A PRIMER ON STRENGTH QUALITIES
The amount of reps you choose to perform, assuming you perform as many reps as possible when you decide to do an exercise, will dictate the training effect. What that basically means is that differing intensities (amounts of weight relative to your strength levels) will lead to differing physiological adaptations.
To put that in layman’s terms, if you were to pick a weight you could lift one time (extremely high intensity), and just did that over and over again over the course of a training session, you would get a completely different result than if you picked up a weight you could lift ten times (moderate intensity), and did that over and over again over the course of a workout.
The primary strength qualities that most people commonly train for are:
Relative strength – This is just pure raw strength. The more weight you can move in relation to your bodyweight, the more relative strength you have. This strength quality is best attained in the 1-5 rep range. Performing more than 5 reps could lead to a hypertrophic response, and the increase in bodyweight could negatively affect relative strength scores, therefore you should refrain from performing more than 5 reps if relative strength is the goal.
Absolute Strength – This is also brute strength, but taking into consideration that the more muscle the individual has, the stronger they will likely be and therefore building more muscle will likely negatively affect their relative strength scores, but will positively affect their absolute strength scores. Pound for pound absolute strength is less impressive than relative strength. This strength quality is best attained in the 1-8 rep range. Performing more than 8 reps will likely not have as much of an increase in overall strength development as the intensity would likely be too light to maximize that response.
Hypertrophy – Building bigger muscles. There are two types of hypertrophy worth noting: Functional hypertrophy, and total hypertrophy. Functional hypertrophy means the development of only the cells that are capable of producing force. Total hypertrophy means the development of the cells that are capable of producing force, as well as the non-contractile elements of the cell. Functional hypertrophy is best attained in the 5-8 rep range, and total hypertrophy is best attained in the 9-12 rep range. Less than 5 reps will not provide enough time under tension to generate the greatest hypertrophic response, while more than 13 reps would likely be too light to develop the greatest hypertrophic response.
Strength-endurance – This defined by the ability to generate high levels of force against a set resistance for prolonged periods of time. The primary focus is on the amount of weight you are lifting over the amount of reps you do. If the weight is simply to light that you could lift it in excess of one minute then the strength component or strength-endurance will not be maximized. This strength quality is best attained in the 13-20 rep range. This rep range will also develop total hypertrophy to a certain extent as well. Less than 13 reps will not lead to the greatest development of muscular endurance as the time under tension will not suffice.
There are other strength qualities that can be attained as well such as power, speed-strength, strength-speed, etc. however these are the most common that you’ll encounter in the average gym.
TRAINING FOR ONE STRENGTH QUALITY CAN ALSO LEAD TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF ANOTHER STRENGTH QUALITY
It’s important to mention that, even though there are strict loading parameters that need to be adhered to, to best accomplish a specific goal and develop a specific strength quality, training for one strength quality may also improve/increase another strength quality.
For instance, if you were to train for relative strength, depending on a lot of factors like current and previous training experience, muscle fiber type distribution, hormonal responses, diet and nutritional habits, etc. you may actually end up building some muscle as well. Would you build as much as if you adjusted the loading parameters accordingly to build muscle? Probably not, but you could build some muscle nonetheless. What you likely wouldn’t improve upon is strength-endurance, as the parameters to develop strength-endurance are drastically different than those needed to develop relative strength.
Depending on your current and previous training program, training for hypertrophy could increase your strength levels, or improve your strength-endurance. If you have been training for relative or absolute strength, then the increase in repetitions, along with relatively shorter rest intervals would improve your muscular endurance. If you have been training for strength-endurance, then the increase in weight, along with relatively longer rest intervals would improve your strength levels.
Finally, training for strength-endurance could also lead to a hypertrophic response by virtue of glycogen depletion and replenishment. The more glycogen you deplete, through high volumes of training, the more you will store, and in turn you may gain some size. You won’t however, be gaining much strength at all, because the load would likely be too light to create a positive neurological response.
So to sum it up, just because you are trying to improve/maximize one strength quality, doesn’t mean that there will not be somewhat of an improvement in another.
LEAVE THE PYRAMIDS IN GIZA
It’s safe to say that the majority of people that devote time and effort into the gym have several glaring flaws within their program. It’s not their fault at all, they simply don’t know better. Amongst them is the wide range of repetitions from one set to another, and from one exercise to another.
It’s very common for an individual to follow a 12,10,8 and even continue on to perform a set of 6, and then 4 reps, all for the same exercise. This type of loading pattern is known as “pyramid” loading, in which you’d basically have an inverse relationship between sets, reps, and weight (intensity). With each set, as the weight increases, the reps decrease in direct proportion.
While this type of loading pattern is certainly better than nothing, the broad range of repetitions lead to less than optimal results than if you were to adhere to a strict rep bracket, within 3 reps (more on that later).
