Set and Rep Schemes in Strength Training [Part 2]
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Set and Rep Schemes in Strength Training [Part 2]

Here is a second installment of set and rep schemes article for EliteFTS. You can read the first part of the article HERE.

The purpose of the article is to ‘explain’ (or at least rise awareness) to the difference between Training objectives, Training parameters and Training progressions and variations. In simple words, training objectives represent description of what needs/can/should to be done to get from point A (current state) to point B (future state), defined by Needs Analysis and Athlete Characteristic taking into account context at hand.

Overview of the process

As I have alluded to in the beginning of this article, training objectives will demand certain training parameters within which we can employ various progressions and variations, termed set and reps schemes.

The whole process looks like this:

Needs - objectives - parameters

This is the simple process (it is definitely not linear as depicted, but involves a lot of feedback information to redefine certain components based on real life results ~ hence the importance of monitoring and measuring) that outlines the planning and programming of training.

On the following table there is example breakdown of these processes for an intermediate powerlifter.

Process  
Needs analysis High level of strength in bench, squat and deadlift. Maintain bodyweight. 3 months to competition. Low budget. Public gym access.
Athlete characteristics Good bench presser. Bad back. Highly motivated. Loves training in group. No experience with gear (trained raw)
Training objectives Fix the bad back. Maintain bench press performance. Learn to use gear. Improve squat and deadlift.
Training parameters Train 5x/week. Do bench press 2x/wk at the end of practices. First two months work on weaknesses, last month work on strength and practice competition lifts. High frequency approach. Work on squat/DL every training day.
Progressions and variations Flat loading first to accumulate volume. Switch to step loading.

 

This is just an example without too much details (especially in training parameters and progressions), but I hope you get the picture.

As alluded in the beginning of this article, certain variations and progressions in training parameters are more suited toward different training objectives, but there exist commonalities between them that we will focus on. Thus regardless what you are training for (training objectives) there exist certain set and rep schemes (progressions and variations) you can employ on different time scales.

I will be relying to various writings by Dan Baker, Ashley Jones, Joe Kenn and others in this classification and terminology. Please see references for further details

Workout set and rep schemes

Within this time frame, set and rep schemes refer to one exercise and one workout. Here are couple of variations that are frequently done in strength training.

Plateau Load 5 x 5 @ 75%
Step Load 1 x 5 @ 65%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 5 @ 75%, 1 x 5 @ 80%, 1 x 5 @ 85%
Step Load plus Back Off 1 x 5 @ 65%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 5 @ 75%, 1 x 5 @ 80%, 1 x 5 @ 85%, 3 x 5 @ 65%
Reverse Step Load 1 x 5 @ 85%, 1 x 5 @ 80%, 1 x 5 @ 75%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 5 @ 65%
Traditional Pyramid 1 x 10 @ 70%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 6 @ 80%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 10 @ 70%
Reverse Pyramid 1 x 6 @ 80%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 10 @ 70%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 6 @ 80%
Ascending Half Pyramid – Light to Heavy 1 x 10 @ 70%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 6 @ 80%
Descending Half Pyramid – Heavy to Light 1 x 6 @ 80%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 10 @ 70%
Ascending Rep Pyramid 1 x 4 @ 70%, 1 x 5 @ 70%, 1 x 6 @ 70%, 1 x 7 @ 70%, 1 x 8 @ 70%
Descending Rep Pyramid 1 x 10 @ 70%, 1 x 9 @ 70%, 1 x 8 @ 70%, 1 x 7 @ 70%, 1 x 6 @ 70%
Standard Set Wave 1 x 10 @ 60%, 1 x 10 @ 67.5%, 1 x 10 @ 65%, 1 x 10 @ 72.5%
Ascending Half Pyramid Wave – Light to Heavy 1st Wave: 1 x 10 @ 70%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 6 @ 80%
2nd Wave: 1 x 10 @ 72.5%, 1 x 8 @ 77.5%, 1 x 6 @ 82.5%
Descending Half Pyramid Wave – Heavy to Light 1st Wave: 1 x 6 @ 80%, 1 x 8 @ 75%, 1 x 10 @ 70%
2nd Wave: 1 x 6 @ 82.5%, 1 x 8 @ 77.5%, 1 x 10 @ 72.5%
Stable Heavy to Light 1 x 1 @ 90%, 1 x 6 @ 75%, 1 x 1 @ 90%, 1 x 6 @ 75%
Ascending Heavy to Light 1 x 1 @ 90%, 1 x 6 @ 75%, 1 x 1 @ 95%, 1 x 6 @ 80%
Descending Heavy to Light 1 x 1 @ 95%, 1 x 6 @ 80%, 1 x 1 @ 90%, 1 x 6 @ 75%
Cluster Sets 4 –5 x 5 x 1 @ 3RM load with 15 seconds rest in between each rep
Rest Pause/Myo Reps 15-20+5x @ 50% load with 15 seconds rest in between each set
Daily Max plus Back Off 1 x 5 @ 60, 1 x 3 @ 70%, 1 x 2 @ 80, 1 x 1 @  90%, 1 x 1 @ 90+, 3-5 x 2-3 @ 80-90%
One Set Special 1 x 5 @ 50%, 1 x 4 @ 60%, 1 x 3 @ 70%, 1 x 2 @ 80%, 1 x 3+ @ 90%
Progressive Load 1 x 2 @ 70%, 1 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 2 @ 80%, 3 x 4 @ 85%
Joe Kenn Wave 1 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 4 @ 85%,  1 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 4 @ 85%
Joe Kenn Wave-3 1 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 2 @ 80%,  1 x 4 @ 85%, 1 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 2 @ 80%,  1 x 4 @ 85%

