Power & Strength

Sets, Reps, and Rest: A Strength Training Guide

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Fitness, exercising, weight, and strength training programs use terms like sets, reps, and rest intervals. Knowing what they mean and how to use them for optimal results is important to achieve health goals. An individual’s training program will differ in the weights, reps, sets, rest intervals, and execution speed depending on whether the training is for fitness, muscle growth, strength, power, or endurance. Here we offer a strength training guide on understanding these terms and how they apply to a workout program.

Strength Training Guide

Reps

  • Rep means repetition.
  • A rep is one completion of an exercise, such as one bench press, or one bicep curl.
  • So, one bicep curl equals one rep, and 10 bicep curls equals 10 reps.
  • Reps make up a set, which is typically the total number of reps done before taking a break.
  • A repetition maximum – 1RM is an individual’s personal best or the most they can lift once in a single repetition.
  • A 10RM would be the most an individual could lift and successfully perform 10 reps with proper form.

Sets

  • A set is a series of repetitions performed sequentially.
  • For example, one set of bench presses could be eight reps
  • Sets are designed according to the individual’s workout program.

Rest

  • The rest interval is the time of resting between sets that allow the muscles to recover.
  • The rest period between sets can range from 30 seconds to two minutes.
  • Exercises can have short or long rests between reps.
  • The ideal rest period depends on the objective of the workout and health goals.
  • Muscle hypertrophy/building: 30 to 60 seconds
  • Muscle endurance: 30 to 60 seconds
  • Strength: 2 to 5 minutes
  • Power: 1 to 2 minutes
  1. It’s important to time rest between sets.
  2. Not resting long enough and starting with another set too soon can fatigue the muscles too soon, increasing the risk of injury.
  3. Resting too long between reps can cool the muscles down and release tension before starting again.

Execution Speed

  • The speed at which one rep of an exercise is performed is contraction velocity.
  • Concentric – shortening of the muscle is often the lifting part of a rep.
  • Eccentric – lengthening of the muscle, often the lowering part of a rep helps to build muscle mass.
  1. Strength: 1 to 2 seconds concentric and eccentric
  2. Hypertrophy: 2 to 5 seconds concentric and eccentric
  3. Endurance: 1 to 2 seconds concentric and eccentric
  4. Power: Less than 1 second concentric and 1 to 2 seconds eccentric

Choosing Weights

The distribution of repetitions against a percentage of 1RM maximum lift is as follows. This example uses a bench press where 1RM is 160 pounds.

  • 100% of 1RM: 160 pounds, 1 repetition
  • 60% of 1RM: 96 pounds, warm-up reps
  • 85% of 1RM: 136 pounds, 6 repetitions
  • 67% of 1RM: 107 pounds, 12 repetitions
  • 65% of 1RM: 104 pounds, 15 repetitions

An individual should be able to do one lift at 1RM, six reps at 85%, 15 reps at 65%, and so on.

Goals to Build a Program

A training program is a schedule of exercise types, frequency, intensity, and volume, for weight training or any other type of fitness training. Individuals can devise various combinations of sets, reps, rest, and exercise types to find what works best for them. A qualified strength and conditioning trainer can help develop a program. The variables can be adjusted and include:

  • Exercise selection
  • Weights or resistance used
  • Number of reps
  • Number of sets
  • Execution speed
  • Rest time between sets
  • Rest time between training sessions and days of the week

General Fitness

  • A basic strength training fitness program targets strength and muscle-building.
  • Between eight and 15 repetitions for two to four sets will help achieve both.
  • Choose eight to 12 exercises, making sure to hit the lower and upper body and core.

Strength

  • Building strength uses the most weight, the least number of reps, and the longest rest periods.
  • The neuromuscular system responds to heavy weights by increasing the body’s ability to lift heavy loads.
  • For example, individuals with a strength goal could use a 5×5 system.
  • This means five sets of five repetitions.

Muscle Growth

  • Muscle growth and bodybuilding training use lighter weights, more reps, and less rest periods.
  • Muscle requires metabolic stress to increase in size.
  • This means working the muscles to the point where lactate builds and the muscle suffers internal damage, sometimes called “training to failure.”
  • Then resting and proper nutrition help muscle repair and the muscle grows larger in the process.
  • A program could be three sets of 8 to 12 reps, with loads that reach or near the failure point on the last few reps.

Power

  • Power training uses slightly lighter weights, takes longer rest periods, and focuses on execution speed.
  • Power is the ability to move an object at high speed.
  • Each push, pull, squat, or lunge is done at a quick tempo.
  • This type of training requires practicing the acceleration of a lift, resting properly, and repeating.

Muscular Endurance

  • Endurance weight training requires more reps in each set, up to 20 or 30, with lighter weights.
  • Individuals should ask themselves what is the day-to-day physical activity that requires the most muscular endurance?
  • For example, runners will want to concentrate on increasing endurance in their legs.
  • Swimmers may shift and focus on their arms one day then legs another.

Movement as Medicine


References

Liu, Chiung-Ju, and Nancy K Latham. “Progressive resistance strength training for improving physical function in older adults.” The Cochrane Database of systematic reviews vol. 2009,3 CD002759. 8 Jul. 2009, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002759.pub2

Loturco, Irineu, et al. “Muscle Contraction Velocity: A Suitable Approach to Analyze the Functional Adaptations in Elite Soccer Players.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 15,3 483-491. 5 Aug. 2016

Rønnestad, B R, and I Mujika. “Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports vol. 24,4 (2014): 603-12. doi:10.1111/sms.12104

Suchomel, Timothy J et al. “The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 48,4 (2018): 765-785. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0862-z

Tøien, Tiril, et al. “Maximal strength training: the impact of eccentric overload.” Journal of Neurophysiology vol. 120,6 (2018): 2868-2876. doi:10.1152/jn.00609.2018

Westcott, Wayne L. “Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health.” Current sports medicine reports vol. 11,4 (2012): 209-16. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8

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The information herein on "Sets, Reps, and Rest: A Strength Training Guide" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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