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Reps, sets, and rest intervals form the basics of any bodyweight or weight training program.

If this is too basic for you, please feel free to check out another blog post.

But as we’ve had a lot of beginners sign up to the GTW Health and Fitness Lifestyle Program this week, I thought I’d share this information with everyone, rather than answer emails individually.

It’s important to fully understand what reps, sets and rest intervals are so you can maximize your training time.

Depending on your current goals, your training program is going to be slightly different.

For example, if your main focus right now is to lose weight, then your sets and reps are going to be different from someone who wants to pack on slabs of rock-hard muscle.

Health and fitness for over 40s men

Reps, sets, and rest, explained

Let’s kick off with reps or repetitions.

What are Reps?

A rep (repetition) is one complete move of an exercise. For example, let’s say you’re standing, holding a dumbbell by your side with the purpose of training your biceps. One curl of the weight towards your shoulder and back down again is one rep.

Likewise, if you’re hanging from your pull-up bar, when your pull yourself up to the top, and then lower yourself back down, that is one rep also.

A one rep max (1RM) is your personal best for a given exercise. If you were doing bench press, and have loaded up the bar with 2 x 25kg plates, one plate each side of course, and you can safely lower the bar to your chest, and push it back up again until your arms are straight, but you can’t do anymore, then that is your one rep max or 1RM.

Also, a 6RM is the most you can bench press and successfully perform 6 reps with proper form.

This is a good short form to use, when you’re writing down what you achieve in a given workout.

Let’s look at sets now…

What are Sets?

A set is a series of reps you perform together. For example, in the previous bench press example, our trainee can perform 6 reps of bench press before he stops. That is one set of 6 reps for bench press.

On a standard chest day in the gym, you might perform the following:

  1. 3 sets of 12 reps for flat bench press.
  2. 3 sets of 12 reps for incline bench press.
  3. 3 sets of 12 reps for decline bench press.

Or training bodyweight, you might perform:

  1. 3 sets of 12 reps for regular, shoulder width push-ups.
  2. 3 sets of 12 reps for diamond push-ups.
  3. 3 sets of 12 reps for decline push-ups.


Let’s move on to the best bit next…REST!

(Of course it’s the best bit fella!!)

How long can I Rest?

Your rest period is the time you spend resting between sets. This helps your muscles recover, just enough to complete the next set. Your rest period between sets is governed by the type of training you’re currently doing, but could be as short as a couple of seconds to two minutes.

To give you a rough idea of rest intervals for different training goals, check these out:

  • Muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth): 10-20 seconds – up to 5 minutes (depending on your goals)
  • Muscle endurance: 30 to 60 seconds
  • Strength: 2 to 5 minutes
  • Power training: 1 to 2 minutes

(Note: These numbers are not set in stone. As your experience grows, these numbers will fluctuate)



Barbell Bench Press: 50KG 4 X 12 RM, 30 seconds

This means four sets of 12 (maximum) reps using a 50kg barbell, with 30-seconds rest between each set.

How fast should you perform each set?

This is a very open topic, and there are a variety of opinions. Here’s my take after 30+ years in the fitness industry.

Contraction velocity is how fast you complete an exercise. This affects your training goals and results.

  • Hypertrophy: (Usually) 1-2 seconds for the concentric and 2 seconds for the eccentric. (But could be as much as 10 and 10. More on this later…)
  • Strength: 2 to 5 seconds concentric and eccentric
  • Endurance: 1 to 2 seconds concentric and eccentric
  • Power: Less than 1 second concentric, 1 to 2 seconds eccentric

The concentric is the movement as you lift a weight. Like curling a dumbbell up to your shoulder.

The eccentric is the movement as you slowly lower the weight, or lower the dumbbell back to your side. Your muscle will lengthen but still remain tense.


How many sets and reps should you choose?

 Again this depends on a variety of factors, but let’s start with your current goals.

