to 3 seconds.

      • AMC Shares

        What I got from this was that every set should be to failure, you should do full range of motion, keep elbows tucked instead of wide and dor 3-4 second reps….

    • Clergy Man

      The only bad work out is the one that wasn’t done. To everyone watching and thinking oh I have been such a gym jerk, no you are not. That you left your house and went to the gym and actually did something to the best of your ability while you are there is an achievement in itself, you are a hero. Keep being consistent and disciplined you will eventually figure out what works best for you. That said, The only thing that kills your gains is quitting your workout routine all together. As long as you are still making efforts nothing is killing your gains. Stay Motivated champ

      • Fernando Perez

        Gracias compa

      • AMC Shares

        What I got from this was that every set should be to failure, you should do full range of motion, keep elbows tucked instead of wide and dor 3-4 second reps….

      • hymns4ever

        I generally agree. In order to live long and healthy we must oxygenate the blood, and we must circulate the blood. Even lighter reps can accomplish this. It really depends as to what your goals are. Do you want muscle mass, or strength? Do you want endurance or power? Also, a lot of people who might work to exhaustion end up quitting because of muscle soreness.

      • Leon

        This is not true. It is better to stay lazy at home than to go to the gym, do an exercise badly and hurt yourself in the process. It is imperative that you first know what you plan on doing, and then it is best to optimise your gains. Of course, this channel has the established clickbait series “you’re doing this wrong”, but it is generally about optimising your workout and avoiding injuries. It’s not about shaming you for not knowing enough. This vid, for example, is about changing your attitude towards working out, to treat it less like a homework and take your body more into consideration – keep going if you’ve the stamina, or stop if you don’t.

      • Chad Chad

        Needed that thanks man

    • Razor

      Jeff: “That whole set was kind of a waste”

      Jesse: 😐

      • Sk84life Xstep


      • Nick

        6:10 you can totally seem him giving Jeff the side-eye XD

      • Joey Kumar


      • seynpurrp


      • hymns4ever

        Poor Jesse, he is such a screw up! (PP)

    • Alden Rozario

      I used to do this a lot….
      I went to the gym for almost 6 months but barely made any gains but after applying this muscle building principle I got gains outta this world
      Thanks a lot Jeff

      • Ceo of the wise trees

        thats weird i made alot of gains

    • battleforcheese

      Jeff really dominating Jesse with that wide power stance

      • Chris

        Somehow I didnt even notice but when I read this comment, couldn’t help but laugh

      • Mike Rose 🌹

        I was just thinking about that but he’s doing it because if he were to stand up straight he wouldn’t be in frame his head would be cut off

      • TriMixe


      • Margearet

        Hahaha true…but maybe it’s better for the camera angle?

      • Footy4life


    • M M

      The comment section is pure gold on this one. But I really needed this. I felt like I wasn’t getting the results I needed and getting through ax1 after failing the 1st month a second time..I need to focus on my effort more! Starting on today’s workout. Thank you Jeff, you keep me on track to a better me.

    • Neal Aperture

      I stopped working out for a long time almost 3 years and I just started getting back into it. This was probably one of the most important parts of my training I forgot and was wondering why I wasn’t feeling the same. Something was off and this was it. Thank you for the reminder.!

    • jonathanಠ_ಠ

      So my takeaway from this video:
      Do reps slowly, not quickly, to make sure youre doing them good and all the way, to get a better outcome
      Got it ✔️

      • Steven D

        @Wijaya Yoga Then you’re probably lifting more weight than you should. Based on the logic of keeping reps between 6 to 12 then it makes more sense to lift so that in your first set you’re failing at 12 reps, then on the second set failing at 11 reps, then on the third set failing at 10 reps. That way your reps stay within the 6 to 12 range. I know way too many people who injured themselves by lifting more than they could…. what’s the point of working out if you end up being weaker than when you started haha

      • The Dynamic Flashy

        Studies have shown it’s all about repetitions and moving the weight from point A to point B. Slowing down reps have no advantage over normal speed reps. In fact, they’re counter productive.

      • Yudistira Liem

        @The Dynamic Flashy wrong, it’s about time under tension and how challenging it is for you (near to failure). Yes you can train for explosiveness but it might not give you optimum hypertrophy especially after the first two years of noob gains.

        Both slowing down and increasing rom helps. Varies where to focus whether it’s on positive or negative or static holds also help. Focus only on one aspect and you lose possible gains.

      • pancake

        bro explained a 8 min video in 4 seconds

      • CriticalAdventure

        this video has nothing to do with 3 sets of 12. it’s more based on tempo and pacing your reps + reaching failure on each set

    • The Chad

      My Father was a drill Sergeant in the Military he taught me when I was young to do EVERY exercise to failure, we never counted reps. One of the best things my Dad ever taught me!!

      • Beef Stew

        The problem with that is some days you can be going light and not realize it. How Muhammad Ali trained was similar, he wouldnt count reps until he was tired, then when he was ready to quit, he would get in a full set

      • The Chad

        @Beef Stew good point.

      • Joemama

        how many sets tho?

    • moneykills

      mad respect Jeff! we love you and tour informative insight on absolute necessity of form and technique. KEEP ON GOING AND GIVING such awesome content. I share with my physical therapists, doctors, and friends! much love

    • Raheel Soomro

      Jeff is right, ” Don’t be so focused on counting your reps that you stop making the reps count”. The magic is NOT in the number of reps, the magic is in the TENSION you build in each set. 👏👏 Also one more thing, consistency is the key guys, you will eventually figure it all out (faster with Jeff’s guidance) and the results will come in no matter what, just be consistent. (As Clergy Man has also mentioned below in the comments)

    • ISE

      Thank you. I’ve watched some of your videos when I was younger and some more now currently and you’ve been a helpful guide through my workout journey through out my life both you and Jesse and I just wanna say thanks. May the light of universal peace be with both of you. 🤙🏻💪🏻✌🏻

    • Brad Reitmeyer

      This video was an eye opener for me. I have always been fixated on the number of reps. i do try to do strict exercises on all my lifts, and do reach failure at about 10 reps, but still am stuck on the number and i’ll admit that i know i stop sometimes when i reach that “number” that i’m shooting for, even tho i know i could go further. Thanks for another great segment Jeff.

    • The Angelic Beauty of Yours

      I feel the same way. 12 reps is always my end point but sometimes I felt nothing happened, no more muscle aches when tomorrow comes. But this video confirmed my bias and starting tomorrow I will start my workout with a fresh routine. Thank you Jeff and Jesse.

      • David

        Muscle ache isn’t that good for you as people say and doesn’t signal muscle gain at all. The video’s idea is that doing 12 reps means you’re doing it for X seconds which is purely wrong assumption. Every person does reps at different tempo and different excercises at different tempo. The whole video’s idea is just built on assumption that is purely stupid.

    • Mallory Silva

      I love this video, Very helpful, the 1 second up hold and 3 seconds down is really brilliant! i’ve noticed i haven’t really been training until failure while i’m working out, always gotta remember slow and controlled!! Thank you so much for making this for us!!

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