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How To Read Workout Sets – Beginners Guide To Strength Training

How To Read Workout Sets

Have you ever questioned what the rest of the phrase between sets, failure, or reps in an exercise meant when you glanced at a workout program with a blank expression? You no longer have to scratch your head. You may now sit back with your arms crossed and nod in agreement as we explain how to read workout sets. 

If you’re new to weight training, you may be perplexed by the many training regimens and beliefs. But, more simply, how do you comprehend what those programs are instructing you to do? This post will help you learn how to read workout sets. All workout records follow the same basic structure of Exercise, between sets, Reps in workout, and Rest. The exercise is mentioned first, followed by the number of sets and repetitions in exercise. Notes on the rest duration or the amount of weight to employ may also be included. 

How To Read Workout SetsBasic Illustrations

  • 5×4, 45 seconds bench press 
  • Bench Press: 5 sets of 4 repetitions, rest 45 seconds 

These samples are as follows: “Perform 5 sets of 4 repetitions of Bench Press. Between sets, take a 45-second break.” 

  • Exercise: Each specific action that you execute in your bodybuilding routines (for example, a seated pulley row, barbell curl, or sitting calf raise). 
  • Set: A group of repetitions (raising and lowering a weight) of activity followed by a short rest times. For example, if you do 10 reps, set the weight down, finish eight more reps, set the weight down again, and repeat for six more reps, you’ve finished three sets of the exercise. 
  • Repetition (Rep): The number of times you raise and lower a weight in one set of an exercise sets (rep). If you raise and lower a weight 10 times before placing it down, you have accomplished 10 “reps” in one set. 
  • Rest Interval: A brief pause between sets of an activity that allows muscles to rest before commencing the following set. 

Loading, Sets, And Reps 

Loading, Sets And Reps 

A repetition is defined as the act of executing the whole movement necessary for a certain exercise once. When the muscle contracts or shortens, it is in the concentric, or positive, phase. The eccentric, or negative, phase occurs as the muscle lengthens. The concentric phase of a chin up, for example, is when you draw yourself up to the bar, and the eccentric phase is when you drop yourself back down. 

A set is a series of repetitions with no major rest in between sets. 

When you see anything like this: 

  • Overhead Press – 4 x 8-10 

A set of overhead presses consists of 8 to 10 repetitions, so that is 4 sets of overhead presses. 

  • Squat – 1 x 12-15, 2 x 10-12, 1 x 6-8 

In this example, you would perform a set of 12 to 15 repetitions, two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, and a final set of six to eight repetitions. 

Loadings can be described in a variety of ways, but typically they will be described as follows: 

  • Squat – 60kg x 20, 100kg x 12, 140kg x8, 160kg x 8, 180kg x 6 

As an example, a warmup set of 60kg for 20 reps would be followed by warmup sets of 8 to 12 reps, followed by a top set of 180kg for 6 reps. 



Assume you come upon anything like this: 

  1. Bench press on the flat
  2. Dumbbell press on an incline
  3. Crossover cables

That is, the first exercise, flat bench press, is done until all sets, reps, and pauses have been completed. The incline dumbbell press and cable crossovers are then performed in that sequence. 

The following is how circuits and complexes are written: 

D1. Deadlift 

D2. Straight-leg deadlift 

D3. Row 

As indicated in this note, one set of exercise D1 is performed, followed by one set of exercise D2, and then one set of exercise D3. A notation will indicate how many sets there are, for example: 

E1. Lateral raise – 4 x 12 

E2. Front raise – 4 x 12 

Four rounds of a superset with 12 reps per round would be described as such. In addition, here are some examples: 

F1. Lateral raise – 12/10/8 

F2. Front raise – 11/9/7 

In that case, there would be three rounds of a superset, but the number of reps in each set would change from 12 reps of lateral raises followed by 11 reps of front raises in the first round). 

Advanced Workouts 

Advanced Workouts

There will be more advanced workouts that use terms like: 

  • Superset 
  • Failure 
  • 1 Rep Set 
  • Drop Sets 
  • Rest-Pause 
  • Forced Reps 
  • Negative Reps 
  • Cheating Reps 
  • Partial Reps 
  • Pyramids 
  • Tri sets 
  • Giant Sets 
  • Gym Reps 
  • Trainings set
  • Lifting Sets

Example Of A Superset 

  • Bench Press (5 sets of 4 repetitions) / Dumbbell Flyes (5 sets of 4 reps) 
  • Superset: Two exercises are completed without rest in a row. 

Failure Illustration 

  • 5 sets of crunches to failure, 45 seconds rest 

Failure: The moment in an activity when your working muscles are so thoroughly tired that they can no longer finish an additional repeat of a movement with strict biomechanics. You should always push your post-warm-up sets to temporary muscle failure, if not farther. 

1 Rep Maximum Example 

  • 5 sets of 1 rep max squats, 45 seconds rest 
  • 1 Rep Max: The weight that permits a person to fail after only one rep. 

