Sets vs. Reps vs. Supersets. Know your gym lingo

I often have female friends tell me that one of the reasons that they stay away from the weights section in the gym and instead opt for good old fashioned cardio machines is because they do not feel comfortable in the weight room. From the lingo to the exercises, feeling confident before stepping into the weight room makes that first step much easier.

What is a Rep?

If you look up ‘rep’ on, it will tell you that rep is short for “represent”. Now while it is true that when you strut onto that weight room floor you most certainly will be repping, it isn’t typically in the ‘senting kind of way.

In fitness terms, ‘rep’ refers to ‘repetition’ which is the number of times that you do that particular movement. So if you are doing 20 pushups for example, you would be doing 20 reps.

What is a Set?

I was surprised when Urban Dictionary informed me that a ‘set’ was a sub group of a larger gang. This was definitive proof that I am getting older and not so hip with the kids anymore.

In my circles, ‘set’ refers to the number of times you complete a group of reps for one particular exercise. So going off our previous example of 20 pushups, if someone asked you to do 3 sets of 20 reps you would be doing a total of 60 pushups.

There is no required number of reps that you have do to within a set. This varies based on a number of factors including targeted muscle group, weight being lifted, and desired results. Typically if you want to be putting on more lean muscle mass, you want to be doing fewer (and heavier) reps in your sets (6-10 depending) and if you want to be focusing more on muscle tone you would complete more reps (12-15) in a set with a lighter weight.

What is a Superset?

A ‘Superset’ is when you perform two different exercises back to back without taking a break.

Typically when completing single sets, you allow for a rest period between sets to allow your muscles a small window to recover before jumping into the next set. When it comes to Supersets, instead of taking a rest after your first exercise you immediately jump into your second (different) exercise.

Using our example of pushups, after you complete your first set of 20 pushups, you could immediately transition into your first set of 15 tricep dips with no rest in between. Only after you have completed both exercises would you take a rest.

You can do Supersets with both the same muscle group or different muscle groups. When doing Supersets with the same muscle group, you can build muscular endurance by working the group to fatigue and getting deeper into the tissue. When Supersetting with different muscles groups, you are able to burn more calories through an “active” rest for the muscle group you just finished working allowing you to do more sets of different exercises with fewer rests. In our Pushup/Tricep Dips example above, we supersetted with two different muscle groups.

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