A close friend of mine started working out again after a few months off. He’s been consistent but isn’t seeing much progress. I asked him what he’s been doing and he had this to say.
Justin, I really have no idea what the f*ck I’m doing when it comes to reps, sets, rest, and tempo.
This led to a 2-hour talk about the fundamentals of working out. I’ve condensed that 2-hour talk into the definitive guide to reps, sets, rest, and tempo. You’ll learn the correct reps and sets for your goals. Plus, how long you should rest in between sets based on those goals. And why you should move weights slower every once in a while.
HOW MANY REPS?
It really depends on your goals. Are you looking to be able to move a house and just be strong as sh*@? Do you prefer a balance between strength gains and muscle-building?
- Are you looking to add as much muscle as possible with not as much emphasis on strength?
- Or are you looking to improve muscular endurance with limited strength and muscular gains?
There really is no wrong answer here. Just personal preference. It should be noted that the number of repetitions is the variable in the fitness equation that is adapted to most quickly. So a rule of thumb is to vary this often.
In order to ensure you are making continual progress towards transforming from Clark Kent to Superman frequent variation will be needed. Most will adapt to any given rep range after 5-7 workouts. So keep a journal handy to track your progress and pay special attention for when it’s time to switch it up.
DIFFERENT REP RANGES FOR DIFFERENT RESULTS
Your goals will determine the rep ranges you use. I recommend mixing these up every 6 to 12 weeks. Below is a brief outline of different rep ranges and how they help you.
1 TO 5 REPS
Typically used for maximal strength gains. If you are looking to pick up Oak trees and throw them at someone I would highly suggest taking this approach. 1-5 reps is usually around 85% of your 1 rep maximum (1RM) in any given lift.
A good approach before starting any training routine may be to test yourself in a few of the basic movements in order to have some “NERD ALERT” data to work with. If you are a novice lifter I would not suggest training in this rep range until your form is on point ya dig?
6 TO 8 REPS
You’ll hear a lot of 6-8 rep talk from the meat-heads at your local globe gym. It is a pretty standard rep range for most fellas to follow because it elicits a pretty nice balance between strength and muscular gains. 6-8 reps usually fall at about 79-84% of your 1RM. So if you have not already, think about testing those 1RM’s. Just make sure you have proper form and a partner on standby.
I would suggest dipping into this rep range if you are looking to throw half of that oak tree at someone as mentioned earlier while at the same time adding some beef to your noodles. WOMEN, you will not get bulky working in this rep range. Please do not stay away from it like the plague. Mix it in every once in a while. The fact is that your body does not have enough natural testosterone to make you bulky from moving heavyweights. Don’t be scared. Strong is sexy! Sneak it in, please. If you just called me a big fat liar then read this, please.
9 TO 12 REPS
This is the rep range that the majority of trainees use. However, they train in this range with not much intensity. By that, I mean moving a weight for 12 reps when they could have done 20. This rep range will usually be around 70-78% of your 1RM. This rep range will allow for optimal muscular development.
If you are looking for serious body composition changes… aka… looking good naked then think about dabbling in this pool. With that said, don’t forget to experiment with rep ranges. Your body will adjust very quickly and those gains will start to decrease.
This is usually anything under 70% of your 1RM. Most novice lifters can experience tremendous gains when working with these higher rep ranges. This is also an excellent rep range for beginners in order to develop proper form and control of the movements. Body weight movements will allow for rep ranges in the range. If you are a newb to all of this think about starting with a bodyweight routine until you develop some muscular strength, coordination, and confidence.
Note: It is not necessary to find your 1RM to work within these rep ranges. An easy rule to follow when working in each rep range is that the last rep you do (say 8) should be difficult but not the last one you could do. It should feel like you “might” be able to do one more. “Might” is the keyword here.
HOW MANY SETS?
