TRAINING 101: What are Sets, Reps & Rest Periods

Updated: March 11, 2022

TRAINING 101: What are Sets, Reps & Rest Periods 


Mark “Coach Rozy” Roozen


  • If you’re not seeing progress, the best program could be the one you’re not doing! Let me explain.  If you usually train low weights and high reps, start training with heavy weights and fewer reps.  Change up your program and don’t always do the same scheme.
  • A guaranteed way to break through training plateau: You don’t change your routine – just change up the sets, reps and rest period.  Base these on what you want for your outcome; size, tone, strength, power, etc.
  • For any program, stay consistent for 3-6 weeks then manipulate sets, reps, tempo, rest to trigger new adaptation.  For our athletes, we normally do a 4 week “cycle” – then look to change up our training system for the next phase.
  • Train each body part 9-18 sets per week and keep reps between 1-40 reps depending on the goal.  Example would be doing your “push” exercise; like a bench press.  Do some type of press 3x a week, 4 sets each day and 8 reps per set per day = 4 sets, 32 reps each day.  Finish the week with 12 sets of push that week.
  • Don’t shortchange rest periods! Rest is as important as reps and sets.  Plan your rest during the workout and between workout sessions.

Exercise Versus Training

Programming is what will make or break your progress

  • A lot of programs are just a bunch of exercises and aren’t designed for a specific outcome like training.  This isn’t bad – we call it random workouts…you do what you feel like on that day.  The downside is that if you don’t like to do something (leg day!), you end up neglecting that part of your training program.
  • Training programs are designed to build strength, make you faster, lose body fat, etc.  How you set up your program will determine your outcome.  If you don’t lift heavy weights, it’s hard to get bigger and reach high levels of strength.  If you never do cardio workouts, it might be hard to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
  • Exercise programs designed for the general population are just exercises to get you moving and people will see results short term because something (movement) is always better than “0” (no movement at all).  The more detailed the plan, the better chance for success in the outcome you are looking for.

What Is A Set?

  • Set: a specified period of time you’re doing an exercise.
  • Defining sets helps you define reps, rounds, volume.  Also gives you the frame work of the program.
  • Multiple sets will lead to greater improvement compared to a single set; with your Sweet spot at 9-18 sets per body part, per week
  • There’s an upper limit of what you can tolerate – and a sweet spot of what will give you the best results – maybe you can do 18 sets but 14 will give you great results.  More is not always better.  That’s where working with an experienced trainer is helpful.  They can help you set up sets, reps, volume and more based on your goals.
  • The goal is the do as few sets as you can get away but get the results you are looking for.  Think of it as a car and using gas on a trip.  You want to make the journey and use as little gas as you can.  If you can have some energy in reserve, no sense in using it all up.
  • The fitness level and genetic potential of an individual plays a role in the number of sets needed.  Just say THANKS MOM AND DAD!
  • Two approaches to try: (1) fewer sets with more exercises (2) more sets with fewer exercises
  • It’s important to practice lifts and improve movements
  • Stay consistent with set range for 3-4 weeks, assess progress, then try another route

Supersets & Drop Sets

  • Superset: is doing two exercises together with no rest; chest press to a bent over row.  Curls to Tricep Dips.
  • Supersets can be the same body part or opposing body part
  • Good for saving time, building up stamina, and working on endurance.
  • Supersets work particularly well when cutting calories and will use lighter weights.
  • Drop set: finish a set at a particular weight then drop weight and hit the next set with no rest.


  • Rep: one full completion of an exercise, or a distance in running.
  • Reps get the muscle to move with resistance and send muscle-building stimulus
  • For strength building, stay between 1-40 reps – anything higher becomes more cardio like.  
  • Working with higher reps elicits a different response from the body then lower reps.
  • Higher reps: weight is lighter, controlling breathing, squeezing at the top,
  • Lower reps: weight is much heavier, bracing, holding breath, driving with CNS
  • All rep ranges build muscle and burn calories
  • Vary rep ranges every 3-4 weeks to keep body adapting and changing.


  • Your body gets used to working at a certain tempo but it’s important to manipulate the tempo of a workout.  You can do the exact same training session; one takes you 50 minutes, the same workout done later only takes you 40 minutes will be a harder work and what we call a more “DENSE” workout; doing the same training compacted in a shorter amount of time.
  • Tempo plays a huge factor with reps: when lifting for power it’s faster, move explosive tempo; when going for a pump it’s slower, more controlled.  Power will have more rest between sets, going for a pump will have less rest time and move at a quicker pace.
  • Each variable of tempo can be manipulated depending on your goal.
  • Get the mechanics of the movement then alter the tempo and have fun with it.
  • Adjust the weights according to the tempo you are working with.

Rest Periods

  • You’re not resting because you have to, you’re resting because the rest is as important as the reps and the sets. To train for power, as an example, you have to be quick and explosive during the training.  If you get tired and fatigue, you won’t be training for power, but start working on tone and endurance.
  • Without rest, the body uses energy that encourages endurance and stamina instead of muscle and you’re basically doing cardio with weights.  Resting allows the body to replenish energy – the body needs to go through a specific energy change.
  • Rest should be 30 seconds – 3 minutes depending on the goal
  • Same rules apply: change up lengths of rest periods
  • Active rest: stretch between sets if you absolutely can’t sit still
  • A guaranteed way to break through training plateau – Don’t change your routine – just manipulate reps and rest period!

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