THE DEATH OF SETS X REPS?!!
Yes its true, gone are the days when your coach writes on the board 5×5 or 3×10.
Now its all about AMRAPs and EMOMs! But there is a reason, so long as you are lifting a moderately heavy weight, use a decent total volume and there is a progression model built in you will adapt and get stronger or bigger.
Here are a few of the popular methods being used that do away with rep schemes:
Ok, lets get through the Crossfit ones first! AMRAP stands for as many reps as possible and are used all the time in Crossfit usually with a couplet or triplet of exercises. They are usually used at the end of a Crossfit WOD and are heavily biased towards conditioning elements. They make it really competitive because everyone wants to get the most reps for that day and they can be programmed easily depending on what your goals are eg. Condition more CV exercises longer duration, strength use more lifting exercises. I think the problem with them is that in Crossfit you only do a workout once and rarely if ever do it again and don’t give yourself the opportunity to adapt. However AMRAPs are easy to program for progression for instance you could increase the duration add two minutes each week for 4 weeks. You could increase the loading of the exercises or even the difficulty of the exercises. But the key is that you need a similar stimulus that challenges slightly more each time to have progression. As more S&C coaches get involved with Crossfit I see this beginning to happen.
EMOMs (every minute on the minute) again have been popularised by Crossfit and personally I love them! I mainly use them for lifting exercises but they are used for more conditioning elements too. I see them as GPP for strength athletes. An example would be EMOM10 (10mins!) Block cleans at 75% 1RM x3 reps. With this session you would get 30 total reps done in 10 minutes some good volume where it isn’t to tiring so you can work on technique. Progression again is easy you can simply increase load, reps or duration. Another example is where you start at 1 rep and add another rep each minute (1,2,3,4…) until you cant perform all the reps in the minute. This has a higher conditioning element but early on you almost warm up into it easily and progression with this is simple try and finish on a higher number of reps at the next session.
Density Training was popularised by Charles Staley and his escalating density training. Density in essence means work per unit of time and this type of training works to increase how much work you perform in a set time period. There are various ways to use it for strength and hypertrophy but Staley’s original was to pick 2 opposing exercises, a push and a Pull for instance, and perform as many reps for each in a set time period. He would traditionally use 20 minutes for main exercises and 10-15 minutes for isolation work. He typically prescribes using a 10RM and starting at 5 reps for each exercise but dropping as fatigue permits. The key is to record how many reps you get each session and come back and try to beat it next time. This is a really effective training protocol especially for hypertrophy and also fat loss, give it a try and you’ll understand why!
Chad Waterbury x25/50 reps
Chad Waterbury has come up with some really novel training approaches in his time and is most known for is High Frequency Training protocols for hypertrophy and strength. Chad doesn’t use traditional set/rep schemes and prefers to prescribe total volume and using a particular rep max. For example he might say perform 25 total reps with your 6RM for your deadlift. But its how he prescribes the number of sets that is really unique. Chad recommends that you only perform reps when you can be as explosive as possible and uses rep speed to control when to stop your set. He suggests that when your rep speed slows you are no longer recruiting the fast twitch muscle fibres (which have the most growth potential) and therefore they are wasted reps. So once you feel yourself slow down stop the set and rest then continue in this fashion until you get to the total reps prescribed.
3 in 50
This is an excellent hypertrophy technique I heard about from Paul Carter in a TNation article and have used with great success. Basically you pick a weight you you think you can lift for about 25 reps and try and get 50 reps in 3 sets with strict 60 seconds rest periods. For instance you might get 22 reps the first set 17 the second and 11 reps on the last. If you do get all 50 reps you can increase the weight at the next workout, if you don’t just stick with that weight until you do. This built in double progression model will keep you going for a good while and will give you impressive hypertrophy results. Try it out it gives one hell of a pump too!
100 rep challenge
This is a fun and challenging way to finish a session! Pick an exercise and a load and try and perform 100 reps in as few sets as possible. Works best with 2-3 people for competition. Doesn’t need to be overthought just agree on a weight and see who finishes first! Loads of exercises work for this but no doubt most of you will do curls! For loading it depends how much time you have but a weight you can do for 15-20 reps is usually best.
Ok I may have exaggerated with “the death of sets x reps” title but there are 6 examples of different training approaches worth giving a try as a compliment to your more traditional training program. Just remember there is more than one way to skin a cat and sometimes something different can really help you make progress in the gym. Give some of these a try and let me know how you get on in the comments below or if you have any other techniques worth trying.