Different Types of Weightlifting Sets

When organizing your workout it’s important to consider the method in which you organize your sets. When designing a workout it’s common to include more than one type. Just follow the guidelines below to pick the ones that work best for you. Make sure to keep in mind the difficulty of the exercise, goals, and how much time you have.

Straight sets

Straight sets are accomplished by performing the same exercise back to back until all sets are completed. This is the simplest method of exercising but it’s also the most time-consuming. If you aren’t in a hurry and like to focus on one exercise at a time this is the way to go. This is especially good for total body movements that take a lot of energy and concentration.


Choose two exercises, they should target opposing muscle groups. Typically this involves a push followed by a pull. For example, it’s common to pair bench press (push) with bent-over row (pull). Another common one is shoulder press (push) with lat pulldown (pull). You can also do an upper¬†and a lower body exercise.

Compound or drop-sets

Two exercises performed back to back that target the same muscle group. The purpose of this is to target the different parts of a muscle group. This will also up the intensity and stress placed on the muscle. For example doing the incline bench immediately followed by decline bench will more effectively work all parts of the pectoral muscle.

When performing a compound sets it is best to do the more difficult exercise first then follow up with the easier one. You can also perform multiple joint exercises followed by single joint exercises. For example bench press (elbow and shoulder joint) followed by chest flys (shoulder joint)


Trisets are three exercises completed in quick succession. You can take a push and a pull from a superset and thrown in one of the big leg exercises such as the squat or lunge. Another popular one is to target smaller muscle groups at the end of a workout. For example, after you’ve completed all your big movements involving two or more joints you can then do a tri-set involving biceps, triceps, and calves to round out a workout.

Quad-sets are the same as tri-sets but instead of three you complete four exercises back to back. When creating a quad-set. It’s common to combine two supersets, two exercises for the upper body and two for the lower body.


Circuits are a great to get the heart rate up and kick your fat incinerator to overdrive. If you are training for endurance events, circuits are a great way to improve your VO2 max and the volume of blood your heart can pump per beat. This in turn will give you a lower resting/exercising heart rate and give you more power behind that final kick in a race. Circuits can be performed a number of different ways.

Pick five to ten exercises. You typically want to alternate upper, lower, and/or core exercises. You can also alternate pushing, pulling and/or twisting exercises. This allows one muscle group to rest while exercising the other.


When performing exercises in a circuit you can go for either a set number of repetitions (typically 8-15) or a set amount of time (30-60 seconds).


When it comes to how many rounds two to three is usually enough. This can vary based on the difficulty and number of exercises you choose. You can also try to complete as many rounds as possible within a set amount of time. Typically 20 to 45 minutes is sufficient.

Rest Times:

Rest times should be about 30-45 seconds. This will give you just enough time to get set up for the next exercise. Once you complete a full round of a circuit rest for a longer period of time. Doubling the normal rest times is common. So, 30-45 seconds between exercises 60-90 seconds between each circuit.

Key Points:

When deciding which method is best you should consider a couple things first.

Straight, compound, supersets and tri-sets are great for targeting slow twitch or fast twitch muscles by simply adjusting the number of reps and weight accordingly. Read Choosing the Right Number of Repetitions for more information.

Quad-sets and circuits are better for training slow twitch muscles and the cardiovascular endurance.

Now that you understand The different types of sets it’s time to talk about workout frequency. We answer that in the next post,¬†How Often Should I Workout?

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