Here is some documentation about some repranges I have encountered and often at least somewhat played around with. Inspiration for this post was mainly that I wanted to think of the viabilty of the APRE10 protocol for some assistance work, but then did not have the table for the weight increments in my head and wanted it quickly accessible. I usually write sets*×*reps or, if a weight is specified, the notation turns around, i.e. weight × reps × sets. Also note that when writing sets × reps I mean sets across, meaning the weight is not changed between the sets.
As this is a longer post and because it makes me happy that rst can automagically generate it, take a look at this fabulous table of
A click on the heading brings you back to the top. So you can also use it as a quick reference instead of reading it from top to bottom. Finally the most popular rep schemes in one place!
Sets of five are quite popular, as five reps are a neat compromise between maximal strength training, but still allow to accumulate enough volume in a reasonable time for hypertrophy to occur.
Three sets of five is the base of Starting Strength and many other novice programs utilizing linear progression. However, that's about all where I found it useful. After a longer layoff it seems to work quite well to fall back to some sort of 3×5 linear progression until one is back on track, maybe followed by an intermediate template. Aside from that I often use some 3×5 linear progression for new exercises, so that I start lower than what I could use and then gradually increase the weight in order to stabilize form on the exercise. Also I like doing some stuff like RDLs or Pendlay Rows in this rep scheme, but for assistance I have not found one rep range to be far superior to another one. Also my light work is often done in a 2×5 or 3×5 fashion, but that is again quite arbitrary.
Until now, I have not found anything which works for me as well as 5×5 on the big exercises, except maybe on the Deadlift. It is the corner stone of many programs, e.g. for Texas method or HLM, about which I already talked a bit in the linked post. At the moment I am using it to accumulate volume (more on that later in a post mortem on my current training plan) and so far it seems to work out.
This scheme can be a bitch. Depending on the weights employed it can be grinding through an endless hell of squats and bench presses, making sleeping and eating a full time job. However, in that case a volume or weight reduction might be appropriate. Unless you really like torturing yourself, as there is a great feeling to being alive after surviving such a workout. But if you're chasing a feeling, you are exercising and not training, and especially not the badass you feel to be after such an workout.
For me I found that a good weight selection, which actually drives my progress, is about an @8 – @8.5 on the RPE scale (see RTS) and creeps up to @9 – @9.5.
Caveat: I could not produce good results in female athletes with it.
If you want to lift more weight, you have to lift more weight, and everything over three reps is cardio.
This is a template which Bill Starr mentioned for improving the Press. It is as straightforward as it gets:
- do two or three sets of five as warmup
- three to six triples across
- one backoff set of ten with about 10kg less
And you only add weight to the top set if you can do six triples across.
I ran it a few weeks once I was close to 1 Plate, which is probably about 1-2 wheels less than the guys Bill Starr was coaching were pressing, but it worked quite well. I probably did not get that much stronger in terms of musculature, but my technique definitely improved during that time.
While there is an infinite amount of ways you could do sets of three across, this one stands out for two reasons: The first one is when using 5×5 or something similar in a Texas method-ish setup for driving volume, 5×3 is a good way to drop some volume without losing intensity.
The second reason is that especially female trainees (or people with lower testosterone) seem to respond to lower repetitions better than to higher repetitions, so it can be a better way to approach programs like Starting Strength in these populations.
Ah 3×3. It has some fans and 3×3 is a fun way to set up your training. However, as Daniel Flaminio mentioned during my C-license training, its main drawback is that you cannot use something close to your 3RM for 3×3, and if you reduce the weight, 3×3 is not enough volume to produce a significant training stimulus. Nevertheless, it sometimes works quite well, but has opportunity costs attached, i.e. something probably works better, for instance Pyramids.
Reverse pyramid training, or RPT for short, is probably the most primitive form of a pyramid. The general setup seems to be something like this
In particular the lean gains people seem to favor it and it seems to work good in a cut. In particular I like it for weighted dips or chins. There is not much to say to it. You could do any number of reps in the first set and progress in that manner, something like 3 reps, 5 reps and 8 reps being an obvious and popular candidate. Higher reps in the top set are possible, but why would you do that?
In general a pyramid is a combinations of sets where the weight moves, well, in a pyramid shaped pattern, beginning with some sets of ascending weight, peaking in a primary work set and followed by some sets of descending weight. As the weight increases, the repetitions usually decrease and vice versa. Clearly RPT is a degenerate form of a pyramid, as well as ramping to a top set.
There a many ways to set up an pyramid. Note however, that a symmetric setup is almost never the best choice. A pyramid long in the end, as seen in the figure seems beneficial, where the trainee accumulates less fatigue before the top set and then gets in some more work afterwards.
However, I could not finde much use for it in accumulating volume in sets of five and beyond. It seems to be a good thing to do with higher intensity work, though I am still playing around with it.
This is where it gets a bit more complicated. Until now reps, sets and weight where predetermined, but on some days you can tolerate more work than on others, and this can and should be taken into account when planning your training. There are two popular systems to do this, APRE and Mike Tuchscherer's RTS. I first describe APRE, as it is the less complex system.
