Which Type of Strength Training is Best for You?
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
LifeTime WeightLoss in Corey Grenz, strength training

Summer is over; fall is here. (Unfortunately, sooner than later — especially for people who live in Minnesota).  As the weather starts to cool off, more people will be headed indoors to clubs like Life Time. The indoor atmosphere offers an ideal space to take up resistance training.  But many members shy away from the weights because they don’t have the time, get bored or feel confused about how to maximize resistance-training benefits.

To prevent this from happening, there will be articles each month on how to get the most out of lifting weights.  This first article will discuss what Straight Sets, Pairs (also known as Super Sets) and Circuits are, and the pros/cons of each.

Straight Sets

A straight set is the traditional way most people resistance train.  When doing a straight set, a person does a given amount of reps (this is defined as a “set”), rests for a period of time, and repeats this until the required number of sets is achieved for the exercise (most people do 2 to 4 sets/exercise).

One benefit of straight sets is this technique has stood the test of time.  Many fitness enthusiasts have achieved their aesthetic, health and fitness goals using straight sets over the years; this style of lifting is not going away anytime soon.  A second benefit is not having to worry about someone swooping in to steal what you are using when the club is busy. (However, please share equipment and allow other people to “work in” if they ask).  Finally, it is easy to adjust rest periods when doing straight sets so they are consistent from set to set and match the appropriate fitness goals.

Regarding cons of straight sets, there really aren’t any as long as rest periods remain consistent between sets and meet the goal of the program.  Regarding rest, short rest periods (30 to 45 seconds) are best for muscular endurance, medium rest periods (45 to 75 seconds) are best for muscle tone, and long rest periods (75 to 180 seconds) are for goals of muscular strength and power. 

Regarding rest periods, unfortunately it is easy for people to “camp out” on equipment while talking to other members or using their phones. As mentioned above, straight sets are great if you keep moving by matching your rest periods to your goals.

Pairs (Super Sets)

A pair (also known as a super set or alternating set) is when two exercises are done back to back in an alternating order.  For example, a person would do a set of a first exercise, take little or no rest (depending on the goal) and then perform a set of a second exercise. Then continue to alternate between the two exercises until the required number of sets is achieved.  Rest periods between exercise can be adjusted based on the goal of the workout.  Similar to straight sets, short or no rest between exercises will increase endurance and caloric burn.  Longer rest periods would be used for strength and/or power.

Regarding pairs, there are MANY different variables to adjust based on the goal. Let’s start with two common examples.

The first example pairs an upper-body exercise with a lower-body exercise.  This pair has the following benefits.  First, pairing an upper-body and lower-body exercise is a great way to save time.  One muscle group is working, as the other muscle group is resting; this pairing can reduce total workout time by 25% to 50%.  The other benefit is an increased metabolic effect.  When a person goes back and forth between upper-body and lower-body exercises, heart rate is increased and a greater number of calories are burned during the workout.  This is beneficial for people who have minimal time to train and those who struggle to find time for additional cardiovascular exercise.

The second example of pairs is combining a pull exercise (e.g., Dumbbell Biceps Curl.) with a push exercise (e.g., Dumbbell Triceps Extension) for the same body part. As with the first example, benefits are workout length is reduced by 25% to 50% and greater metabolic effect than straight sets. An additional benefit is muscular imbalances can be reduced as muscles on opposite sides of the joint receive equal work, not to mention potential to increase strength faster compared to straight sets.  Finally, these same body region pairs improve muscle tone faster than alternating between upper- and lower-body pairs.

As shown above, there are many benefits to pairing exercises. However, there are a few considerations.  First, if people are new to fitness, pairing exercises may create too much fatigue initially.  It is probably a better idea to start with straight sets when new to exercise, and let fitness levels gradually improve over a few months.  Second, pairing exercises can be challenging at busy health clubs during peak hours.  Sometimes it is hard to find specific equipment when the club is busy, let alone two pieces of equipment.  When using pairs, please consider your fitness level and the time of day of your workout.


There are two types of circuits. The first is mini circuits which are 3 to 4 exercises done in a row with little or no rest in between.  The second type is large circuits where 5+ exercises are done in a row with little or no rest in between exercises.  As with pairs, there are MANY ways to set up circuits.  However, to keep this article from getting too long, only the pros and cons will be discussed here.

Regarding the pros of circuits, they are very similar to pairs. Time is reduced by replacing rest periods with exercises.  Also, the more exercises in a circuit, the greater the metabolic effect as heart rate is increased and a greater number of calories is burned. This is great for people who have minimal time to get a workout in.

The cons of circuits are similar to pairs.  As discussed above, pairs may be challenging for people newer to exercise and circuits have a greater impact on fitness as more exercises are involved.  Also similar to pairs, circuits can be challenging to navigate if training during peak health club hours.  It can be challenging enough when setting up stations for two exercises let alone three or more.  Similar to pairs, people who have built up fitness levels by working out for a few months and who don’t train during peak hours may be able to successfully use circuits.

In conclusion, this article provided detail on how to use straight sets, pairs and circuits in health clubs like Life Time.  As discussed, most people have done straight sets when using resistance-training exercises. Simple tweaks like adjusting the rest periods based on the goal and keeping them consistent are easy ways to maximize this technique.  To make resistance training even more challenging and mentally stimulating, give pairs or circuits a try, as they may provide a much-needed new stimulus to increase variety, reduce boredom and enhance results this fall.


In health, Corey Grenz — Program Specialist and Master Trainer — Life Time, Chanhassen  

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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