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Sets and Reps, Simplified

Dave Cruz

Who decided it’s necessary to count every single repetition you do in the gym? There’s another way to improve your numbers across the board without all the counting, and it makes perfect sense for the time-crunched gym-goer.

It’s called “timed sets,” and it simply means you’ll perform each set of exercise for a specified amount of time. This allows you to "freestyle" the number of reps you do and the speed of each rep, performing as many reps as possible in the given time-frame. A rep is just a measure of time anyway. So when coaches say to do 6 reps, we assume a certain length of time. If we switch you to 12 reps, we're assuming the set will take twice as long.

With timed sets, you can easily calculate the number of sets you do in each workout and stick to your schedule. For the record, there’s nothing keeping you from paying attention to the clock when counting reps either, but then you’re counting both reps and seconds. So this is one step easier. And if you’re tracking the time of your sets, maybe you’ll pay more attention to the amount of time you rest—a critical, but often neglected part of training.

Timed sets are best used for fat-loss training since it closely mimics the benefits of interval training (maximum work in the same time frame followed by a recovery period). So just as you would run intervals—speeding up, slowing down, and repeating—with timed sets, you lift for a period, then rest for a period, and so on. Think of it as a hybrid between resistance training and cardio training, with the conditioning and calorie burning benefits of both.

Sample 30-Minute Workout

Here’s a sample fat-loss routine using timed sets.

Directions: After a brief dynamic warm-up, or “movement prep,” complete the circuit below two or three times. Simply perform each move for 60 seconds, and then rest for 60 seconds before moving to the next exercise. (For the lunge, go for 60 seconds with each leg.) Once you’ve completed all three movements, repeat the trio for another round or two. Each circuit should take you 7 minutes. So if you stick to the clock, you can do three circuits, your warm-up and a quick cool-down in less than 30 minutes.

  1. Dumbbell Lunge
  2. Push-Up
  3. Inverted Row

Alwyn Cosgrove is renowned for his fat loss training programs and for being a dynamic and educational speaker. He’s the owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California and the author of The New Rules of Lifting. Learn more at AlwynCosgrove.com.

Tags: Strength, Conditioning, Weight Loss, Training, Resistance Training