Tip: Set-Rep Schemes for the Under-Equipped

Stuck at home with limited equipment? No prob! Here's how to get the most out of your workouts.


So you're working out from home and your equipment choices are limited. Well, your progress doesn't have to stop. A great strategy can compensate for the lack of equipment.

Outside of the range of motion, the number one variable is volume. Simply changing the structure of your sets and reps can drive progress.

So, whether you're rocking a couple of old kettlebells or a burlap sack filled with rocks, these program design concepts will move you forward.

1. Invert Your Sets and Reps

Paul Anderson (one of the strongest men ever to walk this earth) took the classic 3x10 set/rep scheme and inverted it, turning it into 10 sets of 3.

This, of course, allows for heavier lifts. However, it also gives you far more opportunity to play with density: rest periods can be shortened, or more active work can be performed in between sets.

Example: Take a weight that you can press overhead for 3 sets of 5 reps. Now flip that around and instead perform 5 sets of 3 reps.

Progress it by:

  • Shortening your rest times.
  • Adding non-competing work (e.g., jumping rope or high-rep squats) in between sets.


2. Triple-Progression

Warm-up and perform a challenging working set and leave 1 rep in the tank. Now things get interesting. At this point, you begin performing successive sets with a decreasing rep count before jumping back up to a full-out effort on your final set.

Example: Take a weight you can do about 12 reps with and prepare yourself by ramping up reps (e.g., 3, 6, and 8) before working up to a challenging set—perhaps 10 reps. Then perform a set of eight reps. Then six. Then three.

Your muscles should then be rested enough to allow you to finish things up with an all-out set.

Here's what it might look like (all sets using the same rusty dumbbell or other implements):

  • Set 1: 3 reps
  • Set 2: 6 reps
  • Set 3: 8 reps
  • Set 4: 10 reps
  • Set 5: 8 reps
  • Set 6: 6 reps
  • Set 7: 3 reps
  • Set 8: All-out set, max reps


3. High-Low Density

Hit a fixed number of reps with a specific weight within a tight timeframe. The use of short exercise breaks is an incredible use of your time. It can make 15 minutes of highly-focused exercise deliver more than most 60-minute workouts.

Instead of using a moderately heavy weight throughout and pausing where necessary, you'll eliminate the use of breaks by "resting" using lighter weight.

This is perfect if you have one weight that's too heavy to use throughout the entire workout and another weight or implement that's lighter.

Example: Perform 50 reps in 10 minutes. Alternate between heavy and lighter implements. For easy numbers, let's choose an even 10 sets, performed every minute on the minute (EMOM):

  • Set 1 (lighter weight): 7 reps
  • Set 2 (heavier weight): 3 reps
  • Set 3 (lighter weight): 7 reps
  • Set 4 (heavier weight): 3 reps
  • Set 5 (lighter weight): 7 reps
  • Set 6 (heavier weight): 3 reps
  • Set 7 (lighter weight): 7 reps
  • Set 8 (heavier weight): 3 reps
  • Set 9 (lighter weight): 7 reps
  • Set 10 (heavier weight): 3 reps

You'll notice that the reps average out to five per set. Again, the goal is to hit 50 reps, but you can begin to shift reps from the light bucket into the heavy bucket as you progress.

For example, you might allow yourself to do sets of 6 with the lighter weight and sets of 4 with the heavier weight (instead of 7 with the lighter and 3 with the heavier). Make the math as simple or complicated as you like.

Above, I used an alternating pattern, but in time you could shift to doing 5 reps on every set, heavier or lighter be damned. It could also progress toward using the lighter implement every third or fourth set.

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Geoff Girvitz is the founder of Bang Fitness in Toronto. He believes that strength and movement skill are part of a life well-lived. His work is to make those qualities accessible to everyone. Follow Geoff Girvitz on Facebook