Strength Training: Planning The Training Block – Part 2
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Strength Training: Planning the Training Block – Part 2

The following article is going to be part of my upcoming book “Physical Preparation in Team Sports“. This is a sequel to my previous articles Strength Training: Planning the Training Block Part 1 and Establishing 1RMs.

Set and Rep Schemes

On the following table, there are few examples of set and rep schemes:

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

Table 1. Set and rep schemes

This book can be easily filled with various versions of set and rep schemes, but that is not the point. The point is to understand the similarities and differences between them, as well as when they are useful, so that you can be creative and get the job done.

In my opinion, there are two things that are important when it comes to set and rep schemes: modifications and classification (or types). Let’s cover each concept separately.

Modification of Set and Rep Schemes

The set and rep schemes in the Figure 19 are strictly defined. This means that exact number of reps, sets and load (in terms of %1RM) is prescribed. Sometimes even rest periods and tempo of exercise are prescribed. This is great when it comes to comparing the schemes, but it can backfire in the real life, because we assume ‘predictability’ of performance (we will come back to this when we talk about vertical planning, or progression as well). But what if we are wrong? What if we are not very good at judging those numbers, or they are off for certain individual, based on his day-to-day readiness and improvement rate? What if some individuals emotionally don’t like (or respond to) very strict programming (there might be those who prefer exactly what and how much should be done; so we need to take that individual difference as well). One simple solution to those issues is “starting light”, or, as we mentioned before, using EDM and a bit of buffer (using RIR), so in case we are off with numbers, we still have MPV (minimum viable program) that we can tweak through iterations and feedback.

Another option is to use modifications. The first modification that take uncertainties into account (of day-to-day readiness to perform or rate-of change/adaptation) is Rep Zones. Let’s assume our main prescription is 3 x 5 @70% (3 sets of 5 reps with 70% of 1RM). The rep zone approach would use the following modification: 3 x 4-6 @70%. So rather than prescribing the exact number of reps, we will prescribe a rep zone that fits our objectives and takes uncertainty into account. We are also giving some ‘sense of control’ to the athlete (which is very motivating, at least for most athletes), by letting him choose a number of reps to perform. This way we have ‘locked in’ load and allow the reps to vary. Rep zones can be used in training cycles, or exercises where the objective is to keep predictable load – for example when maximum strength is the objective and we aim to work at certain percentage of 1RM. But to allow some wiggle room, we are letting the athlete decide on the number of reps. We can also ‘lock-in’ the RIR (see later), if we prefer the subjective approach (for example 3 x 4-6 @70% w/4RIR; so the athlete decides to use 4-6 reps as long as the RIR is around 4). On the flip side, rep zones are not the best option if the aim is to accumulate certain number of lifts (e.g. in hypertrophy or armor building exercises or cycles).

The width of the rep zone may depend on various factors. For example, if we know that athletes are tired (e.g. workout on G+1, or G+2 day), we can allowa bigger buffer (especially in the direction of decreasing load): 3 x 3-5 @70%. On the flip side, if we have some certainty that they might be feeling much better, than we can increase the buffer (in the positive direction) and allow more reps to be performed: 3 x 5-7 x 70%. The buffer can grow in both directions, e.g. 3 x 4-6 @70%vs 3 x 3-7 @70% and the use might depend on how much wiggle room you want to give to the athletes, or how much areyou confident in the precision of your prescription (to avoid ‘pushing’ too much). The extreme example of rep zone approach would be prescribing %1RM and letting the athlete choose the number of reps (e.g. 3 x N @70%). The selection of reps could be done based on the training diary (“What have I done last time?”) and this is useful when we want to ‘accumulate’ reps (or to progress using reps; see Vertical Planning).

Next modifications are Load Zones. Similar to rep zones, load zones utilize a buffer in %1RM used. Taking the same basic scheme of 3 x 5 @70%, the load zone approach would use, for example: 3 x 5 @65-75%. This approach allows athlete to select appropriate load, based on his current day-to-day readiness and rate of improvement. Load zones approach is useful when we want a stricter number of lifts (e.g. in hypertrophy or armor building phases or exercises) and we are not much concerned with average %1RM (we are, but if that is the objective we would be more inclined to ‘clamp’ %1RM using rep zones). As with rep zones, the width and direction of the buffer in %1RM used can depend on multiple factors. For example, in ‘pull’ approach we might give more wiggle room, and in ‘push’ we want stricter zones. The extreme example of Load zones would be  prescribing the number of sets and reps, and letting the athlete choose the load (e.g. 3 x 5). This is usually referred to as open sets. The selection of the load will most likely be made based on training diary history (“What have I done last time?”). Same with the rep zones, the usage of this method depends on how much we trust the athletes. When I started working as S&C coach in soccer, I believed in “give them a fish and feed them for a day, teach them how to fish and feed them for a lifetime” maxim, so I gave my athletes training diaries, explained them the concept of progressive overload and gave them open sets. Disaster was an understatement. They have forgotten their logs, lost them under treadmill, or just didn’t give a shit. There was nothing close to “progressive overload”. So I decided to keep a log for themselves. I went around the gym like a turkey trying to collect the numbers. That way I couldn’t coach and instruct the lifts. Disaster was an understatement here as well. So I got smarter – I wrote the exact set, reps and loads on a common sheet (actually multiple copies that were posted in the gym so that they could see it easily) and told them to do exactly as written. Of course, they could still cheat (I could easily check), but at least I could coach and ‘progressive overload’ was being implemented. But then again, on some exercises I was completely off (because I had to estimate 1RMs for assistant moves), so the strict approach failed in that regard. The solution was to allow a stricter planning, while still allowing some wiggle room due to an error and individual differences. For that reason, I started using the above modifications. The long term progression is being followed (‘commander intent’), while I allowed a ‘local’ implementations (gave them freedom to wiggle if needed).

