If one performs multiple "rounds" with only 30 to 60 seconds of rest, are they considered to be different sets or just one really big set? What about 15 seconds of rest, or 120 seconds of rest? Where does one draw the line?

The question is in regards to counting weekly sets.

What I can gather from this article is that both working sets and "stimulating repetitions" are used to define weekly volume.

So this ultimately made me curious to see if there was anything comparing the effects of different resting intervals into training.

The I found this paper by Brad Schoenfeld which suggests that resting longer periods of time between sets allowed test subjects to use higher weights and therefore achieve more volume.

10 reps × 3 sets × heavy weight with high rest produced more muscle growth than

10 reps × 3 sets × light weights

But this study completely failed to account that that shorter rest periods allow people to do more sets.

If 3 sets take 15 minutes to complete, one could do 15 sets in that exact amount of time and thus produce an immense amount of volume. Schoenfeld sadly didn't account this factor judging by the title of his paper.

I will continue to do some research in the meantime, but if anyone could find anything relevant to the question it would be appreciated.

But now the question transforms from what defines a set to "is using sets to count volume even mandatory or is counting reps a better choice?"

Because from the observation of the evolution of scientific papers about fitness one can see a shift from the old big weights=big muscle or drops sets are magical...or training more days a week= more muscle to a simple consensus that more work produces more muscle, and the results from those older papers only suggest that different methods of training allow for different amounts of work to be produced.

But I'm still looking for an efficient way to quantify work volume and how to better understand it.


A "set" is a period of lifting which which has a starting point and a pre-defined ending point.

One example would be a fixed set liked a "10-rep set" in which you perform 10 reps and stop regardless of how you feel.

Another more open-ended example is the "As many reps as possible" or "AMRAP" set in which you perform however many reps you need until you fail.

Another common example is the "perceived effort" set in which you perform a number of reps until the reps reach a certain difficulty. For example, "perform reps until you feel you could only do two more", or "perform until you feel the reps slowing down".

Then there are more of a mix in which you do like "Perceived effort of two reps left or maximum eight reps". The point is there's an end-point.

"Volume" is the sum of all the weight you lifted in a given period. Basically it's the sum of each rep you do.

So if you do a fixed set of 10 reps at 5 lbs, that would be a total volume of 50 lbs. If you do two sets, then that's 100 lbs. total volume.

It stands to reason then that your rest periods should be long enough to allow you to do the prescribed work. If you are programmed to do 3 sets of 10, then your rest periods should be long enough where you can do 3 sets of 10. If your rest was only 10 seconds, then you may only get 10 in the first set, then 5 in the next, then 3 in the next. Your total volume would overall be lower.

Likewise, for the AMRAP or perceived effort style sets, longer rests means more work. Typically you would rest just long enough so that your next set is close to your previous set. Though it depends on what you're trying to go for.

In scientific papers, they will mention what is defined as a "set" (if they don't then they're not worth the paper they're printed on). Like in one of the studies Chris Beardsley linked, a "set" is defined as "7-12 reps to failure, 3 minutes of rest per set". In this one they split the participants in groups and made them to 1, 2, or 4 sets at a time to see if more is indeed better (with 3, 6, or 12 sets per week).

Other scientific papers may define a "set" as "3 rounds of 5 reps with 10 seconds of rest between with 5 minutes of rest between each set" or something. It all depends on what they're trying to study. Though most of the time it's the typical "X amount of reps with Y rest between" style sets.

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That is an excellent question, but one that does not have a definitive answer. When we speak of volume in terms of sets, repetitions, and load, we are inherently making certain assumptions as to training protocol being followed.

We most commonly assume that each ‘round’ of exercise is performed to, or near fatigue or failure, and that the athlete takes adequate rest between those rounds, such that the same, or almost the same, number of repetitions can be performed—typically between 60 seconds and 7 minutes, depending on the type of training being performed. Thus, we might generally define a ‘set’ as being “a distinct, repeatable round of exercise separated by a period of rest sufficient to afford temporary recovery.”

That definition, however, presents problems if we consider non-standard training protocol like drop sets, for example. We might be tempted to record each change of load as a different set; however, this tends to skew our representation of volume. As we reduce the load, the number of repetitions can rise disproportionately, causing our ‘drops’ to contribute more to total volume than the initial load. This illustrates one of the fundamental problems with volume calculations: low-load training inherently contributes more to our volume than high-load training, yet it tends to have a lesser effect on our recovery.

Non-standard protocol that does not involve changes in load presents less of a problem. Repetitions performed at a given tempo, or the maximum number of repetitions performed in a given time, for example, can simply be treated as a single set. In such cases, repetitions, or groups of repetitions, are essentially performed with rest periods distributed throughout the set. And since the load does not change, the contribution of each repetition to our total volume is comparable.

The significance of these calculations, of course, is to determine our Maximum Recoverable Volume, or MRV, and to monitor our workload against that volume. Various formulae have been proposed, but none of which is perfect. The key consideration should be our ability to compare like with like; there is limited utility in comparing maximum strength volume (at loads of 1-5 repetitions maximum) with hypertrophy volume (at loads of 8-20 repetitions maximum), for example—likewise, hypertrophy volume with endurance volume. Thus, our assessment of volume and our ability to recover must always consider the type of training that we are engaged in at any one time.

I hope that offers a different perspective on the matter.

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