Understanding Sets and Reps

This morning I was getting my massage on, feeling all lovely and relaxed, until Devin pointed out some very disturbing things to me.  Geez, get your head out of the gutter people!  I am not John Travolta here.  He pointed out some postural related issues, that all made sense to me and threw me for a whirl.  I noticed it all before, but kind of pushed it to the back of my mind.  But now that I have the pictures to see it, it is no longer the time to keep pushing it back.  I too, the great Joe, have some imbalances I need to address; imbalances that are probably to blame for my shitty SI problems.

The amount of sets and reps as well as how much volume and intensity that a person will do in a given workout will ultimately depend on that person’s goals.  It depends if you are in a hypertrophy phase, strength phase, power phase, endurance phase, etc.  Once you can figure out what phase of your program you are in, then you can determine how many sets or reps your workouts will require.  And once you know this, you will be able to plan out your volume and intensity and it doesn’t have to be a comical quiz like the Big Bang Theory.

NOTE: No matter what your overall goal is, you will have to cycle phases in order to prevent fatigue of the neurological system.

If you are on a strength program, you will need to go through phases of hypertrophy and power.  The increased reps in hypertrophy will allow you to take your new strength to another level, where as the power phase, will help you with bar speed as you return to your strength phases.

SETS – Are a group of repetitions done consecutively.

REPS – Are the number of times an exercise is performed.

Both of these exercise variables go hand and hand with each other and the choices of reps and sets will directly influence your intensity and volume.

INTENSITY – This is the energy used during a given training session.

VOLUME – The cumulative amount of training within a session.  If it were weights, the total amount of weight lifted, if it were running, the total distance ran etc…

Now that we understand the terms we can put them all together in a vast plan in order to take over the world… okay maybe not.  But it should help you take over your exercise program.

It appears to me that the 3 sets of 10 reps is the gold standard of reps in the gym.  As I look around, it is all I see.  People doing 3 sets of 10 reps with light weight, as if they were the great Richard Simmons. I don’t know what guru all these people learned from, but I apparently did not get the memo.

Rather then fall into the trap of 3 x 10, lets take a look at how many reps and sets we should do based on our goals.

Hypertrophy 2-4 6-10
Strength 3-6 1-5
Power 2-5 1-5
Endurance 1-3 >10

*The difference between power and strength is the speed at which the bar travels.

Examples of power include the Olympic lifts.

All that is left really, is to figure out where in your training program you are and how to use the proper intensity and volume.

In strength programs, you rarely ever need to lift at max to get strong.  Stick to 75-90% of your 1 Rm and you will get strong as you progress.  Leave your egos at the door, make sure you are not lifting too heavy where your technique breaks down. Make sure you give yourself 3 to 5 minutes of rest between sets.  You want to be as recovered as possible so you can be lifting heavy.

With hypertrophy, this is a mix of lifting heavy, but for a lot of reps.  You should be going to failure within the six to ten rep range.  If you have a lot left in the tank after each set, chances are you will never be as bad ass as Chuck Norris.

For power, it is a very CNS dominant.  These exercises will wear your nervous system out quickly.  Trust me I know from experience on how much of a toll it can be.  Keep the reps low and the rest high, roughly five minutes between sets.  That is about how long it will take for your energy systems to be at full go for the next set.

Endurance, I rarely find any use for those rep schemes.  They will not make you any more cut up then you already aren’t.  But if you are looking for some more oxidative qualities of your muscle tissues, by all means go for it.  I only plug this in here so you learn all your options.  But this is a rep range that should rarely be used.  Unless you are doing some kettlebell work or some exercise for time in a metabolic workout.

Just keep in mind that the heavier the weights, the more intense the workouts become, the less volume you can do.  So that means more rest.  It is not bad that after a very heavy session you can go home and feel like you did not do much.  But as your strength numbers rise, you will see, you are getting work in.

And it works the other way.  The more reps we do, the higher the volume, we must drop the intensity (weight) being done.  These are the workouts that give us that pump feeling.

We must use all phases in order to be successful.  You can not stay in one phase forever.  Let this be the end all to the 3×10 scheme, and the beginning to a true exercise schematic that will make even the pansiest of people into strong, healthy animals.

Was this post helpful, enlightening, the purest, greatest thing you ever read? Do you use phases in your programming?  What do you do when you train?  Let me know; leave a comment below!

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