Fitness Trail: Creative exercise set design |

Fitness Trail: Creative exercise set design

Jackie Wright
The Fitness Trail

If you have been exercising regularly for a while, you may have noticed that your set organization (a certain number of repetitions: 8-12-completed would be one set) has become a bit dreary and uninteresting. This may be one of the reasons that you are not as enthusiastic about heading back to the gym or into your in-home fitness room for your next workout. The good news is that there are many ways to organize and design sets. The key to keeping your workouts interesting and results-oriented is to create variety so that the neuromuscular system remains challenged.

So, while there are many methods of organizing sets, this week four classics will be highlighted which you may begin using today! As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Set Design and Organization: Circuit Training

Usually these are sets organized into a series of stations (i.e. a circuit or circle) which alternates between upper and lower body, opposing muscles groups or power skills/drills, or cardiovascular stations, which enables one part of the body to actively rest, while another is working. This is an excellent method of training for cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength/endurance, stability, as well as more skill or performance oriented activities focusing upon power. Therefore, you may design the circuit for one component of physical fitness, perhaps all cardiovascular work, or all muscular strength work. Or, you might choose to combine several components of physical fitness within the same circuit for a complete total-body workout.

The key is to choose a realistic work to active recovery ratio depending upon the format and purpose of the circuit to ensure you will achieve the goals you have set forth.

For example, a 30 second work interval, followed by a 15-second active recovery interval which enables you to recover and change sides where applicable followed by another 30-second work interval and then 15 seconds to change stations.

You may perform the circuit, depending upon the number of stations (i.e. usually somewhere between 5-15 stations), once to several times through.


Another great way to organize your sets is with a superset which features two, opposing muscle groups, worked in sequence without a rest interval between. A great time saver!

For example, you could work your chest by performing bench presses followed by pull ups for your back.

Compound Sets:

Two exercises for the same muscle group are performed, in succession, without a rest interval between.

For instance, you might perform any variation of a squat, followed by any variation of a lunge, which focuses upon the lower body, or inverted rows followed by high/low standing unilateral rows focusing upon the back.

Hybrid Sets

These sets may involve a muscular strength exercise followed by two or three multi-planar movement pattern exercises.

An example might be an inverted row followed by a single-leg deadlift right into an overhead press or a pushup-plank-row wherein you pushup once, hold your plank while you row with one arm, repeat the pushup and then the plank-row on the other side.

Note: A great suggestion is to choose one of these four classic set organizations and work on it for a few weeks, then move onto the next variation keeping it challenging for the mind and body.

Jackie Wright is the owner/manager Mountain Life Fitness, LLC located in Granby, Colorado. She may be reached at her website at, her email at and her Facebook Page at Mountain Life Fitness.

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