SET/REP SCHEMES

After you've picked your exercises, which we discussed in part one, you'll want to adjust your sets and reps to match your goals. There is a widely accepted scale of rep/set ranges and how they work towards different adaptations. This information is extremely useful in setting your sets and reps on your program, but it's also important to understand that it all sits on a sliding scale.

This picture was taken from my NASM 3rd Edition textbook and shows the following:
-> For muscular endurance and stabilization: 12-20 reps for 1-3 sets
-> For hypertrophy (increased muscle size): 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets
-> For maximal strength: 1-5 reps for 4-6 sets
-> For power: 1-10 reps for 3-6 sets

The general trend here is that as we go from endurance to strength the amount of reps will decrease and the amount of sets will increase. Additionally, as the amount of reps decreases the intensity will increase as a result, because you can lift more weight when you're lifting it less times. The inverse relationship is true as well. You'll be lifting less weight when focusing on endurance/stabilization, because you'll be doing more reps. (This specific chart uses a % of the 1RM to quantify intensity, and if that applies to your exercises, definitely use it. It's the most accurate way to gauge intensity. If it doesn't, however, just think about intensity in the following terms: if you're doing 5 reps, you want to be using a weight that you can ONLY do 5 reps with, same for 4 or 6 or 10 reps, and so on. In other words, if you're shooting for 5 reps, but you could actually get 6+ reps with the weight you're using, it's too light and the intensity is too low to produce the results you want.)

The goal of power is a bit of an outlier to our trend. With power the amount of resistance will decrease sharply, because the goal is to activate as many muscle fibers as possible with a quick and speedy movement. This speed is simply less achievable with heavier weights. So, because the intensity is lower, the reps will be a bit higher, but still not quite as high as they are for endurance or hypertrophy. This is because we're asking the muscles to react in a different, more taxing way with speed and quickness. Power is generally a sports-specific goal and will likely not apply to the majority. (Here is an older post on the topic if you're interested.)

Now, because "toning" has become such a buzzword among the fitness industry, let's address it and figure out where it fits in along the spectrum. Firstly, toning is kind of a useless term that doesn't exactly mean anything. You can't "tone" your muscles. You can *grow* your muscles and reduce the body fat around them, and that's actually the exact combination that gives the impression of "toning." So, because the main adaptation here is to grow the muscles, if you're looking to "tone", what you're really looking to is the goal of hypertrophy. Therefore 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets is where you'll likely want to be with your programmed exercises.

But, let's go back to where I mentioned this being a sliding scale… What exactly does that mean in terms of the actual workout? Well, it means that in case studies it's been shown that 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets best produces hypertrophy, but that 5 reps or 13 reps might also work. You may find that, too, that 6 sets produces the best results for you. Furthermore, you will also find that while training for hypertrophy you'll see gains in strength. So, all I mean to convey when I say this is a sliding scale, is that each individual goal is not separate from the others and that these specific numbers are variable based on your own progress and experience.

This scale simply presents the set, rep, and intensity schemes that have stood the test of time and *best* produce the adjoining results. It does not present the ONLY set, rep, and intensity schemes for producing the adjoining results.

So, when designing your program, step one is to pick your exercises and then step two is to decide on your sets and reps based on your goals. (The intensity variable will apply only to weighted exercises.) In part three we'll be discussing how to organize your exercises on a weekly basis.