In strength training, also known as resistance training or weightlifting, reps are the number of times you complete a single exercise before taking a rest or a break. Short for “repetitions,” reps help you keep track of your strength workout.
When doing a resistance exercise, such as a biceps curl with a barbell, each time you lift your weight up and bring it back down would be one rep.
Similarly, when doing a bodyweight resistance exercise, like a pushup, each time you flow through the full move is one rep. So, one full pushup from up to down and back up again could be called one rep.
What is a set?
Completing several reps of a specific exercise in a row is called a set. It’s a common workout strategy to do a planned number of sets of each exercise, with time built in for a short rest between these sets.
For example, a weight training workout plan including triceps dips might include instructions to do 3 sets of 12 reps with a 30-second rest in between sets. You might see these instructions written out in a kind of workout log shorthand, as “3X12, 30 secs.”
Why use reps and sets?
Using reps and sets to organize your workouts has many benefits. To start, they can be very useful in gauging your baseline strength and measuring your progress.
Following a defined workout plan can also help take the guesswork out of strength training.
Knowing your rep and set goals each time you exercise can be motivating when you might feel like quitting early. Plus, following a reasonable set and rep goal for your fitness level can help reduce your chances of accidentally overdoing it and injuring yourself.
How do I determine the number of reps, sets, and rests?
There are many important factors to consider when deciding how many reps and sets you should do, not to mention which exercises.
If you’re a true beginner to strength training, it’s always a good idea to meet with a certified personal trainer who can help you assess your goals and create a plan. But if working with a personal trainer isn’t an option for you, don’t let that hold you back from exercise!
The key is to work your muscles to a point of fatigue. That’s when the deeper muscle fibers will start to build more strength.
Depending on your base level of strength and the size weights you use, the number of reps required can vary. So, the number of reps your friend does might not be the best number for you.
As a general rule of thumb, lift lighter weights for a higher number of reps and heavier weights for a lower number of reps.
Each set should consist of the number of reps you can do using correct form before you start to compromise your form. Then, you can take a planned rest between sets to recover.
So, if you can correctly do a biceps curl for eight reps before you start to lose your form, then plan to do eight reps per set.
There is some disagreement among experts about the exact length of rest periods. But one literature review of 35 clinical studies shows that, depending on your goals, resting anywhere between 20 seconds and 5 minutes between sets will increase the efficacy and safety of your workouts.
Which is better: High reps with low weight or low reps with high weight?
The exact number of reps and sets you do should depend on your current strength, the amount of weight you’re using, and your specific training goals. So which strategy is right for you?
Goal: Improve fitness and health
If you’re new to strength training and looking to build overall fitness and health, try starting with lighter weights and see how many reps you can do with good form. Then, take adequate rest and try another one or two sets of the same reps.
Goal: Increase functional strength
If you want to increase your functional strength, use heavy weights with relatively low reps and sets.
Goal: Build definition and bulk
If you want to build definition and bulk, use heavy weights with a moderate level of reps and sets.
General tips for all goals
If at any time you find that you aren’t able to complete all your reps with good form, lower your weight or the number of reps.
If, on the other hand, you find that you’re not getting to the point of muscle fatigue after several reps, you may want to use a heavier weight.
Reps, short for repetitions, are the action of one complete strength training exercise, like one biceps curl. Sets are how many reps you do in a row between periods of rest.
By using reps and sets to guide your strength workouts, you can pinpoint and achieve your fitness goals with more control.