 

There is always problem with terminology, but I used names by Ashley Jones and Joe Kenn. Certain variations are more suitable for certain periods and objective than others. Certain variations progress on Load/Exertion table by keeping reps the same and progressing in load and exertion, some vary reps and keep same exertion, etc.

One can also use different set and rep schemes for the same objective at different training phases (e.g. plateau load in accumulation phase, step load in intensification phase). The options are endless. The key is having objective on mind, but still providing certain variability to avoid boredom at least, or providing stronger stimuli. Certain athletes will just prefer certain variations. For example, I just hate plateau load option ~ I can do lot more work with wave approaches with same “mental load”.

Weekly set and rep schemes

Next progression and variation time frame is one training week (or microcycle). Depending on number of training sessions in a week and training frequency (how many times we hit training objective, body part, muscle, biomotor ability) we devise different variations. In the table below, based on work by Dan Baker, we can find different variations for two sessions hitting the squat pattern (this could be any other movement, body part or training objective).

Method of variation Day 1 example Day 2 example
1. Same exercises and other variables, increase repetitions, and decrease resistance Squat 3 × 10  @ 70% Squat 3 × 15 @ 60%
2. Same exercises and other variables, increase or decrease the number of sets. Squat 4 × 10 @ 70% Squat 2 × 10 @ 70%
3. Same exercises, sets, and repetitions, reduce the lifting speed and resistance. Squat 3 × 10 @ 70% Squat 3 × 10 @ 50% (4s/rep)
4. Same exercises and other variables, decrease rest periods and resistance Squat 3 × 10 @ 70% (3min/rest) Squat 3 × 10 @ 50% (1min/rest)
5. Same exercises and other variables, decrease resistance. Squat 3 × 5 80% Squat 3 × 5 @ 70%
6. Same exercises and other variables, decrease repetitions. Squat 3 × 5 @ 80% Squat 3 × 2 @ 80%
7. Different strength exercises, but same for all other variables (same %1RM). Squat 3 × 10 @ 70% Front squat 3 × 10 @ 70%
8. Perform a strength and power version of aligned exercises on different days. Squat 3×5 @ 80% Jump squat 3 × 5 @ 40%
9. Perform heavier and lighter versions of aligned power exercises on different days. Power clean 3 x 5 @ 70% Power snatch 3 x 5 @ 70%
10. Same exercise, sets, and repetitions, different muscle regime Squat 3 x 5 @ 80% Squat 3 x 5 @ 60% (3s isometric hold at three positions)
11. Same exercise, sets, and repetitions, different modalities Squat 3 x 5 @ 80% Squat 3 x 5 @ 60% + chains/bands
12. Same exercise, sets and repetition, different ROM Squat 3 x 5 @ 80% 1/4 Squat 3 x 5 @ 80%

 

One frequent application of weekly variations is Hard/Medium/Easy approach of Bill Starr, or ME/DE (Maximal Effort, Dynamic Effort) of Westside.

With higher frequency of workouts, one can chose different combinations of the variations. Certain variations are preferred based on fatigue cycles during the week (biology), priorities (objectives & biology), constraints (context), or just plain preference.

Depending on the workout set and rep schemes selected, weekly variations can have much more variety (e.g. weekly variations for plateau vs. step loading).

It is also important to say that not all exercises should follow the same variation. For example lower body movements can use variation 5 or 6, while upper body can use 1 or 3. This depends on the objectives, individual characteristics and preferences.

Training block set and rep schemes

This is what Dan Baker calls “Different Cycle-Length Variants or Patterns of Periodized Strength Training”. Other coaches recognize it as Periodization Schemes. Unfortunately, most confuse training objectives (e.g. strength, power, hypertrophy, lockout strength, grip strength, hole strength, etc) and training blocks set and rep schemes. For the sake of this article I will assume same training objective(s) over training block, and only focus on set and rep schemes.

This way we avoid confusing set and rep variations and training objectives emphasis (e.g. undulating periodization sometimes call for weeks of 4 x 10, 4 x 6, 4 x 8, 4 x 4, and that approach not only provides variety, but also hit different training objectives like hypertrophy and strength). It is important to differentiate to different ways to ‘attack’ training different objectives (e.g. parallel, sequential, undulating, whatever fancy name there is today) and block set and rep schemes variations aimed at ‘attacking’ the SAME training objective.

