Sets, Reps & Percentages Explained

“How many sets & reps should I do?” or “How much weight should I use?” are common questions I am asked regarding training for Hypertrophy and Strength, unfortunately the answer is not a simple one, It will change according to your own base strength and specific goals.

Actually, before I go in to details I would like to make one point clear:

Know your absolute goal.

I know a lot of people who will want to train for size but also get strong without getting too bulky and hold only 3% body fat while also having a sub 5min mile, sounds achievable, right?

If you are one of these people I and going to be harsh, you don’t need to know about sets, reps or what weight you need to be using because you do not have a clear goal, simple. Go away and write down what is a priority to you and what you really want to achieve, because, if it’s muscle size your cardio fitness will suffer slightly, maybe you’re after strength – in that case you may inadvertently put on some body fat to optimise your performance; can you see my point?

Goals will always come with sacrifice, you need to establish what it is YOU really want.

Right, back to the topic at hand – working out how many sets & reps to do and how much weight to lift – To know what you need to lift you will first need to know your 1Rep Max (1RM) from this you will be able to workout what percentage is optimal ‘according to various research articles’.

Once you have your 1RM you will us a percentage of that number for your required sets and reps, here is a brief guide to what type of results you can expect from what percentage you may choose to use. This is based on what I learnt from a young man named Charles Poliquin.

100% – 85% Relative strength increases through enhanced neural adaptation, you get stronger but not necessarily any bigger. The rep ranges are often 1-5 and the sets vary from 12 – 5.

83% – 78% This percentage range offers the ‘optimal’ compromise of strength gains and hypertrophy. The reps are 6-8 and as for the sets using 4-8 is the best option in my eyes.

76% – 70% Training in this percentage area is said to be the most recommended for Hypertrophy gains with a secondary affect on strength. 9-12 reps are what you will be looking for, and your sets will be 3-6.

68% and lower % These are the realms of strength endurance, unfortunately you will not yield such impressive gains in hypertrophy or relative strength from training in this percentage zone. It could help your Zumba?

*A useful rule to remember is the lower the reps the higher the sets and the higher the reps the lower the sets.

It is also worth mentioning that the tempo of which you lift the weights is equally as important, for strength you will want an eccentric of 2-4 seconds with a 1 seconds pause, then accelerate the bar as fast as possible (You might take a few seconds to get weight back up but thats because you’re training heavy, remember focus on moving that bar fast!).
For Hypertrophy a 4-8 second eccentric is great (depending on the weight/reps) a 1 second pause and a 1 second squeeze at the maximum point of contraction will help force more blood into the muscle too.

There you have it. I haven’t reinvented the wheel, these stats have been around for some time, why? Because they work. Take some time to establish you goal and then plan your workouts accordingly, and remember, pick one goal and stick with it.

Cheers
Ross

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