One thing to keep in mind, as we will see when we come to classification of set and reps scheme, is that you can use different modifications for different exercises, objectives and even individuals (since some individuals prefer more freedom, and some don’t want to think much and just want to do what they are being told, or depending how much you trust them). For example, main lifts can be programmed more strictly, and you can give much more wiggle room for assistance exercises:

Back Squat 3 x 4-6 @70%
Lunges 3 x 5 per side (open set)

We can also combine both rep zone and load zone approach, to get something that is really flexible: 3 x 4-6 @65-75%. This is also viable option, especially when we are not much concerned with hitting certain number of lifts, or average load. We are interested in long term progression (which will happen as long as we increase 1RM in our programs – see Rinse and Repeat, but allow great flexibility for athletes on the ‘local’ or implementation level). For some athletes, this could be too much flexibility, so it is up to us to decide about the appropriate modification.

The third modification option would be to use subjective indicators, and in our case that is RIR. So our main set and rep scheme of 3 x 5 @70% can become:

3 x 5 w/3RIR (reps prescribed, athlete selects load)
3 sets @70% w/3RIR (load prescribed, athlete selects reps)

This is very usable with more experienced lifters that are able to estimate RIR with better precision. We can combine the subjective approach with both rep and load zones as well:

3 x 5 @65-75% w/3RIR (reps prescribed, athlete selects load)
3 x 4-6 @70% w/3RIR (load prescribed, athlete selects reps)
3 x 4-6 @65-75% w/3RIR (athlete selects both reps and load, as long as there are 3 RIR)

In the above cases, load or reps provide only guidelines (“Well what should I lift?”), but ultimately, it is RIR that athlete should listen to.

When it comes to team sport athletes, using subjective indicators in prescribing training can be double edge sword. They provide huge flexibility and take into account individual differences, but that flexibility can also be problematic. As mentioned before, athletes can start screwing around, or they might not understand what is being asked of them. Some might event think that you have no clue what you are doing, so you are giving them loose prescriptions. Some don’t give a damn and don’t want to think too much about lifting weight and they prefer to get it over with and play/practice their sports. So, as a coach, you have to be smart and decide what the best approach is.

Fourth modification is using Velocity Based Training (VBT). We will explain more about VBT in the Chapter XXX, but in short, using VBT to prescribe training involves using some combination of Start Velocity and Stop Velocity. Using velocity, instead of %1RM and number of reps, takes into account day-to-day variability and different rate-of-change (adaptation) of the individual and it deals with this ‘intrinsically’. But it has a lot of assumptions and measuring to be done.

To be done precisely, VBT profiling needs to be done for both individual and exercise of interest (although some ‘generalized’ numbers could be used as a starting point, or MVP). One example of VBT prescription might involve prescribing load and stop velocity:

3 sets @75% until you hit 0.3 m/s

It is very important to emphasize that VBT assumes maximal effort (intent to lift fast) during the concentric phase of the lift, as well as the same depth of the exercise, otherwise it is not very usable. Even more complex prescription might involve prescribing start velocity:

3 sets from 0.5 to 0.3 m/s

In this case athlete selects the weight that gives him initial velocity of around 0.5m/s and performs reps until that velocity reaches 0.3 m/s. To make this ‘search’ quicker, we might provide some initial values for the weight:

3 sets from 0.5 to 0.3 m/s (@70-75% 1RM)

But similar to the subjective approach, this load prescription is only a guideline and the athlete should focus on speed.

VBT is mostly usable with ballistic movements, since velocity represents instant feedback that could be motivating. Sometimes, this feedback can also be tricky (for example, trying to increase peak velocity during power clean, athlete might alter technique and lose the objective of the exercise). Another use of VBT is in quality control – or using velocity stop or % drop (how much % loss in velocity we allow before stopping the set).

Another use of VBT involves estimating daily 1RM from warm-up sets, and using that number to prescribe training, rather than using pre-phase 1RM. To make this estimate reliable and usable for prescription, strict technique (especially using the same depth and pause at the bottom of the lift, or avoid using SSC) and intention to lift as fast as possible must be followed. Jury is still out how usable this approach is and the research on this topic is being performed (at the time of this writing, your author is preparing his PhD on this very topic).

