What Are Exercise Reps?

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on May 31, 2022
4 min read

Repetition may seem boring, but repetition in exercise allows you to target and challenge specific muscles. Read on to learn more.

A rep is a repetition — that is, the number of times you do an exercise before you take a short break. A set is a group of repetitions, like two sets of 15 reps.

When you do one rep, your muscles go through three phases of action:

  • Lengthening
  • A short pause
  • Shortening

When doing exercise reps for strength training, you should:

  • Use proper form and controlled movements
  • Breathe out as you lift the weight and breathe in when you lower it
  • Move through the full range of motion of your joints 

Strength training is a type of exercise that uses resistance to improve the endurance, size, and strength of your muscles. This is also known as resistance training or weight training.

During strength training, your muscles work to overcome resistance, or a force that makes an action harder to perform. When you do strength training regularly and repeatedly, your muscles get stronger.

Strength training isn’t only for the young or for bulking up your muscles. Strength training can benefit both women and men, young and old.

The benefits of strength training can include:

  • Helping you manage your weight and increase your metabolism
  • Increasing your bone density — this reduces your risk of osteoporosis
  • Helping protect your joints from injury — when you enhance your muscle mass, you may improve your balance, and this also reduces your falling risk
  • Helping improve your thinking and learning skills as you get older
  • Helping reduce symptoms of chronic conditions, such as depression, arthritis, and back pain

Strength training works out your major muscle groups:

  • Back
  • Chest
  • Legs
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Core or trunk

There are many different ways to do strength training. Some of them include:

  • Weight machines — these are devices that have handles attached to hydraulics or weights.
  • Medicine balls or sand bags.
  • Free weights, like dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells.
  • Your own body weight, for instance, push-ups and squats.
  • Suspension equipment — this uses your body weight, gravity, and some basic tools like straps for the exercises.
  • Resistance bands, which look like giant rubber bands. They provide resistance when stretched, and can be adapted to many workouts. They’re also easy to carry around. 

No one method of strength training is better than another. It’s more important to remember to challenge your muscles to work harder than they regularly do. If you’re a beginner, experts say that machine-based exercises are safer, as they’re more stable and rely less on balance and coordination than free weights.

If you haven’t been active recently, or you have a chronic condition, you may want to check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program.

When it comes to strength training, there’s no single exercise plan that fits everyone. There are many factors that will affect how many reps and sets you do, as well as the amount of weight you lift.

Here are some general recommendations for a strength training exercise plan:

  • Work out two to three times a week.
  • Do eight to 10 different exercises that work your major muscle groups.
  • Start with two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions each.
  • Lift your weight up for 2 seconds and lower for 2 seconds.
  • The last repetition should feel difficult to finish.
  • Gradually increase the weight.

Experts recommend that if you’re new to strength training, and your goal is to improve your fitness and health, you should:

  • Start with lighter weights.
  • Aim for one to two sets of eight to 15 reps of each exercise.
  • Rest for 30 seconds to 90 seconds between sets.

If you aim to increase the endurance of your muscles, you can:

  • Use lighter weights or resistance. The weights you use should still make your muscles tired at the end of the set. 
  • Do two to three sets of 12 to 16 exercise reps.
  • Rest for 30 seconds or less between sets.

If your goal is muscular strength, try this:

  • Use heavier weights.
  • Aim for two to six sets of four to eight reps.
  • Rest for 2 minutes to 5 minutes between sets.

Keep challenging your muscles by increasing the weight or add another set of exercise reps to your workout. Choose a weight that tires your muscles by the last two repetitions. But if you can't do the final two reps, go with a lighter weight. If it’s too easy, add about 1 pound to 2 pounds for arms or 2 pounds to 5 pounds for legs. Otherwise, you can add another set of repetitions, up to three sets.

After a workout, your muscles need time to grow and repair. You should rest that muscle group for at least 48 hours.

Here are some tips to help you avoid injury:

  • Warm up your muscles. Start any exercise of a new muscle group with lighter weights or resistance and more repetitions.
  • At the end of your workout, stretch the muscles you worked out.
  • If you’re working out alone, don’t go for exercises in which you’ll need help from a partner. If you workout with someone, ask them to help spot you, that is, watch to see if you need help lifting the weight.
  • Increase the intensity of your workout gradually. 
  • Use equipment properly. If you’re not sure how to use the equipment, ask for help. 
  • Use the right technique and form for each exercise. Poor form can cause injuries. 
  • Listen to your body. Stop working out if something doesn’t feel right. 

Here are some ways to make strength training a part of your life:

  • Join a group fitness class that focuses on strength training.
  • Find someone to work out with, so you’re more likely to show up to exercise.
  • If you’re working out at home, break your workout into sections and do them throughout the day. You don't have to do it all at once. 
  • Schedule your workouts. Set reminders on your phone. 
  • Have your gym clothes ready to go when you start your day.
  • Do exercises at home when you’re watching TV.