What’s a favorite set/rep scheme of yours that most people haven’t tried?
Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach
Here are three of my favorites…
1 – 100-Rep Sets
This is my “go to” whenever I’m just looking for a quick fix to bring something up rapidly. I always do these twice a week.
Your first question might be, “Is it okay to break up the set in order to get all 100 reps?” I normally say yes, but you’re not supposed to. At the very least, plan to hit 100 reps and then break it up if you must. I’ve actually never seen someone truly hit muscular failure on barbell curls with the empty bar. They puss out. Period.
Here are some more lifts that work well with 100-rep sets:
- Plate Raise: 100 reps (25 pound plate)
- Barbell Curl
- Trap Bar Shrug
- Dumbbell Leg Curl
- Split Squat (okay, on this one you can break up the reps)
6/12/20 Drop Sets
The theoretical goal is to stimulate the fast twitch fibers then the strength-endurance fibers by splitting the drop sets into these rep schemes. Regardless of the theory, the scheme is solid.
Pick a weight you can do for 6 hard reps, then immediately strip the weight to something that allows you to hit 12. One more drop, and choose something that allows you to hit 20-plus reps.
Accumulative Volume Reps
This is the method I use in the second phase of the Super Soldier Program. It negates all the need for warm-up sets and squeezes top notch training sessions into a shorter amount of time.
You figure out what rep range you’re going to use for the “set” – let’s say it’s 8 reps for presses in the Hammer Strength machine. Don’t start with your 8 rep max though. Start lighter. You do 8 reps, then with almost no rest, you slap on a little more weight and do 8 reps. Right after that you slap on a little weight and do 8 reps. (You may be adding 10 pounds per side each round.)
Keep repeating this until you hit failure at or before 8 reps. Rest for 2-3 minutes, taking all the weight back off to the original weight and repeat the “set.” – Paul Carter
Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO
Infinity singles for triceps.
Since your triceps are made up of about 67% type II fibers (fast twitch), they grow better with heavier weights and lower reps. Lighter sets using a lot of reps just don’t do much for tri’s.
With that in mind, I like something I call “infinity singles” for triceps, which is a riff on rest-pause training. You start with heavy sets of around 5 reps, then work your way down to doing singles as you fatigue. You keep the single reps going until failure, which surprisingly takes a while.
Here’s how it would look with single-arm rope pushdowns. Trainer Aaron White demonstrates here, but we abbreviated the set for demo purposes. In an actual workout, one set can take a couple of minutes.
- Start with a weight on the stack that you can lift about 5 times. You’ll use the same weight throughout.
- Using one arm, do 5 reps. Now immediately switch the other arm and do 5 reps. Squeeze the triceps hard and hold the contraction at the bottom for a second or two. If you’re not making an ugly face, you’re sandbagging it.
- Without rest, go back to the first arm and do as many reps as you can. It might be 4 this time since your “rest period” only lasted as long as it took to do the other arm.
- Continue going back and forth between arms, without rest, until you can only do 1 rep with each arm.
- Here’s where the infinity singles begin. What you’ll notice is that you can keep doing single reps for a LONG time. That’s because each arm is getting around 10 seconds of rest between each single. That’s just enough time to recover and be able to do another rep.
- Stop this extended set when you just can’t do another single in good form. Your triceps will feel so pumped that they almost cramp up. – Chris Shugart
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder
One of my favorite set/rep schemes is one I call challenge sets.
Here’s what challenge sets would look like on hack squats:
I typically do multiple sets working my way up in weight. In the video, I’m using both bands and chains to deload weight at the bottom of the movement, but that’s not necessary. The key is to work up to a tough working weight whereby you’d do 4 sets of 6-8 reps. However, rather than doing all 4 working sets, only do 3. The first two are standard 6-8 rep sets, but the third is a challenge set where you’d do as many reps as possible.
I like these for a couple reasons: First, they shock the body by pushing you beyond mental limits, and you MUST push yourself. Second, when you throw out a predetermined rep number you typically far exceed what you thought possible going into the set. I think I got 16 reps in the video with a weight normally used for 6-8. Knowing you have fewer total sets to do, and that the challenge set is a single balls-out-effort, frees you up to not hold back.