APRE is short for Autoregulated progressive resistance exercise. There are three so called protocols, APRE3, APRE6, APRE10, where the number indicates the approximate rep maximum you are working with. In general the trainee performs the lifts according to the following table, as seen in [Supertraining]:
|6× 50% 3RM||10× 50% 6RM||12× 50% 10RM|
|3× 75% 3RM||6× 75% 6RM||10× 75% 10RM|
|3RM to failure||6RM to failure||10RM to failure|
|adjusted reps to failure||adjusted reps to failure||adjusted reps to failure|
Here nRM refers to your n repetition maximum in the first training session, or the adjusted weight after the last session. The adjustments are made according the following table:
|Reps 3RM||Adjustment||Reps 6RM||Adjustment||Reps 10RM||Adjustment|
|1 – 2||decr. 2.5 – 5kg||0 – 2||decr. 2.5 – 5kg||4 – 6||decr. 2.5 – 5kg|
|3 – 4||leave the same||3 – 4||decr. 0 – 2.5kg||7 – 8||decr. 0 – 2.5kg|
|5 – 6||incr. 2.5 – 5kg||5 – 7||leave the same||9 – 11||leave the same|
|7 – …||incr. 5 – 10kg||8 – 12||incr. 2.5 – 5kg||12 – 16||incr. 2.5 – 5kg|
|13 – …||incr. 5 – 7.5kg||17 – …||incr. 5 – 7.5kg|
So say you're 3RM in the Squat is 150kg. Then you would perform 6 Reps with 75kg, 3 Reps with 112.5kg and then as many reps as possible with 150kg. In the next set you load the bar with the adjustments according to the table, so if you get 3 reps, you just leave the weight the same and do again as many reps as possible. Say now you can only complete 2 reps, then you would base your next training session off 145 – 147.5kg, and so forth.
The APRE protocols seem to work quite well for novice and early intermediate trainees and the autoregulated adjustments might allow for super linear. Note that APRE has really low volume, so in the overall program you might want to let some back off work or assistance work follow.
There are two problems with this scheme. First, the warmup is designed without love and much thought. Almost everbody needs smaller jumps and fewer reps towards the working set in order to display good technique and control over the weight. As such, I simply recommend warming up as you see fit. The second and major problem I (and others) have with this scheme is that it calls for two sets to failure, which can be quite expensive in terms of recovery and can even lead to technique deterioration over the course of a few weeks. Leaving one rep in the tank on each set seems to work better. Even more conservative would be to cut off the second set, if you reach the corresponding numbers of reps. So my recommendation would be more something like this:
|3RM @9||6RM @9||10RM @9|
|adjusted reps ×3 or @9, whatever comes first||adjusted reps ×6 or @9, whatever comes first||adjusted reps ×10 or @9, whatever comes first|
This seems to work much better, and can be used in quite a variety of ways, say on a day with the big three or just one primary movement followed by assistance work.
On a personal note, I think the term autoregulation is a bit inappropriate. I mean, that is just what every meathead is doing when trying to catch a pump. Not enough reps? Drop some weight. Too many reps? Maybe add some weight. True autoregulation has another name, namely
This is Mike Tuchscherer's quite successful attempt at establishing a formal framework for you gotta listen to your body bro. Both weight and volume are determined by your readiness in that training session. The idea is here that your body does not really care about the absolute weight on the bar and number of reps, but about the weight relative to your ability on that day. A few sets of five with 85% of your 1RM may be too easy on some days where everything is fine, or might totally destroy you if you lived on a diet of sleep deprivation and long hours the days before. RTS gives us tools to account for such occurences in the training plan without having to deviate from the plan.
It consists of two concepts, one which you probably already have seen, namely RPE, or rating of perceived exertion, which quantifies the intensity. The other concept are fatigue percents, quantifiyng the total volume or work load of the training
The former is similar to the homonymous Borg scale, however specific to powerlifting and similar exercies. So after a set you simply assign a number from 5.5 to ten, according how it felt:
|@9||One more rep in the tank|
|@8||Two more reps possible|
|@7||Easy as an opener|
|@6||Easy as an warmup|
|@5.5||too easy to count as a work set|
Note that I prefix RPEs with an @-sign, as this seems to be also common use in discussions. If you're not quite sure if three, two, or one more rep was possible, you add 0.5 for the "maybe" qualifier.
Of course this is not an exact scale, but after a few weeks trying to assign RPE ratings to any set you do, as well as trying to be honest, this gives us an individual and quite objective to measure intensity in relation to our capabilities in this training session.
As a guideline, one should feel one's way up to the working weight by estimating the weight one is working with and then doing sets with the prescribed reps with 90% and 95% of the estimate. Say your plan calls for ×5@8 and you think that might work out to 125×5@8, you'd do one set with 112.5×5, take not of your RPE, then do one with 117.5 or 120 (or closer to 118.75, if your weights allow for it) and again take note of your RPE. By now you achieved two things: First, you probably can tell if 125×5 will be a @8 or if you should drop some weight or even add some more. And secondly, you've already accumulated some quality volume.
To control volume, Mike Tuchscherer introduced the concept of fatigue percents, measuring how much fatigue you are accumulating on this exercise.