On the following table there are frequent variations utilizing different ‘progressions’ on Load/Exertion table.  Don’t mind the names, but try to get the underlying principles in load progression and variation.

Name

Week

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Constant Same reps, same sets, increase load and exertion

3×8
71%

3×8
73%

3×8
75%

3×8
67%

3×8*
71%

3×8
73%

3×8
75%

3×8
67%

“Traditional” Same reps, high to low sets, increase load and exertion

6×8
68%

5×8
70%

4×8
72%

3×8
74%

6×8*
68%

5×8
70%

4×8
72%

3×8
74%

Rep Accumulation Same load, same sets, increase number of reps and exertion

3×8
68%

3×9
68%

3×10
68%

3×11
68%

3×8*
68%

3×9
68%

3×10
68%

3×11
68%

Linear Same sets and exertion, decreasing number of reps, load increase

3×5
79%

3×4
81%

3×3
83%

3×2
86%

3×5*
79%

3×4
81%

3×3
83%

3×2
86%

Linear Decreasing Same sets and exertion, increasing number of reps, load decrease

3×2
86%

3×3
83%

3×4
81%

3×5
79%

3×2*
86%

3×3
83%

3×4
81%

3×5
79%

Traditional & Linear Same exertion, decreasing number of reps and sets, load increase

6×5
79%

5×4
81%

4×3
83%

3×2
86%

6×5*
79%

5×4
81%

4×3
83%

3×2
86%

Linear with exertion increase Same sets, decreasing number of reps, load and exertion increase

3×5
79%

3×4
83%

3×3
89%

3×2
93%

3×5*
79%

3×4
83%

3×3
89%

3×2
93%

Traditional Linear with exertion increase Decreasing number of reps and sets, load and exertion increase

7×5
79%

5×4
83%

3×3
89%

1×2
95%

7×5*
79%

5×4
83%

3×3
89%

1×2
95%

Accumulation/Intensification Phase 1: Rep accumulation
Phase 2: Traditional & Linear

6×3
80%

6×4
80%

6×5
80%

6×6
80%

5×5*
80%

4×4
85%

3×3
90%

2×2
95%

Constant with unload Constant with 4th week unload

3×8
73%

3×8
75%

3×8
77%

3×8
%70

3×8*
73%

3×8
75%

3×8
77%

3×8
%70

Linear with unload Linear with 4th week unload

3×5
79%

3×4
81%

3×3
83%

3×4
75%

3×5*
79%

3×4
81%

3×3
83%

3×4
75%

Undulating Undulaitng reps progression and intensity, same sets and exertion

3×10
70%

3×6
77%

3×8
73%

3×4
81%

3×10*
70%

3×6
77%

3×8
73%

3×4
81%

* Represents increase in 1RM (e.g. for 2-5kg

 

There are much more progressions and variation, but these are the common ones that are utilized under the same training objective. Don’t hung up too much on this table, but use it as an example. The table refers to plateau loading in the workout, but the principles could be applied to all other workout set and rep schemes.

Please note that there could be different progressions for different training days (e.g. in weekly variation day 1 could progress using traditional and linear progression, and day two could progress using rep accumulation) and even different exercises (e.g. main lifts could use different progression than assistance). This makes infinite number of combinations one could choose from. Again, for certain objectives or even exercises we could prefer one block progression over another.

Hopefully this article provided an overview of “traditional” (percent-based) approach to strength training, with its different processes and different reps and sets progressions and variations on workout, week and block time frames.

Addendum: How to implement this in “real life”?

Since the time this article was published on EliteFTS I was working on translating the above mentioned set and rep schemes into ready-to-use Excel template, for both team/group workout and individual programs.

Strength Card Builder works under Microsoft Excel 2010 and later, both on Mac and Windows.

It allows coaches to:

  • Keep track of unlimited number of athletes and main/core exercises/tests 1RMs
  • Create unlimited number of exercises that are related to core lifts (e.g. DB bench press 1RM is around 80% of barbell bench press 1RM) (It comes with 200+ exercises already filled in)
  • Create up to 200 set and rep schemes (it comes with 100 set and rep schemes including olympic lifting cycles, constant, linear, wave, accumulation, undulating and volume/intensity variations and progressions)
  • Compare set and rep schemes using simple analyzer
  • Modify set and rep schemes by modifying load-exertion table
  • Create group workout cards (up to 50 played)
  • Create individual workout cards for 2, 3, 4 and 6 workout a week
  • And much more »

To find out more please watch the video below. If by any chance you are not familiar with the Strength Card Builder I strongly recommend you to watch the video training first. Although it was made for the previous version it covers much more details.

SCB New Features Video:

SCB Video Training:

The New Strenght Card Builder Is Available in Our Online Store »

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Complementary Training members have 30% discount on the Strenght Card Builder. Premium members can download the product for FREE!

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I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grow up in Pula, Croatia (which I consider my home town). I was involved in physical preparation of professional, amateur and recreational athletes of various ages in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, martial arts and tennis. Read More »
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