In my opinion, when it comes to team sports, VBT should be sparingly used for a few major lifts (mostly ballistic), because it is a major pain in the arse to explain and torture athletes with measurements. Just keep it as a viable option.

Fifth and the last modifications are Time and Reps Constraints. This is the most flexible approach and it gives athletes time frame (e.g. 10-20min) to finish certain total number of reps (with certain limitations/constraints). For example, our 3 x 5 @70% might be prescribed as: In 10min perform 15 reps @70%. It is up to athlete to decide how many sets to perform, how many reps to perform and how long should pause last. We can make few variants of this, by using the above modifications:

In 10min perform 15-20 reps @70%
In 10min perform 15 reps @65-75%
In 10min perform 15-20 reps @65-70%
In 10min perform 15-20 reps @65-70% w/not less than 3RIR per set
In 10min perform AMRAP @65-70% w/not less than 3RIR per set, (AMRAP – as many total reps as possible)
In 10min perform AMRAP @65-70% using 3-5 reps per set
In 10min perform AMRAP with 4-6 reps per set @65-70%
In 10min perform 15-20 reps @65-70% with no less than 3 reps per set
In 10min perform AMRAP reps @65-70% with no less than 2min break
In 10min perform AMRAP reps @65-70% with no longer than 3min break

Variations are endless and it is up to your coaching creativity to create a constraints that let the aimed objectives emerge (be it certain number of total reps at certain %1RM being performed, and so forth). This is a viable option with some exercises and objectives. For example, you might say “You have 10min to do 100 push-ups”, or “10min to do sets of 1 of hang clean with 85%, AMRAP”, or even use Crossfit prescription of EMOM (every minute on the minute): “In 10min, EMOM 2 reps with 75% hang clean” to be certain they don’t kill themselves with short breaks or forcing reps.

Even if you do not plan using this approach, provided time constraints (and making it transparent by using a big timer on the wall) can get team athletes to be more ‘productive’. For example, you might have a super set (A1. Back Squat, A2. Pull-Ups, A3. Abs Roll-out, A4. Hip stretch) and to keep a group of athletes punctual (especially if the next group is coming in), you might also state that they have 15-20minutes to finish the prescribed sets. This works like a charm. Just put the timer on the wall and let them see it.

On the following figure, there are all modifications enlisted for the easier summary (simplified).

Original prescription 3×5 @70%
Rep Zone 3×4-6 @70%
Load Zone 3×5 @65-75%
Combined 3×4-6 @65-75%
Subjective 3×5 w/3RIR
VBT 3 sets @75% u/0.3m/s
Time & Reps constraints In 10min perform 15-20 reps @70%

Table 2. Set and rep scheme modifications. See text for the further examples

Classification of Set and Rep Schemes


On the following figure, I have provided a classification of set and rep schemes that I find useful when planning:

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I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grew 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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Welcome to Complementary Training Community! Forums Strength Training: Planning The Training Block – Part 2

This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Mladen Jovanovic 2 months, 1 week ago.

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  • 16/01/2018 at 19:10 #21675

    Great article Mladen. Enjoying the series and can’t wait for the book

    01/02/2018 at 20:52 #21924

    Thanks Gregg, really appreciate the feedback. Might take a while for the book, but I will publish everything as I go. Once this is done, then the editor will have really hard time trimming down 🙂

    03/02/2018 at 12:09 #21939

    Are there any specific blog posts you’d recommend to read to learn about a hypertrophy phase?

    Im interested in learning about having athletes perform a hypertrophy phase before doing their strength phase. In fact Im going to try it myself to see what it’s like so I can at least get an idea of what the athletes are going through.

    Also interested to learn more about what kind of volume is needed to build strength after the hypertrophy phase and then how can the athlete maintain this whilst training other qualities for their sport.

    12/02/2018 at 19:42 #22039

    I do not think there is anything special in ‘phase potentiation’, e.g. hypertrophy block followed by strength block, besides variation, especially when you repeat this sequence multiple times in a year (there might be ‘phase potentiation’ with a single cycle, but when you repeat it the effects do not tend to be ‘potentiated’ [I do need a reference for this but it seems that recent paper by James et al. kinda supports this: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sms.13045/pdf but I do need to dig deeper]

    When it comes to hypertrophy for athletes, I would stick to that Prilepin table for hypertrophy. Research recommends (someone correct me if I am wrong) 2-3x per week per body part, 30-50 reps per set and around 65-75% 1RM, but again I think it is more about the calories and food than some magic volume number. But these are rules of thumb. You can always experiment for few weeks and see if they are gaining.

    Another strategy might be to give high volume session as a last in the week with 2 days of refeed after it (e.g. on Friday night, with Sat and Sun off). Then you can really ramp it up.

    Hope this helps

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