 General Fitness Training

If you are just starting out on your GTW fitness journey, and you have very little experience, or you’ve been off training for a long period of time (like since high school…yikes!!)…

Then you probably need to cut a bunch of fat first. It would be best to trim your excess baggage first. And then focus on building muscle and strength. So, you will be in the higher rep range, maybe 18-20 kind of range.

Once you’re closer to your target weight, then I would recommend you move on to hypertrophy (muscle building) training.

This means you’ll be performing in the region of 8 to 12 reps for one to three sets for the first couple of months.

You’ll be doing roughly six to 12 exercises, to hit your lower and upper body. You’ll also be working your core independently, but remember one of the beauties of GTW bodyweight training is that almost every exercise works the core to a degree.

At the beginning, it’s not about lifting heavy weights. Or pushing yourself too much.

You’ve got to get a feel for each exercise, and learn how to perform each exercise with perfect form.

And most important, you need to train without injuring yourself. You’ve been ‘out of the game’ for a while. So, your muscles, tendons and ligaments won’t be used to working out. So, please go easy.

A common problem with guys getting back into training after a long layout is they are TOO eager. And this often leads to an injury. Err on the side of caution. Go steady. At least for the first 4-6 weeks.

And this is why the GTW Primer Course is perfect for guys like this.

It’s better to start slow, and master the basics, than going hell-for-leather, getting your form all wrong, and possibly injuring yourself.

You should feel fatigued by your last rep, but you shouldn’t be about to collapse…

Don’t worry, that will come later. (Smiley emoji…)

Muscle Hypertrophy Training

Training for muscle size means lighter weights, more reps and less rest between sets. Your muscles need metabolic stress to increase in size.

Therefore, you need to work your muscles until lactic acid builds up and your muscle fibres are worked.

You will build size when you take sufficient rest, eat properly, get proper sleep, and then your muscles repair themselves.

This kind of training means higher reps per set so you can stimulate your muscle fibres. This is often called ‘training to failure’.

A normal reps and sets range for this kind of training is in the region of three or four sets of eight to 12 reps.

The last couple of reps of each set should be very tough, near reaching failure.

Strength Training

First off, this style of training is hard, so please don’t attempt it until you have at least six months of regular training under your belt.

Strength training is when you try for more weight, a low number of reps, and longer rest intervals.

When you aim to build strength, you might aim for 5 reps per set. This is much lower than the 8-12 rep range when you’re trying to build muscle size or muscular endurance.


Barbell Bench Press: 100KG 5 X 5 RM, 3 minutes

This means five sets of 5 reps using a 100kg barbell. You’ll take 3-4 minutes rest between each set.

You’ll need longer rest intervals between sets as this is very strenuous training. Your neuromuscular system responds to heavy weights by increasing your ability to lift those heavy loads.

Muscular Endurance Training

Endurance weight training means more repetitions in each set. This is usually in the 20 or 30 range. But can be as much as 100 such as in ‘Century Sets’ training.

This kind of training often suits guys who are trying to increase their endurance for their favourite sport. For example, if you’re into rugby, you might want to concentrate on endurance to build up your legs.

Power Training

Power training means lighter weights and longer rests while concentrating on the speed of execution.

‘Power’ is the ability to move an object at a high speed. Force equals mass times acceleration, and power training requires practicing the acceleration part of a lift, then resting and repeating.

In power training, you focus on the concentric movement of the exercise, then rest sufficiently to recover before doing that rep or set again. You need to ensure each rep is done at a quick tempo.

Final Thoughts on Reps, Sets and Rest

Ok, I hope this post on reps, sets, and rest intervals has been helpful. Just remember, there’s no rush. Hopefully, you’re going to be pumping out reps and sets well into your 70s and 80s. And it doesn’t matter if you prefer bodyweight training or weight training, GTW has got your back, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.


Greg Noland-Grey-Top-Warriors-2021

Keep training hard (mentally & physically),

Greg ‘Take No Prisoners’ Noland
CEO & Founder
Grey Top Warriors




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