Gym Jargon: Training Notation (Part 1)

Training should be simple. Training should be simple. Training should be simple. Try saying that 10 times fast.

When I analyze strength training programs not written by me, the first judgement is a look at the notation.

Did the author use the standard notation?

That is to say that a good program will typically look at least something like this:

A) Deadlift 3×5

Rest 2 minutes


B1) Forward Lunge 3×8

B2) Chin-Up 3×8

Rest 60 seconds  


C1) Alternating Incline Dumbbell Press 3×10 (20 total)

C2) Seated Facepull 3×10

C3) SB Hamstring Curl 3×10

Rest 30 seconds


That simple notation, on the left hand side (which can also be written as 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 3C), indicates perhaps the most minimal understanding of programming in my eyes.

In the sense that, there has to be some control for the order in which the exercises are to be completed in a given training session, and how they will be combined.

Typically I use a table (not very handy in a standard text editor unfortunately though) to also address rest, which may be labelled next to an exercise also.

[block] **If rest is labelled after an exercise, this indicates when you should rest in the sequence. So for instance if I had put:

B1) Forward Lunge 3×8 Rest 30 seconds 

B2) Chin-Up 3×8 Rest 30 seconds


B1) Forward Lunge 3×8 (Rest 30 seconds) 

B2) Chin-Up 3×8 (Rest 30 seconds)

Then this notation would indicate that I should do my forward lunge, then rest 30 seconds, then do my chin-ups, rest 30 seconds, and go back to the forward lunge.[/block]

A program written as above, means that the deadlift is done as it’s own exercise, resting and repeating the same exercise until the reps, sets, rest and sometimes tempo scheme is completed (some items will be covered in subsequent Gym Jargon articles…).

Then we move onto the B exercises, then the C exercises.

When we get to B1/B2 and C1/C2/C3 things start to get interesting — there is no limit on how this notation can be used, even for circuit training programs.

The first letter always indicates the grouping — which is relatively synonymous with ‘circuit’ or ‘superset’.  

In the B example, these exercises are done in an alternating fashion, resting the indicated amount between rounds –> 60 seconds.

i.e. I do B1, then without really resting, I execute B2, then I rest the allotted time.

When there are two exercises in a given grouping, this is often called a ‘Paired Set.’

If there is 3 or more exercises in the grouping, they are still done one after the other, again utilizing the reps, sets, rest and sometimes tempo scheme — more on tempo training in a future post…

i.e. I do C1, then without really resting, I execute C2, , then onto C3, then I rest the allotted time.

When there are three exercises in a given grouping, this is often called a ‘Tri-Set.’

For four exercises in a grouping, it’s called a ‘Quad-Set’ and so on and so forth.

There should always be some sort of rest portion within a program to indicate how much rest to take.

Like I indicated earlier, rest can fall at the end of a cycle — very common notation from the first example — or between exercises within a cycle, as indicated in the second example above.

Regardless of how it is notated, it should be indicated clearly.

It could be as simple as exercise 1,2,3 — common in old-school bodybuilding routines, but in my opinion not an ideal use of time even for that objective — if there are three exercises and none of them are paired together, but there has to be some kind of order presented to make it as easy to follow as possible.

I should also note that typically you’ll find exercises within groupings that don’t compete with each other muscularly.

For example it is far more common to pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise, or one of each and a core exercise, or a push, with a pull and a leg exercise in the case of tri-sets.

This is not a rule, supersetting the same muscles using mechanical advantage can be a very useful way to train for intermediate to advanced trainees, but that’s the subject of another article.

Please feel free to leave questions in the comments section below!


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