Tip: The 20 Reps Method for Strength

Forget counting sets. Instead, think about weight and total reps. Here's why and how to do it.

The 20 Reps Method

For some reason, the average lifter is stuck in the "3 sets of 10 reps" mindset. If his main focus is getting stronger, it might be something like 5 sets of 5 reps. There's nothing wrong with those set/rep parameters, but many experienced lifters have outgrown or adapted to those standards. They need to shake things up.

Here's an idea: Forget about counting the sets of an exercise. Instead, focus on the load (weight) and the total reps you'll do for a certain lift. If your main goal right now is to get stronger, a good number to shoot for is 20 total reps for an exercise.

The devil is in the details. The first rule here is to choose the right weight for the exercise. To choose your weight, load up the bar with your 4 rep max. That's the weight you'll use for every set (after a few warm-ups).

There's no need to pull out a calculator or loading percentage chart. If you can get 5 reps or more, the weight you're using is too light. If you can't get 4 reps, it's too heavy. See, no math required.

The second rule is to rest only about 30 seconds between sets.

Now, with your load selected, you'll shoot for 20 total reps for the exercise, regardless of how many sets it takes. Don't even count sets, only total reps. As you fatigue, you won't be able to get the same number of reps per round, and that's okay because we're only concerned with total reps. Here's an example:

  • Reps: 20 total
  • Load: 4RM
  • Sets: Doesn't matter
  • Rest: 30 seconds between sets
  • Set 1: 4 reps
  • Set 2: 4 reps
  • Set 3: 3 reps
  • Set 4: 2 reps
  • Set 5: 2 reps
  • Set 6: 1 rep
  • Set 7: 1 rep
  • Set 8: 1 rep
  • Set 9: 1 rep
  • Set 10: 1 rep
  • Total reps: 20

Remember, this is just an example. You may be able to get all 20 reps in eight or nine sets, or it may take you twelve or thirteen. It all works as long as you're following the load and rest rules: 4RM on the bar, 30 seconds rest between sets.

Now, if you get 4 reps on every round, then either you went way too light or you cheated the 30-second rest period. Most lifters will end up doing singles toward the end. As a bonus, this method will really boost your work capacity and get your heart pumping.

This total-reps method is the core workout of the Velocity Diet program. You can download the free ebook here which contains a full training program with strength and hypertrophy guidelines.

Chad Waterbury popularized this method. See the related links below for all the details along with some other "fun" variations.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram