Sets, Reps & Rest: Everything You Need To Know
When setting new fitness goals or beginning your fitness journey, it’s common for people to ask which exercises they should do, but many people don’t ask how many they should perform or how to structure their workout for it to be most effective. That’s where sets, reps and rest come in!
What are reps?
In strength training, reps is short for repetitions and refers to the number of times you complete an exercise before taking a break. If you complete 12 squats before you rest, that would be 12 reps.
What does high, medium and low reps mean?
Here is a rough idea of what people mean when they say high, medium or low reps. This is just a general guide, not a rule.
- High reps: 15+
- Medium reps: 6-12
- Low reps: 1-5
What are sets?
Completing several reps or repetitions of an exercise in a row is called a set. If you complete 12 squats before you rest, that would be one set. After a short rest, you might perform another 12 squats which would be your second set, and so on.
What is a superset?
One type of superset would involve exercises that use opposing muscle groups (such as a bench press and leg press) to minimise your rest period and improve your endurance. Another kind would involve exercises that use the same muscle groups to encourage fatigue and really challenge your muscles.
What is rest?
Your rest period is the time between sets where you rest before you begin another set. Your rest period is important because you need to give your muscles time to recover to minimise the risk of injury and make your workout as effective as possible! No matter how strong you are, rest periods are still important in strength training.
How long should you rest between sets?
This will depend on your individual abilities as well as your fitness goals. Your rest period might be anywhere between 30 seconds and five minutes depending on your training style and how heavy you’re lifting, but each Sweat workout has rest periods to guide you.
Research has shown that for strength goals, training with weights between 50% and 90% of your one rep max with 3-5 minutes of rest between each set allows you to complete greater repetitions. Higher levels of muscular power were demonstrated over multiple sets with 3-5 minutes of rest between sets compared to one minute of rest.
When the training goal is muscular hypertrophy (an increase in muscle size), a combination of moderate-intensity sets with short rest intervals of 30-90 seconds may be most effective due to greater levels of growth hormones during such workouts.
Sweat takes out the guesswork
If this is all sounding too complicated and you’re wondering if you need to calculate these numbers and timings yourself, don’t worry! Sweat programs have the reps, sets and rest periods automatically built into each workout.
Anytime you need more rest, you can simply hit pause during your workout to give yourself the break you need. If your muscles are fatigued before you’ve finished your sets, you can also skip ahead.
Ways to make your workout easier
- Reduce the number of reps in each set (keeping the number of sets the same)
- Reduce your total number of sets (keeping the number of reps the same)
- Reduce the number of sets and reps
- If you are using additional weights, pick lighter options
- Take a longer rest period in between your sets
Ways to make your workout harder
- Increase the total number of reps in each set
- Increase the number of sets you perform
- Increase the number of sets and reps
- Lift a heavier weight
- Reduce the rest period in between your sets
You’ve decided to add weights or increase your weights. Woohoo! Should your reps and sets change?
This depends on how heavy the weights feel to YOU and how challenging it is to perform your reps. Generally, you will be able to complete a higher number of reps when using lighter weights, and a lower number of reps when using heavier weights, but the words “light” and “heavy” are subjective and depend on your abilities.
The sweet spot is when you can complete all of the reps with good form, but the last couple start to feel very challenging. That’s what forces your muscles to adapt!
If your workout says 12 reps but you’re starting to compromise your form at rep 10 or feel like you couldn’t possibly do another rep, stop there (and feel proud, you pushed yourself to your max!). If you’re lifting heavy and pursuing strength gains, you might only be able to complete four reps.
Different strokes for different folks
Here are some examples of how you might adjust your reps and sets to align with your fitness goals:
If you’re strength training for general health and fitness…
Lifting lighter weights for a higher number of reps is probably a good place to start (e.g. 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps). Your rest periods between sets will generally be around 30-60 seconds. If you then develop a taste for lifting weights or your goals change, you might want to go heavier!
If you’re looking to gain strength…
You need to be challenging your muscles, so lifting heavier weights for lower reps is where it’s at! If you’re lifting a very challenging weight, you should only be able to complete 3-8 reps. You’ll also want to have longer rest periods between sets of around 2-5 minutes if you’re lifting heavy. You can also test your 1 rep max (1RM) every now and then to track your progress and strength gains!
If you want to increase lean muscle mass…
You’ll likely want to use a rep range that allows for more time under tension and allows you to train close to failure. This is often easiest to achieve in the moderate rep range (between 8-15) and sets. Increasing muscle size is all about hypertrophy. Use a weight that you can complete all your reps with good form, but the last couple should be a big push! If you could complete more reps easily, you might want to increase your weight. Your rest periods between sets will generally be around 30-90 seconds.
If you’re a beginner and not sure what your fitness level is…
Perform exercises for roughly three sets of 12 reps using only your bodyweight. From here, you can then gauge your baseline fitness from how difficult it felt and make a plan. You also could try a beginner program in the Sweat app to get you started and build your confidence!
Beginner Sweat programs you could try include Low Impact with Kayla, Low Impact Strength with Kelsey, Bodyweight Strength with Anissia, Low Impact HIIT with Samantha, or Strength & Cardio with Marilyn.
Sets, reps and rest can sound like a complicated math equation, but they don't have to be! Decide what you’d like to achieve on your fitness journey, pick a Sweat program (or try a few workouts from the On Demand section first), and you’ll be well on your way to smashing your goals.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.