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  • Chesapeake Bay Aquatic &
    Physical Therapy Articles

    What Does Three Sets of Ten Mean?

    Every day, you, my beloved patients ask me – How many of these do you want me to do? while they are performing therapeutic exercises for increasing strength. For this discussion, it doesn’t matter what the exact exercise is, but my response rarely deviates far from “three sets of ten.”

    But what does this mean?

    I can almost hear your inner dialogue bubbling to the surface. “What is a set? And why on earth would this greedy clinician want three of them?”

    I may be greedy, but it’s only because I want to see strength improvements in the patients I’m treating and this technique, called Progressive Resisted Exercise, has been time-tested for success.

    A repetition or rep is one time performing an exercise. Imagine one squat. One bicep curl. That is a rep. Doing several reps consecutively without rest breaks between them is called a “set.” A set generally consists of 5-15 reps. Imagine doing ten squats without taking a break, that is a set. You know you have reached the end of your set when you can’t do any more (though often you will hear me request one more because I know you can do it!).

    A short rest sets between permits the muscles to recuperate and get ready to do more reps, but the muscles will be tired the second time around. This is important. Tired muscles have to work harder to complete the same task. The third time around, your muscles will have to work even harder, and this makes them that much stronger.

    So when I ask you to do another set, it’s because I love you and I know you can do it, even if your muscles are tired. They are supposed to be tired. That’s why we do three sets of ten.