If you are new to the superhero training game and have really never touched a weight before or much alone looked at one then 1-2 tough sets are usually enough to elicit a positive response. However, it will not take your body very long to get used to that.
Much like reps, varying your sets becomes important as well.
After introducing yourself to the weight training game 3-6 sets per exercise is usually sufficient to see consistent results.
MORE REPS = FEWER SETS
Your muscle needs to perform a certain amount of work in order to see results. Lifting a super heavyweight 2 times for 1 set is not going to do you much good. We also do not want to make sure we do not train a muscle too much. 15 reps of a bench press done with 15 sets is just not smart. You’re most likely just over-training a muscle group. When we look back at the rep ranges provided above a good protocol to follow can be seen here.
- 1-5 reps: 4-6 sets
- 6-8 reps: 3-5 sets
- 9-12 reps: 3-4 sets
- 13+ reps: 2-3 sets (depending on training maybe 4)
HOW MUCH REST?
I would ask you what your superhero goal is.
- General hotness?
There are a ton of factors that come into play but let’s simplify it.
TRAINING FOR STRENGTH
Usually, training for strength means you are working in that 1-5 rep range. Resting 3-5 minutes after each set is ideal in order to allow for almost a full recovery.
STRENGTH AND MUSCLE BUILDING
The 6-8 rep range will usually call for a 2-3 minute rest interval.
MUSCLE BUILDING AND GENERAL HOTNESS
If you are looking to see major body composition changes and an overall improvement in your “Look good naked” quotient then resting 90 seconds – 2 minutes is where you’ll want to be. As you get comfortable with the exercises and your stamina improves you should be able to keep the rest between 60-90 seconds.
13+ reps and your rest can be anywhere from 10 seconds to 90 seconds. You can vary this depending on how much time you have for your workout that day, your current conditioning, and your goals.
MORE REST FOR MORE STRENGTH
You will find that working out the larger muscles are much more taxing than the smaller ones. Performing a back squat is significantly more difficult than doing a dumbbell curl. More rest is often needed more after working for larger muscle groups as opposed to smaller ones.
TEMPO: HOW TO MOVE WEIGHTS
Ok, coming towards the tail end of this piece. I know it has been a long way. If you are still there, thanks for staying with me.
When I bring up tempo most people look at me like with a WTF face. You can achieve great results without focusing on temp but if you want to bust out of plateaus, or you have been training for many years, or want to enhance your gains and body composition then tempos should be used.
31X1 is an example of what a tempo may look like when training.
- The first number (3) represents the lowering or eccentric part of the movement. Think, bringing the bar down to your chest while benching.
- The second number (1) represents the amount of time you pause in the stretched position. Think about when you are squatting when performing the back squat.
- The third number (X) represents the actual lift of the weight. So in the bench press, this would be how fast the bar moves from your chest to straight above you. In this case, the X means as fast as possible.
- The fourth number (1) is the amount of time you pause at the top of the movement or contracted position. In the ben,ch press this would be when you are holding the weight above you.
- To simplify things I recommend using a tempo of 31X1 for most exercises. Tempo can be a little confusing for many. Play with it a little.
Ok. So now that I have rambled on at around 1,500 words (it tells me at the bottom as I type) I want to hit you off with a couple final tips.
- Keep track of your workouts. Buy a notepad and write everything…EVERYTHING down. Exercises, reps, sets, rest, tempo
- Keep a routine but don’t keep a routine. Come up with a plan then throw it away after 3-5 weeks. Your body is smart. Stick to your plan for a few weeks. Then switch it up yo!
- Make it fun: Do exercises you enjoy. Workout with a friend. Just don’t bullshit. Workout at home, park, gym. Whatever. Just do it.
- Plan: Prioritize your workouts. make them important. You wouldn’t cancel a meeting with your boss last-minute would you? Don’t cancel this meeting with yourself.
I know some of this info can be a bit confusing. I am more than happy to explain anything you may need clarification on. Just contact me here.
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