I’d only select one exercise per body part per workout for this. Basically, sprinkle them into your training sparingly or you’ll risk burning out your CNS. – Mark Dugdale
Michael Warren – Strength Coach and Performance Expert
I have a few favorites.
6 x 6 With 30-Second Rests
This is a great set/rep scheme for size gains. It’s a scheme popularized by Vince Gironda, and one which he used with the very first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott. It’s based on a high training density (doing a lot of work in a shorter amount of time), rather than load.
To do it, you perform 6 sets of 6 reps with a moderate weight that you could do for 10 reps. What about the weight? Use approximately 70% of your 1RM for the particular exercise you’re doing, NOT your 6-rep max.
You must complete all six sets in as little time as possible, resting only 30 seconds between sets. That’s where the training density comes in. While Gironda’s recommendations were to shoot for rest periods of 30 seconds at most, he had his advanced bodybuilders resting only 15 seconds between sets.
Remember, the key factor with this loading scheme is density, not load. If you can’t do all 6 sets with a strict 30 second break, reduce the weight until you can use shorter rest periods.
- Set 1: 6 reps (70% 1RM) – 30 seconds rest
- Set 2: 6 reps – 30 seconds rest
- Set 3: 6 reps – 30 seconds rest
- Set 4: 6 reps – 30 seconds rest
- Set 5: 6 reps – 30 seconds rest
- Set 6: 6 reps – 30 seconds rest
This method alters the reps within the same set, focusing on changing the tempo on varying reps. To use the tempo contrast method, alternate between fast and slow tempos during a set. I’d recommend 3-4 sets of an exercise.
- Rep 1: 513 tempo (5 seconds lowering, 1 second pause, 3 seconds lifting)
- Rep 2: 503 tempo
- Rep 3: 101 tempo
- Rep 4: 101 tempo
- Rep 5: 513 tempo
- Rep 6: 503 tempo
- Rep 7: 101 tempo
- Rep 8: 101 tempo
Mechanical Drop Set
For a normal drop set you lower the weight, but for this method instead of changing the weight you change the angle of the active joint or alter the exercise slightly to make it easier as you fatigue.
For example, performing tricep extensions with a rope: Start by backing three big steps from the stack with your arms slightly in front of you. Perform as many reps as possible in this position, then take a step forward and repeat.
The rationale is simple, you’re changing the force curve when you change the angle of your upper arm. The reps will be harder at different points in the range of motion, allowing you to work past failure.
This method again focuses on the individual reps during a set. It incorporates isometric holds at the mid-range point of the movement on each rep.
- Rep 1: 10-second pause
- Rep 2: 7-second pause
- Rep 3: 5-second pause
- Rep 4: 3-second pause
- Rep 5: 1-second pause
- Rep 6: No pause
This is a great method that allows more muscle unit recruitment during the set, and it’ll help strengthen your mind-muscle connection. Do 3-4 sets. – Michael Warren
Eirik Sandvik – Athletic Performance Specialist
Try 3 sets of 3 with 5-second holds.
Isometrics work wonders for joint positioning, muscle activation, and performance. Do 3 sets of 3 reps with a 5 second isometric hold for the Kelso shrug and the hip thrust during your warm-up.
Here is an example with Kelso shrugs:
The isometric holds will turn on the key players for performance. For the Kelso shrugs, that’s the upper back, and for the hip thrusts, that’s the glutes. After the isometric holds, you’ll notice increased involvement from the glutes and upper back during your training.
When your glutes work as they should, you’ll be able to squat and deadlift more, sprint faster, jump higher, and kick harder. When your upper back muscles work as they should, you’ll be able to press more, throw better, and strike harder.
The method is simple, but very effective. Make the holds count though! You need to really contract the muscles, turn them ON, to reap the benefits. – Eirik Sandvik
Akash Vaghela – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach
My favorite rep scheme for hypertrophy is to strip it way back and do just two hard sets in two different rep ranges.
