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Why Are Three Sets Recommended in Weight Training?

author image Jeremy Hoefs
Based in Nebraska, Jeremy Hoefs began writing fitness, nutrition, outdoor and hunting articles in 2006. His articles have been published in "Star City Sports," "Hunting Fitness Magazine" and RutWear field journals, as well as on the Western Whitetail website. Hoefs graduated with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Nebraska Wesleyan University.
Why Are Three Sets Recommended in Weight Training?
Three sets of the dumbell shoulder press develops shoulder and triceps strength. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

The idea of three sets for weight training workouts dates back to the 1940s and 1950s when an Army surgeon concluded that three sets of 10 repetitions increased strength better than one or two sets. During the 1980s, three sets for weight training was considered a well-rounded training program for increasing endurance, flexibility and strength. Three sets for weight training continues to produce fitness results, with the resistance and repetitions adjusted to match your individual fitness goals.

Simple Sets

Simple sets are the most common form of weight training. Three sets are performed using the same number of repetitions and same resistance setting. For example, a 3 x 8 set at 70 percent includes three sets of eight repetitions using a weight that is 70 percent your one-repetition maximum. Simple sets are ideal if you are a beginner because they allow you to focus on proper technique to reduce your risk of injury. There is new evidence to support the fact that novice weight-trainers can benefit from one set; performed flawlessly, and with the perfect weight.

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Pyramid Sets

Pyramid sets are commonly used by bodybuilders or athletes looking to gain strength and muscle size. Pyramid sets are characterized by a descending number of repetitions with the resistance increased for each set. For example, the first set might include five repetitions using a light weight; the second could include three repetitions using a moderate weight, and the third set could consist of one repetition using a heavy weight. With the increased resistance for every set, pyramid sets are recommended only for experienced lifters with proper exercise technique.

Super Sets

Super sets combine two or three exercises performed back to back without any rest between sets. You can use two opposing muscle groups or two exercises that train the same muscle group. For example, you can do triceps extensions followed by a biceps curl to train opposing muscle groups. Or you can do a lat pulldown followed by a seated row to train similar muscle groups. Super sets can maximize your workout time by decreasing the amount of time spent between sets.


Circuits include five or more exercises combined for a total body workout. When you perform three rounds of a circuit, the exercises keep your heart rate elevated to burn calories while improving strength, endurance and flexibility. A sample circuit includes two or three upper body exercises and two or three lower body exercises along with a cardio exercise such as running, stair climbing or jumping rope.

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