What is a Set and Rep? And Other Strength Training Basics

Walking into a weight room for the first time can be intimidating.

Some people call this “gymtimidation” and if you’ve experienced a sense of dread, hesitancy, overwhelm, or even a pang of embarrassment… you’re not alone!

Bros are milling around drinking gallon jugs of some mystery bright blue space-juice, weights clang and early 2000’s hip hop blasts over the speakers, a few fit chicks are absolutely crushing it in the corners, and then there’s you.

You entered confidently rocking your favorite matching workout set and armed with your newly downloaded DWL app, but now that you open it, you realize you’re not really sure what any of it means… it almost looks like a foreign language? Or algebra? 

What do all of these numbers mean?

What set and rep?

How do I know which weight is right for me?

First, take a deep breath and remember, you have a team of us here to answer questions; and that’s exactly what we are going to do today.

So, go fill up your water bottle, and take a moment to read through this quick guide to learn what is a set and rep and how to discern your correct weight!

First things first…


Let’s answer the basics first: what is a set and what is a rep?

A set is the total number of rounds you are going to perform an exercise.

Rep is short for repetition. So a rep is how many repetitions you do of an exercise within each set.

For example, in your app you might see Barbell bench press 3 X 10.

What that means is, you would perform three sets of ten reps.

In other words, you would bench press your chosen weight 10 times. Then rest and repeat that two more times for a total of three sets.

If it helps you remember, I like to include my rest time as part of the set.

Rest times are calculated by your coaches to work your stamina. They are just as important as your lifts.

So if remembering what is a set and rep is hard for you, try marrying your sets to your rests. Each chunk plus its rest is a set. However many times you lift within that chunk is your number of reps.

In our program, we group our exercises by letter–A, B, C, D, etc.

This allows you or your coaches to create super sets.

Now if you’re thinking, “Wait, wait, wait, I just learned what is a set and rep, now you’re talking about super sets?”  Stay with me. 

A super set is when you do two exercises back to back before your rest time.

You might see that group A is squats for four sets of 10 reps and Group B might be reverse lunges for four sets of 10 reps.

So that means you would complete all of your sets of squats, then move onto your reverse lunge sets.

However, you might also see in the instructions “3 X One set A, one Set B”. So what you would do here is perform your set of squats then go straight into your set of reverse lunges and then take your rest.

When I have a super set, just like marrying my rest with my set, I marry the two exercises together to help me keep track.

So I go squats, lunges, rest, and consider that “set one.”

It’s possible to have up to 4 exercises superset together. So make sure to pay close attention to the way your workouts are laid out for you! 

It’s as simple as that!

How do you choose how much weight to lift for each exercise?

After each set you should have about two or three reps left “in the tank.”

So, if your workout has you doing three sets of ten reps of bicep curls, choose a weight and try it out.

If after ten reps you feel like you could’ve kept going, try to go up in weight. If you couldn’t complete the set without losing your form, go down in weight until you’re able to maintain that form.

Once you have your weight picked out the next question is, how do you track it?

At DWL we recommend doing the least amount of math possible.

So, if you pick up a pair of 25 pound dumbbells for lunges, track that as 25 pounds.

That way, as you go up in weight all you have to think about is which number to grab off of the rack.

Quickly recognizing what equipment you need can be a big help at feeling confident taking up space in the gym.

If you’re using a barbell it’s good to remember that a standard barbell weighs 45 pounds. So, if you do a squat with just the bar, you’d track that weight as 45 pounds. Any plates you add to the bar get added to that 45 pounds.

Let’s say you are ready to graduate from lifting the bar alone and you choose to add two 10 pound plates. 10 plus 10 is 20; 20 plus the 45 pound bar is 65 pounds. So in your app you’d track your lift as 65 pounds. 

And there you have it, you are all set to go ahead and crush your first workout!

If you’re still feeling a bit uneasy, know that you’re not alone!

The first day doing anything is always a little bit intimidating, but that’s how we make progress.

Hot tip: if it’s your first time at the gym, taking a lap around the space with your workout up can really help you orient yourself in the gym. If you know where you’re headed for each exercise you’ll feel so much more confident.

Now, let’s refill that water, put those headphones in and get sweating

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