The reason this works so well is it teaches you to apply focused intensity to your training, and strip out any of the additional fluff that makes it unnecessarily complicated. So for instance you’d do the first set in the 6 to 8 rep range, and then the second set in the 8 to 12 rep range, albeit with 10-20% less weight.
At first it can feel like you’re not doing enough, but once you learn to generate maximum intensity in one or two hard sets, the reduced volume of training will provide the body with the required recovery to finally grow. – Akash Vaghela
Lee Boyce – Strength Coach and Performance Expert
Try ladder sets.
Ladder sets are a form of cluster training, and they’re great for hypertrophy and conditioning. They also build mental toughness.
To do them, load the bar with your 12-rep max. Then do only 2 reps and rest for 10 seconds. Then do 3 more reps and rest 10 seconds. Then do 5 reps, rest 10 seconds. And finally perform 10 reps.
By this point, your muscles should be screaming and your heart should be pounding. And the great news is, you’ll have just completed 20 reps with your 12-rep max. That’s the way to break through a plateau.
The science behind this is simple: To lift heavy stuff, we rely on ATP – an instant energy source powered through creatine in our muscles. This energy system runs out of mojo after about 15 seconds. So this makes the miniature breaks between each cluster a very valuable tool to extend your set. Why? Because it allows the ATP to partially rejuvenate so you can perform more reps than you normally would by the end of it all.
This system works great with compound movements, but equally as good with bodybuilding-oriented dumbbell or machine-based lifts too. Here are some of my favorite movements to use with ladders:
- Back Squat
- Barbell Standing Press
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Dumbbell Seated Press
- Bench Press and its Variations
- Inverted Row
- Dip and Weighted Dip
- Barbell Curl
Try 4 to 5 ladders per movement; that’s more than enough. These are also true burners, so don’t do more than two ladder exercises per workout. You probably won’t want to anyway. – Lee Boyce
Joel Seedman, PhD – Strength and Performance Expert
When it comes to sets and reps, autoregulation is something I use frequently with my athletes. However, this is even more important when it comes to counting reps.
For instance, I may provide a certain rep range as a guideline, like 5-6 reps. However, I’ll tell my athletes to focus on getting as much out of every rep as possible rather than feeling excessively compelled to reach the targeted rep range.
In other words, milk every rep to get as much training stimulus out of it as you can. If the guideline was 5-6 reps, but the lifter reaches 3-4 and begins to fatigue, then there’s no need to aim for additional reps unless they can complete them with the same intensity and focus.
Additionally, if they think they’ll be able to use better form for a given load by aiming for 3-4 reps for that set rather than aiming for 5-6 reps, then 3-4 should be their goal regardless of the recommended rep range.
The objective should be to take each set one rep at a time, maximize the effectiveness of every rep, and continue in that fashion until no more perfect reps can be performed in that manner. Never sacrifice form or the effectiveness of a rep for the sake of amassing more total reps.
Failure to remember this is ultimately what leads to ineffective garbage reps that wreak havoc on the joints, while doing little if anything stimulate growth or strength.
Rather than focusing on a specific number of reps that must be completed, focus instead on inducing the strongest training stimulus from each and every repetition whether you reach 1, 2, 3, or 10 reps. Keep in mind, just a few sets of several properly-executed reps will do more to stimulate strength, hypertrophy and performance improvements than any number of high-volume garbage-rep sets. The number of sets and reps are never set in stone, but proper form is.
So what should you shoot for? I typically use 2-4 sets because this range maximizes the training response without producing excessive fatigue or recovery issues.
For most lifters, the first set of an exercise is a “feeler set” where they’re finding their neuromuscular groove. It’s typically not until their second and third and sometimes even fourth sets that they’re really locked in and triggering the desired training response.
However, I’ve found that typically beyond 4 total sets of a particular exercise the individual has already reached maximal stimulation and is only producing unnecessary levels of fatigue which will hamper recovery. – Joel Seedman, PhD