Want to Progress in Your Workouts? Understand Sets and Reps First.
Doing a single heavy squat and doing 100 light squats consistently would have two very different effects on the body, so before you can create a workout program for yourself or a client, you first have to understand how the number of repetitions and sets work together to produce different results.
The first question you should ask is what you are trying to achieve. Are you trying to build strength? Is hypertrophy (growing bigger muscles) what you’re after? Or are you aiming to build strength endurance (the ability to lift lighter weights for a long time)?
Now, I know some of you would’ve scoffed at hypertrophy, but I’ve got news for you… just about any booty workout that you’d do with the goal of sculpting those buns is a hypertrophy workout for your glutes. Ab workouts? Same story.
While hypertrophy has its place, we rarely use it at 100Strong. Our training is focused on both ends of the rep range spectrum – pure (maximal) strength on one end and strength endurance on the other.
The Rep Range Spectrum
It may sound counterintuitive, but lifting heavy weights for five repetitions and under will not, in fact, build the biggest muscles. This rep range actually creates denser and firmer muscles. Cellulite begone!
Hypertrophy is what builds the muscles up. It’s what bodybuilders train to get swole and it’s great for filling out those hot pants, but in functional terms, hypertrophy is doesn’t do much.
Strength endurance is my personal favourite. It’s good for creating smaller and denser muscles, improves cardiovascular health, helps with fat burning and it builds mental resilience.
If your goal is to develop a lean and strong body, your program might look something like this:
For strength spectrum:
- Weighted squats x 5
- Push ups x 5
- Pull ups x 5
Then you finish with something like this for strength endurance:
- Kettlebell swings x30
- Walking lunges (holding light dumbbells) x30
- Medicine ball slams x20
When I create programs for my clients, I also always keep them doing the same foundational exercises, but I change their program slightly every six weeks. For example, for the lower body component, I could have them working on back squats for the first six weeks, front squats for the next six weeks, then split squats after that, before returning to back squats.
The Problem With Mainstream Fitness Methods
“But fitness classes out there these days don’t look like that”, you might say. That’s right, they don’t. The mainstream fitness class out there these days tend to have 10 or more different exercises in a single session, then another 10 different exercises the next session, and another 10 the next… and it is exactly this variability that causes problems.
In the first year or so, newcomers would no doubt see some changes in their bodies or improvement in their fitness levels, but they would soon hit a plateau. With workouts changing drastically from session to session, you don’t get the chance to work consistently at any one exercise, so in the long run, it’s difficult to see progression.
On the other hand, if you keep your training relatively simple and work consistently on the same few “big basic” exercises, you will always progress – way beyond the first year or two.
How to Progress As You Get Stronger
Keep in mind that as you grow stronger, you will need to change up your repetitions to progress in your training. For example, once your 5x8 program starts to feel easy, you can add two more repetitions to the set, and when that feels easy, add another two – and so on.
Yes, it’s not fancy I know. But trust me – it works.