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Set Types Part I of II: Keep Training Safe, Challenging, and Productive

Set Types Part I of II: Keep Training Safe, Challenging, and Productive


What’s a set, and why does it matter?

A set is composed of multiple reps, or cycles, of an exercise performed consecutively. Most people who are into weightlifting know there are multiple types of sets that can be performed and are almost certainly familiar with doing warmup sets, straight sets, and failure sets, even if they don't know what to call them.

If you’re doing some kind of resistance training, understanding the different set types will enable you to improve your sessions by making them safer and more varied in terms of intensity, timing, and technique. Just as importantly, it’ll keep your sessions interesting. After all, it becomes extremely hard to keep achieving gains in your physique or physical capacities if you’re doing the same tired exercises and set types every time you train.


How many different kinds of sets are there?

There’s no universally agreed number of set types, but this edition of the BPD newsletter will be divided into two parts since there are so many. In total, twelve set types will be covered, including the six below in Part I and another six in Part II of this newsletter, to be released at a later date.

The first six set types that follow in Part I are generally the ones you would use as staples of your training regimen. These are basic and intermediate-level set types, and they’re listed in alphabetical order for simplicity. Part II will feature set types that are a bit more advanced and would probably be used less frequently than those in Part I.



Compound Set
A set of two exercises targeting the same muscle group, performed in succession with little to no rest in between. The second exercise is often performed at a lower load than the first due to the muscular fatigue accumulated during the first exercise. (Luna, 2023) You can perform compound sets to increase your muscular endurance and strength. They’re also good for providing extra stimulation to an underdeveloped muscle group. (Lerwill, 2017)

Sample compound sets:
●10 reps of leg presses + 10 reps of leg extensions
●12 reps of skull crushers + 12 reps of triceps rope pulldowns

Straight Set
A round of sets you perform with the same number of reps and using the same weight for all the sets. GVT (German Volume Training), for example, is based primarily on performing straight sets with regular rest intervals in between. The amount of weight you lift during a straight set can be heavy, moderate, or light, depending on whether you are trying to increase strength, power, muscle size, or muscle endurance.

Sample straight sets:
●3 sets of 12 reps of pullups at bodyweight
●5 sets of 10 reps of biceps curls using 20-pound dumbbells

A set of two exercises targeting either opposing muscle groups (i.e., antagonistic pair) or two different parts of the body, performed in succession with little to no rest in between. You can perform supersets to induce hypertrophy, improve your cardiorespiratory capacity, and increase the intensity of your workout. Supersets also allow you to pack more exercises into a shorter time frame on days when your time is limited or when you want to increase the density of a workout.

Sample supersets:
●10 reps of leg extensions + 10 reps of leg curls *for opposing muscle groups (quadriceps and hamstrings)
●15 reps of chest presses + 15 reps of lat pulldowns *for different parts of body (chest and back)

Top Set
A set you perform at the highest weight or load for a given exercise. Since “load” is not always the same thing as weight, a top set could even be a timed set or AMRAP. The aim is to work at the peak intensity level for that exercise on that day. Since the difficulty of a top set can fluctuate from day to day based on your fatigue levels and nutrition, another reason you would perform a top set is to evaluate your preparedness and capacity for physical exertion on that day. (Cheung N. , 2022)

Top sets should feel difficult enough to perform—for example, 85% of your one-rep max—so that it’s not possible to do more than a few reps without resting. Typically, performing one or two sets will suffice. Therefore, you can include some working sets, usually after but perhaps even before your top sets, to increase your volume of training.

Sample top sets:
●1~3 reps of bench presses at 90% of 1RM
●3~5 reps of squats at 85% of 1RM

Warmup Set
A set of an exercise you perform with a light weight or load to practice the movement for good form and prime your nervous system, joints, and muscle group(s) you are targeting before proceeding to train with your working weights. A warmup set does not count towards your training volume or rep count during a workout session.

Sample warmup sets:
●15 reps of bench presses with 20-kg barbell with and no plates attached
●8 reps of dips at bodyweight (before attaching dip belt for weighted dips)

Working Set
A set of an exercise you perform for a certain number of reps with a load that is challenging but a bit less taxing than your top set, with the intent of completing multiple sets. They’re usually performed following a warmup set and provide the majority of your training volume. The load should be appropriate for you to maintain good form through each rep. (Johnson, n.d.)

Sample working sets:
●3 sets of 10 reps of seated rows at 75% of 1RM + 2 sets of 10 reps of seated rows at 60% of 1RM
●4 sets of 15 reps of machine hip abducts at 25 kg of resistance



Cheung, N. (2022, May 12). Top Sets vs Straight Sets vs Working Sets: How To Use Them? Retrieved December 12, 2023, from powerliftingtechnique.com: https://powerliftingtechnique.com/top-sets-straight-sets-working-sets/

Johnson, J. (n.d.). Weightlifting 101: What is a Working Set and How to Use It. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from lifttilyadie.com: https://lifttilyadie.com/what-is-a-working-set-in-weightlifting/

Lerwill, S. (2017, March 13). Compound Sets. Retrieved December 12, 2023, from seanlerwill.com: https://www.seanlerwill.com/compound-sets/

Luna, D. (2023, April 12). Superset vs Compound Sets: Differences in Training Explained. Retrieved December 12, 2023, from inspireusafoundation.org: https://www.inspireusafoundation.org/superset-vs-compound-sets/#:~:text=A%20compound%20set%20is%20the%20performance%20of%20two,that%20ordinary%20training%20set%20methods%20struggle%20to%20replicate.


*This newsletter has not been authored in whole or in part by any artificial intelligence tools.
*No content on this site, regardless of source or date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.


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