In Fitness, what is a Set?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2018
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In fitness, a set is a grouping of repetitions of one particular exercise. Exercises are frequently broken up into sets to allow the body periods of exertion and rest, and to assist the exerciser in keeping track of progress, and time spent working out. This is a concept best illustrated with an example.

A bicep curl is a common exercise in weight training, and one complete bicep curl is known as a repetition, or a "rep." This consists of the entire movement; the concentric phase, when the muscle is contracting, followed by the eccentric phase, when the muscle is lengthening. A set, then, is a grouping of reps. For instance, one might choose to do three sets of ten reps.

This means that one would do ten bicep curls, followed by a brief rest period, followed by ten more bicep curls, another brief rest, and then the final set of ten. The rest period may last anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute and a half, and is based on the exertion needed to complete the exercise as well as the amount of rest that the exerciser feels is needed. It is simple to use sets and reps to create an effective workout routine.


Breaking difficult exercises into a set is one easy way to manipulate a workout routine for the desired result. Most people choose to do between eight and 15 reps per set, based on their level of physical ability. One might begin with two or three sets of eight reps, and as time passes and physical fitness and muscular strength increase, one might then begin doing three sets of ten reps, or four sets of eight reps.

Exercising in this manner, by counting sets and repetitions, is an excellent way to progress slowly through a workout, gradually and safely increasing endurance. The periods of rest in between sets help to prevent muscle injury due to overexertion, and they also allow the muscles to work harder and therefore get stronger by preventing them from creating momentum. Momentum can occur when one does a movement too quickly, thereby allowing gravity to take over rather than using the muscles.

It is possible to develop a comprehensive workout routine on one's own. Sets and repetitions can be used with any exercise where individual movements may be counted, such as weight training, crunches, push-ups, squats, or even aerobic activities such as jumping jacks. In addition, there are many free workout programs online, or a personal trainer at a gym will be able to provide instruction regarding effective techniques.


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Post 3

Do you guys like to do all your sets for each lift in a row, or do you mix up your workouts so that you are going from one lift to the next? I have heard people say that both ways are the most effective.

If you do all your sets in a row your muscle is really exhausted by the time you do that last lift. Imagine doing three sets of bicep curls in a row. That bicep is blasted by the end of it.

But if you mix up your sets and move from one lift to the next you allow each muscle to rest and recover so that you can start each repeating set fresh. I prefer to do it this way. It's not that I see better results, it's just that the variety keeps me more engaged.

Post 2

A lot of people let themselves rest for too long between sets. I see guys at the gym that will do 10 reps on the bench press and then rest for five minutes.

This just makes no sense to me. How can anyone think they are getting a real workout when they spend more time staring into the mirror than they do lifting? The only way to get results is to get your muscles to where they feel like they are going to burst, gasping for breath with sweat pouring down your forehead. You can't get that way by taking a coffee break between each set.

Post 1

Rather than do sets to a specific number of reps, I prefer to do each exercise for a specific amount of time, say 45 second or a minute.

This corresponds better to the way I like to workout. I am not one of those guys that lifts huge amounts of weight. I have always cultivated a long, lean look. In order to get this look I usually use low weights and strive for high reps. By introducing the time based set, I also incorporate cardio into my workout. The more reps I try to do in a given amount of time, the more my heart rate rises.

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