Beginners Guide: How to Read Training Program Notation


If you’ve just started weight training then you might be confused by all the different training programs (perhaps one of our personalised training plans) and philosophies. But more fundamentally, how do you understand what those programs are telling you to do? This article is a guide for you to understand how to read training program notation.

Sets, Reps and Loading

A repetition is the action of performing the complete movement required for a given exercise once. The concentric, or positive, phase is when the muscle is contracting or shortening. And the eccentric, or negative, phase is when the muscle is lengthening. For example, the concentric phase of a chin up is when you’re pulling yourself up to the bar, and the eccentric is when you’re lowering yourself back down.

A set is a collection of reps with no significant rest between them.

When you see this:

Overhead press – 4 x 8-10

It means that 4 sets of overhead press are performed, and each set is 8 to 10 reps. Another example:

Squat – 1 x 12-15, 2 x 10-12, 1 x 6-8

That describes one set of 12 to 15 reps followed by two sets of 10 to 12 reps, and finally one set of 6 to 8 reps.

The loading might be described in a number of ways, but it will typically be something like this:

Squat – 60kg x 20, 100kg x 12, 140kg x8, 160kg x 8, 180kg x 6

That would describe a warmup set of 60kg for 20 reps, with more warmup sets of 8 to 12 reps, and one top set of 180kg for 6 reps.


Suppose you see something like this:

A. Flat bench press

B. Incline dumbbell press

C. Cable crossovers

That means that the first exercise, flat bench press, is performed until all the sets, reps, and rests are complete. Then the incline dumbbell press and cable crossovers follow in that order.

Circuits and complexes are written as follows:

D1. Deadlift

D2. Straight-leg deadlift

D3. Row

This notation indicates that one set of exercise D1 is performed, followed by one set of exercise D2, and then one set of exercise D3. The number of sets will be indicated in the notation, for example:

E1. Lateral raise – 4 x 12

E2. Front raise – 4 x 12

That would describe 4 rounds of a superset, with 12 reps being performed in every set. Another example would be:

F1. Lateral raise – 12/10/8

F2. Front raise – 11/9/7

That describes 3 rounds of a superset, but the number of reps in each set changes in each round (12 reps of lateral raises followed by 11 reps of front raises in the first round).


Charle’s Poliquin popularised the following scheme, which divides a repetition into four phases:

The first number in the series is the length in time,measured in seconds, of the concentric phase.

The second number is the transition time between the concentric and eccentric phases.

The third number is the length of the eccentric phase.

The fourth, and final, number is the transition time between the end of the eccentric phase of the current rep, and the start of the concentric phase of the next rep.

Note that an X indicates that the phase should be performed as explosively as possible. For example, a X/0/2/0 tempo on the flat bench press would mean that you press the bar up as quickly as you can, not pausing at the top, then take 2 seconds to lower the bar to your chest, with no pause before beginning the next rep.

Rest and Extended Sets

Rest intervals are indicated in notes within the training program usually, like this:

Barbell curl – 4 x 10-12, 45secs rest between sets

If you see no explicit guidelines, typically a rest of 60-90secs is appropriate, although more rest may be needed for heavy compound movements, and less may be needed for isolation work.
Extended sets look like something this:

Close-grip bench press – 100kg x 6 + 3 + 1 (RP)

This means that the entire set was performed as a set of 6 reps, followed by a short rest, then 3 more reps, followed by another short rest, and finally 1 more rep. The rest scheme will be indicated, here the (RP) refers to the rest-pause technique. Another example would be:

Close-grip bench press – 100kg x 12 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 (MR)

Here there are more groups of reps, and the scheme is different, (MR) refers to MyorepsCluster sets are slightly different, since there is a pause between each rep in the set.

 Examples from the Forums

Jonny’s log

A: Bench press: 100kg 3×6
B: Deadlift: 140kg 3×6
C: Lat pulldown for feel
D: Squat: 60×2,100×2,120×3,130×1,140×1,150×1,160×1

Read more here:

Yusef’s log

A) Deadlift: 100kg x 5, 140kg x 3, 160kg x 5, 170kg x 4, 180kg x 3, 190kg x 2
B) Touch and go deadlift, belt on: 155kg x 10
C) Rack pull above knee: 210kg x 2
D) Chin: 25kg 5×3
E) Anderson Squat from deadlift position: 130kg x 2, 140kg x 3
F) Hanging leg raises: 2 sets
G) Dragon flags: 2 x 3
H) Reverse crunches: 3kg x 5

Read more here:

Marc’s log

Strict Press

bar x 10
60kg x 5
90kg x 2
110kg x 5
110kg x 5
110kg x 5 (push on last 2 reps)

Push Press

135kg x 3 (threw the third on way out in front)

EZ Bar French Press

bar x 10
47.5kg x 10
67.5kg x 10
77.5kg x 4 (pinned on 5th)
47.5kg x 20

Read more here:

5 replies on “Beginners Guide: How to Read Training Program Notation”

If in your program says 4sets and the reps are from 8-10 do have to choose to do only 4×10 or for 4×8 or each sets can be different like the first I do 10 next I can do 8 and then if want I can do the last 2sets 10 again? How many reps should I do each set when it says from 8-10?

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