Understanding Rep schemes
Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Having a clear understanding of what reps to do at each stage of your training is crucial. Here I want to outline what reps are specific for what type of attribute you're after, but also to explain the principles to give a more well-rounded approach. This will bring attention to the fact that it's sometimes not quite as simple as 1-6 reps to build strength. The exact prescription should vary from person to person and will depend on what stage in their lifting career they are at, their experience, their modality and goal too!
So outlined below are the basic rep schemes.
So, while all these are great baselines to design and build your training around, the flaw with this principal is a lot is left un-said. Let me explain, 8-12 reps is certainly most specific training for hypertrophy. However, hypothetically if you’re doing a set of 8 reps on chest press, and you’re doing a 5 second slow eccentric (lowering) phase and a 5 second concentric (upwards) phase the whole set would take 80 seconds which would be classed as endurance. Furthermore, this doesn’t tell us how hard your lift is. At what percentage of your 1 Rep Max are you working at. 1 rep max (1RM) is the most amount of weight you can lift for 1 single repetition. Or RPE (rate of perceived exertion), basically how hard do you think your working on a scale of 1 to 10. Or if we are talking sets, a 10 RPE would mean you couldn’t get another rep with a gun to your head, so 8 RPE Would be 2 reps left in the tank. The table below will give you a much better guideline and should be a useful tool for you all to use.
So now we have more data and much better understanding. But nonetheless this model can vary slightly depending on who you ask, what biases they might have, target audience or even just the fact that this is still a guideline not a rule. Think of it like a concept, whilst the guidelines will generally be similar, the variables are always going to be different depending on the person. You can also notice some sections will have similarities and some will cross over each other slightly because there is no definitive line. The lines are blurred by design.
1-3 reps and 1-6 reps sections are going to possibly cause some disagreement, some would argue to start lifting heavier, smaller rep ranges at an earlier point. My return would be, that unless the client comes from a fitness background and is already working on maximal strength, they should be then spending the majority of their time working on general strength, which would progress them much more. The weaker, less experienced the athlete is, their body just won’t be used to dealing with heavy loads, thus the risk of injury is much higher. Additionally, they won’t be achieving the goal of power or maximal strength because they simple can’t produce maximal forces.
Please use this tool as a guide for your own training. It can be very helpful when designing or altering training.