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Typically a set is a specific number of reps performed in a row with a rest period at the end. There are many different ways to manipulate an exercise set to get varied results. Here is a list of some of the most common ways.
Weight training workouts typically consist of performing a pre-determined number of reps and sets of a series of exercises using a specific weight for each exercise. There are many different ways to perform an exercise set, with one of the most popular being the standard 3 sets of 10 reps using a certain rest period between sets of each exercise. Here is a list of some of the most common ways to organize and manipulate your sets to give varying results:
Straight Set This is a number of reps performed in a set followed by a rest period, then repeated for one or more sets. Once all sets of an exercise are complete, you move on to the next exercise. Straight sets are by far the most standard and popular of all set schemes.
Superset This is where you pair two exercises together and perform a set of each back-to-back with no rest in between. You rest after you’ve completed a set of both exercises, then repeat the superset for the desired number of sets. These are typically done using opposing muscles groups such as chest and back, but also popular are complementary multi-joint/single-joint pairs such as a chest and triceps combination. They allow you to perform more work in less time and are great for higher intensity, shorter duration workouts.
Circuit A circuit is a series of exercises performed in a row or one continue long set without rest. Exercises in a circuits can be performed either for time or reps, usually with light weight or just bodyweight. They are mainly used for weight loss, endurance or more cardio-focused goals. Circuits are popular in group fitness settings where multiple people are cycling through exercises or equipment together.
Giant Set (triples or quadruples) A giant set is combining three or more exercises together, performed one after another with no rest in between. They are exactly like a superset, but with more exercises. The most common examples are triple and quad sets. This makes for a very high intensity, high volume workout. They are often used during a hypertrophy or building phase.
Pyramid In this type of a set, you manipulate both the number of reps and the amount of weight lifted per set. For a typical pyramid, you start with lighter weight for more reps and with each subsequent set, you increase the weight and reduce the number of reps performed. Pyramids are generally used for hypertrophy and strength. They allow for a general progression up to a target weight with ample warm up sets. An example of a pyramid set would be 12 reps at 65%, 10 reps at 75%, 8 reps at 80%, 6 reps at 85%.
Drop Set A drop set is where you perform as many reps of an exercise at a particular weight as you can, then quickly reduce to a lighter weight and continue again to fatigue at this new weight, then quickly move to an even lighter weight and so on until exhaustion. Drop sets as usually done with three or four rounds of progressively lighter weights. Also called Burnouts, they are a very advanced technique, specifically used for hypertrophy. They are usually performed on machines or using dumbbells for quick changing of weights.
These are some of the more popular or well-known set schemes, but there are many others. Weight trainers are resourceful and come up with different variations all the time.