In my recent blog post about tips for weight lifting beginners, I mentioned reps and sets and said I’d give you an explanation of what they are, so here you go…

If you’ve looked into weight lifting then it’s highly likely you’ve stumbled across books, websites or people in the gym saying you need to do a certain number of reps and sets. It crossed my mind recently that so many people will have absolutely no idea what this means…because I never used to know, so here’s a quick explanation.

Reps means repetitions, so the number of times you repeat a certain exercise. 

Say you did 10 reps before taking a break, that would equal one set. So a set is the specific number of reps you do before taking a break to allow your energy stores to replenish. Then you typically complete a few more sets of the 10 reps, for example.

To break it down for you, if my workout plan said to do 3 sets of 12 reps of squats, I would do 12 squats, then take a break for about 1-2 minutes. That’s my first set of 12 reps done. Then I would repeat another 12 squats and take another break (making it two sets of 12 completed), then I would do my third and final set of 12 squats, making it 3 sets of 12 reps.

How many sets and reps should I do though?

If you want to get technical then it’s advisable to hire a PT to figure out the exact best rep ranges for you and your goals, but generally speaking, these are the guidelines:

1 – 8 reps = Muscular strength

8 – 12 reps = Muscular strength and endurance 

10  – 12 reps = Hypertrophy (muscle growth)

12 – 25 reps = Muscular endurance

Hypertrophy (which means muscle growth) is in general the best rep range for anyone looking to ‘tone up’. But don’t worry about the words “muscle growth” because as I’ve said numerous times on my blog, for the majority of women, gaining muscle is very difficult so it’s highly unlikely you’d end up looking like Arnie. It will just give you the toned appearance.

So if you want to tone up your ‘bingo wings’ or get more definition in your legs, or even boost your booty, I would recommend doing between 10-12 reps for 3 sets on average for the exercises in your workout.


However, for abs exercises, I would generally recommend doing somewhere between 12-25 reps for 3 sets to give your abs that bit more endurance, so you strengthen your core for its vital role in helping with posture, etc.

I also want to take a minute to say there’s no need to rush your way up in weights when you do start weight training. It’s not a competition. The most important thing is that you maintain correct form during the exercise.

So lift weights that you feel comfortable with – it shouldn’t be really easy, but it also shouldn’t be something that you severely struggle with. Try to find a good balance of it being a weight you can lift without losing correct form, but also a weight that challenges you, although obviously not too much.

You’ll be gradually getting stronger (and totally badass), and will learn to spot when the time is right to increase your weights. Don’t rush though.


Related posts:

13 tips for weight lifting beginners

Top ten reasons for women to start weight lifting

4 weight lifting myths women should ignore

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring

Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20


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