There are multiple ways to measure fatigue, the easisest being load drops. To accumulate x% fatigue, you would simply work up to your top set, then deload the bar by x%, and continue doing sets with the same reps with it until your RPE is the same as in the top set. Most of the time fatigue is given in ranges, as the weights dictate what you can actually load onto the bar. In the above example, to achieve 2-3% fatigue, one would continue doing sets with 122.5×5 until the sets become an @8. If you are unsure, err on the lighter side and maybe stop doing sets if you are getting RPEs 0.5 below the target.
A bit more complicated is attaining fatigue using repeats. Here you just continue repeating your topset until the RPE creeps up to a certain point. In order to achieve n% fatigue, you do repeats until your estimated 1RM from the top set dropped by n%. This essentially requires a lookup in your personalized Prilepin's chart, as there is no closed formular for estimates based on your reps and RPE.
Also, we should not kid ourselves. While all these percentages are fine and dandy, it suggests more precision than what is really there. Practically it works out something like this:
|Volume||load drop||RPE increase|
|almost none||only topset||only topset or maybe 0|
|high||up to 10%||2.5 and beyond|
Here is some stuff where I don't know where to fit it in and also rep schemes for assistance exercises. In the end it does not really matter and depends on what you are trying to achieve with these exercises. Sometimes you just want to get a small pump and warmup to facilitate recovery, sometimes you want to accumulate some more volume. Really does not matter.
Well, Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 is somehow a classic. In its most pure form without any assistance, you would do each main lift on one day in a week and do three sets based on the following percentages of an ever increasing training maximum.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Set 1||65% × 5||70% × 3||75% × 5||40% × 5|
|Set 2||75% × 5||80% × 3||85% × 3||50% × 5|
|Set 3||85% × 5+||90% × 3+||95% × 1+||60% × 5|
Note that the last set, except in the fourth week, is always executed as an AMRAP set, unless you tinker with the program. The fourth week serves obviously as a deload. In this form the program is in almost any instance just not enough volume, and on this low amount of volume, a deload every four weeks is just too often. In fact, in newer installments these problems seem to be addressed, by doing a deload only after two to three cycles of the first and repeating the first set a few times after the last one as backoff.
Well, if you are in a rut and nothing seems to work, this program will always help to build some momentum, as you take 95% of your current maximum as your first training maximum. Or maybe if you are really short on time or want to fuck around too much with assistance exercises. Also if you are on some sort of Texas Method-ish setup and need some idea to vary the weights on your intensity day, the 5/3/1 weight selection on week 3 seems to work quite well.
In some intermediates it seems to work quite well to do three training days and always two exercises, Squat and Press, Deadlift and Bench, according to 5/3/1, effectively running one cycle in two weeks.
My deadlift also seemed to respond to it quite well on the way from two to four plates.
Now we're getting to assistance schemes. Boring but big or BBB for short is often used in connection with 5/3/1 and simply consists of 5×10 with 50% of your training max. Nothing too fancy. It seems to work quite well to slowly increase the percentage over the course of a few weeks. The main benefit is that you can just strip some plates and continue the exercise you were already doing.
Take a movement, ideally some isolation exercise or something where you cannot hurt yourself so much, pick a weight you can do for 12 – 24 reps and max out, rest for 20 seconds and do sets of 3 – 6 (if you had 12 reps, then sets of three, if you had 24 reps, sets of six and interpolate accordingly) reps with 10 seconds pause, until you cannot hit the prescribed amount of reps anymore. The main benefit is that by reducing rest to a minimum, you can catch quite a pump in a few minutes at the end of your workout, even on a variety of exercises.
Take an exercise and pick a weight so that you can finish something between 40 and 50 reps in three sets, with one minute pause, maximum. If you cannot complete 40 reps, you should lower the weight next time and you are only allowed to increase the weight once you hit 50 reps in three sets.
This is not exactly a rep scheme, more of an progression scheme, and is simply this: Start with about 70% of your max, do an AMRAP set, strip off about 5% (use whatever is easy to do, say 2.5kg for a press, 5kg for a bench in the low hundreds (kg), 10kg for something around 200kg etc.), try to match reps, strip another 5% off the bar, try to beat the reps. Add one increment next week, try not to lose reps. Continue until you end up doing triples in the first set, then deload, max out or do something else.
This is not great to run back to back, as you probably lose some work capacity, but now and then it is a great way to break out of a rut. Also it has the Greg Nuckols stamp of approval, at least he published an T-Nation article suggesting this.
Well, there is not much left to say. Let me know if you think I missed some important setup for reps and sets.
This well known table is again less of a rep scheme and more of a volume guideline. Note that it was developed by observing the training of high level weightlifters. There exist countless critiques and adaption to other strength sports. But even for powerlifting, these are solid guidelines if your focus is on developing technique.
|%1RM||optimal reps per set||optimal total reps||total range of reps|
|55 – 65||3 – 6||24||18 – 30|
|70 – 80||3 – 6||18||12 – 24|
|80 – 90||2 – 4||15||10 – 20|
|90+||1 – 2||7||4 – 10|