Sets Of Drops Example 

Sets Of Drops Example

  • 1 Deadlift: 5 drop sets totaling 25 repetitions 

Where 5 denotes the number of weight levels to be used, and total reps denote the number of reps desired once all five sets are completed. You will have around 5 repetitions for every set, but with drop sets, you never know how many reps you will have for each weight value. Normally, you would go to failure for each weight value before moving on to the next. 

Example 2 of Drop Sets 

  • 5 drop sets to failure in the deadlift 

5 is the number of weight levels you will utilize again, but this time you will do reps until you are unable to do any more on your final weight value. More information on failure may be found above. 

Drop Sets: Also known as strip sets, drop sets entail reducing weight immediately between sets with no respite. This will completely exhaust a muscle. 

Example Of A Pause 

Example Of A Pause 

  • Rest-Pause set of 25 total repetitions for the deadlift 

Rest-Pause: This is a more sophisticated method that allows you to perform more repetitions with the same weight. Perform a set to failure. Rest for 5 to 10 seconds before repeating with the same weight. Do this once or several times, depending on your energy level and how far you want to go. You can use this strategy to increase a weight that you can only perform for a particular number of reps. 

Compulsory Reps Example 

Compulsory Reps Example

  • Bench Press: 5 sets of Forced Reps to failure, 45 seconds rest 

Forced reps are a common way of prolonging a set past the point of failure in order to generate larger improvements in muscle growth and quality. A training partner pushes up on the bar just enough for you to grind out two or three reps above the failure threshold using forced reps. 

Negative Feedback Example 

  • Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps, 45 seconds of rest 

Negative Reps: This method emphasizes the negative component of muscular contraction (the eccentric or lowering phase). One or two partners assist you in lifting a weight that is 10-50% heavier than you ordinarily lift to the finish point of movement. Then you gradually lose weight on your own. 

Example Of A Cheating Rep

Example of a Cheating Rep

  • Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 repetitions to failure, 45 seconds of rest 

Controlled Cheating: A means of forcing a muscle to contract far past the point where it would typically fail owing to significant fatigue accumulation. Once you have reached the failure point, you will utilize a controlled body swing, jerk, or otherwise poor workout form to relieve some of the load on the muscles and allow them to complete sets workouts for two or three repetitions past failure. 

Example Of Partial Reps 

Example of Partial Reps 

  • Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 partial reps, 45 seconds of rest 

Partial Reps: Exercising without going through the entire range of motion at the start or conclusion of a rep. 

Pyramids Example

Pyramids Example

  • Bench Press: Pyramid, 5 sets of 20,15,10,6,10 reps 

Pyramids: Increasing the weight with each new set while decreasing the number of reps. The weight is then reduced and the reps increased. 

Example Of Tri Sets 

Example of Tri sets 

Bench Press (5 sets of 4 repetitions) / Incline Dips: 5 sets of 4 repetitions / Dumbbell Press: 5 sets of 4 reps 

Tri sets are three exercises performed without rest in a row. 

Massive Sets Example

Massive Sets Example

Bench Press (Giant Set): 5 sets of 4 repetitions / Incline 5 sets of 4 reps of dumbbell press / 5 sets of 4 reps of dumbbell flyes / 5 sets of 4 reps of dips 

Giant Sets: Four or more exercises are completed without rest in a row. 

It should be noted that Giant Sets are quite severe. When attempting to accomplish a massive set, extreme caution should be exercised. 

Example 21 

  • 1 set of 21 repetitions of barbell curls 

21s: When doing 21s, 7 reps are performed in the bottom part of the action, 7 reps in the upper half, and the set is completed with 7 total reps. 

Frequently Asked Questions

This essentially implies that you execute four sets of the exercise, the first for 12 reps, the second for 10, the third for 8, and the fourth for 6 reps.
eXplode down, 0 seconds at the bottom, 2 seconds at the top.
A workout's sets indicate how many times you will repeat a specified number of repetitions of an activity. Assume you're performing triceps kickbacks. Two sets of 15 repetitions mean you'll do 15 kickbacks twice, resting between rounds.

Final Thoughts

One of the most crucial things you can master in the iron game is how to read workout sets And how long between sets. You can begin weight training plans built on sets, repetitions, and rest intervals. You must understand what they signify and how to combine them to achieve your objectives. The weights utilized, the number of repetitions and sets, rest periods, and speed of execution will alter depending on whether you are exercising for fitness, muscular growth, strength, power, or endurance. 

About the author

Amelia Robert

My name is Amelia Robert, and I am the co-founder and author of the website For the past seven years, I’ve been a certified personal trainer. I am really passionate about assisting women and men in achieving sustainability and happiness in their lifestyles, all while making progress in their own fitness journeys! My goal is to deliver the most accurate information in a way that motivates you to take an active role in your health and fitness journey.

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