What Are Reps and Sets?

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In another installment of our ‘Teaching the Basics’ series, this time we answer the What are Reps And Setsquestion, “What are reps and sets?” It is important when you start any new hobby, sport, or other type of endeavor to learn the basics. To make sure that people understand some of the regular terminology used as well as concepts and the like we are ‘Teaching the Basics’ here as well as proving intermediate and advanced information.

So What are Reps and Sets?

Reps is short for repetition. The basic definition is ‘the action of repeating something’. When you are following an exercise program the idea is to perform a specific exercise, such as a bench press, to tax your muscles. To do this a program is designed around doing a specific range of repetitions for that exercise.

Typically speaking people use a lower range of repetitions for strength and a higher number for endurance.

When you look at a program it might say something like: Bench Press – 8 to 12 reps. What this means is the expectation is to pick a weight that allows you to do anywhere from 8 to 12 presses. Ideally you are picking a weight that makes it a challenge to complete that number of repetitions after you are warmed up.

A set is counted as doing a specific exercise for the specified number of repetitions. For example with our earlier scenario it might look like this: Bench Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. That would mean after you complete the first 8 to 12 reps of bench press you would rest for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Then you would do another 8 to 12 reps, rest, and do a final ‘set’ of 8 to 12 reps.

Reps and Sets – Specifics

Besides understanding what are reps and sets, you need to look at what isn’t always mentioned in the fitness programs. Initially you are given a number of sets, such as 3 or 4 for an exercise. Does that include warm-up sets? For the beginner a lot of routines have you perform 3 sets per exercise. The best way to go about this is start with a lighter weight for the first set as a warm-up. For the second set increase the weight closer to what you think the maximum is you can lift for the specific repetition range. Then the last set should be at a weight that you can barely do the lower end of repetitions on the range.

For repetitions you can do more or less than the given range. Sometimes on the first set you might want to go a bit higher to get the blood flowing for more of a warm-up. But on the last set it is critical that you push it to exhaustion, even if that means exceeding the listed number of repetitions on the given range. For example if you are doing 8 to 12 repetitions and you can do 13 or 14, do them! It is those last few challenging reps that really tax your body and create muscle growth/strength increases. Try and avoid just using a weight for 3 sets than you can easily perform the prescribed repetitions because that is not challenging your body.


Hopefully this answers the basic question of what are sets and reps. As you look at various programs and try them out you will learn what works best for you and how to adjust things as you go. But first you have to learn the basics for a nice foundation of knowledge to build upon.

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