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Weight Room Wednesdays: What do sets and reps mean?

By Fred Smith, YWCA Fitness on 25th Personal Trainer

Today I would like to talk about a couple of terms commonly used in the gym and a couple of examples of how they can affect a workout routine. I’m referring to SETS and REPETITIONS. A set is a group of repetitions (an example would be 3 sets of 12 repetitions). A repetition is a single time you perform the exercise.

You might ask does it matter how many sets or repetitions I perform? The answer is YES! I will give you two real life training examples. First, the amount of sets and repetitions you do will somewhat depend on your experience level with resistance training. The more experienced you are, the more you can do. My examples today will be for the beginner who has less than 6 months experience in the gym.

Example 1 – Training for general fitness

Sets 2-4  x  10–15 repetitions

This program is for the person looking for a well-balanced strength program. Following this program is a great way to increase strength. You would do 2 to 4 sets with 10 to 15 repetitions for each exercise. You may choose to use the machine or exercise and perform 2 to 4 sets.

Example 2 – Training for muscle definition

Sets 3-6  x 12-20 repetitions

This is a program for a person who is looking for more of a muscle toning program rather than a goal to build strength.

Length of time between sets:

For a general fitness program, rest 1 to 2 minutes between sets.

If your goal is for a more defined or leaning out program, only rest up to 1 minute rest (or less). This allows the heart rate to remain elevated throughout the workout hence burn more calories to achieve definition. Keep in mind you will be lifting less weight when doing higher repetitions and sets to allow you to maintain a higher pace.

How much weight should you use?

Helping you identify the proper amount of weight for your goals is an area where personal trainers excel. Book a session with one of our personal trainers and we can assist you to set specific goals for yourself. But, to give you some guideline to achieving this, the easiest way to set the weight (assuming proper form is being used) is to play with the weight a bit. For example, with a program of 3 sets × 12 repetitions you should be struggling on the last couple of repetitions while maintaining form. If you are not struggling at all, and can do more repetitions, lift heavier to get in your repetition range. That goes the other way too in that if you struggle too soon, you should reduce the weight. These concepts apply for whichever type of program outcome you wish to work towards.

These are just two examples of ways to manipulate your sets and repetitions to move you one step closer to your goals. Please keep in mind strength training is only one part of a well-balanced workout. Stay tuned as I plan to follow up with a outline about strength training and recovery time.