The reverse pyramid is another extremely similar, but flawed approach as well. As you may have guessed, the reverse pyramid consists simply of performing your heaviest set first, and inversely increasing the reps as you lower the weight with each successive set. Once again, performing 4,6,8 and maybe even 10 and 12 reps for the same exercise leaves the body guessing as to what exactly it is you want it to adapt to.
Both of these types of loading (pyramid, and reverse pyramid) are inappropriate for different reasons, but ultimately have one common denominator.
The accumulative fatigue that comes from pyramid loading, starting light and going heavier with each successive set, means that the heaviest set will be compromised, and not as effective as if you hadn’t performed multiple sets to failure prior to your heaviest attempts.
The problem with the reverse pyramid is that a lack of rehearsal sets (warm up sets) may mean that the nervous system isn’t properly primed and ready to lift near maximal weights, which can lead to sub-optimal performance (not getting as many reps as you could or should have), or even injury.
The common denominator between both pyramid loading patterns is this: Let’s take a second and put some practical numbers as far as intensity is concerned to the specific amount of reps performed.
If you can perform 12 reps with a given weight, depending on several factors such as fiber type distribution, it is likely that, that amount of weight reflects roughly 72-74% or your 1 rep max (1RM). 10 reps would equate to 75%, 8 reps to 80%, 6 reps to 86%, and 4 reps to 92%. Regardless of whether you start heavy and work your way down, or start light and work your way up, you are looking at a very broad range of intensity used (over 20% difference!).
The problem with this is that, even though a certain exercise (and it can be any given exercise), performed with a certain amount of weight, may look identical from one set to the next, or even one rep to the next, the fact is the motor pattern is in fact very different. And that’s just if you use the same amount of weight! When you perform a certain exercise with such a wide variety of intensities, gains in strength will be limited, as they are primarily the result of neuromuscular adaptations (and yes, I do realize that not everyone is training for strength). You essentially have to train your nervous system to become better at recruiting the right muscles, at the right time (this is called neural efficiency).
To maximize these neuromuscular adaptations and become as efficient as possible at performing a movement, the recruitment pattern needs to be as identical as possible, as often as possible. The more the recruitment pattern varies, as it does when you broadly alter the intensities from set to set, the lesser the gains in strength and neuromuscular adaptations will be.
It is for the reasons stated above, that pyramids, regardless of what kind you are referring to, are best suited as one of the 7 wonders of the world, and have little value as a loading pattern in the gym!
WHAT ABOUT ADJUSTING THE LOADING PARAMETERS FROM ONE EXERCISE TO THE NEXT, OR ONE WORKOUT TO THE NEXT, AND TRAINING FOR MULTIPLE STRENGTH QUALITIES WITHIN THE SAME WORKOUT/WEEK?
Another common fault, but still slightly acceptable for those training for hypertrophy ONLY (which will be discussed later), is to perform a certain rep bracket for one exercise, and another rep bracket for the next.
For example, you could perform 4-6 reps (heavy) for the first exercise, and the follows it up with 8-10 (moderate) for the second, and eventually 12-15 (light) for the third and/or fourth.
If you are going to do this, then at least make sure to start heavy and go lighter as the workout progresses. Starting light, and trying to lift more weight as you fatigue is just not an effective use of your time at all, and lifting heavier near the end of a workout is a higher risk, than when your neuromuscular system is fresh.
The benefit to this type of loading is that the heavy weight used at the beginning recruits/activates as many muscle fibers as possible AKA potentiates the nervous system, and then as the workout progresses, the decrease in weight and increase in reps fatigues the motor units further which pays off even more, while sparing the joints and tendons and ligaments. So basically it’s just a safer way to get a result.
This type of loading has its flaws as well, you see. While it may seem logical to adjust the weights as you go, and start heavy and then decrease the intensity as fatigue sets in, the truth is you’re still confusing your body’s adaptive mechanisms.
Some programs even suggest following those rep ranges for different training days during the week (ex. Monday 4-6 reps, Wednesday 8-10 reps, Friday 12-15 reps). Adjusting your rep ranges from workout to workout leaves your body guessing as to what you want it to ultimately adapt to.
Altering your reps from exercise to exercise, or workout to workout, ends up confusing your body, and its adaptive mechanisms are left wondering, do you want it to get bigger, or stronger, or improve its capacity to repeat efforts? The results of these types of loading patterns will likely be minimal compared to if you worked within a set rep range for the entire workout, or better yet, phase.
It also leaves very little room to make changes when you have covered everything. I mean really, if you’ve done everything, what can you do different in the future to prevent your body from plateauing?
SO, IF WHAT WE ONCE THOUGHT ABOUT PYRAMIDS ISN’T SO SACRED, WHAT WOULD BE A BETTER APPROACH TO GETTING THE BEST RESULTS?
To get the best results, and prompt your body to make the adaptation you are striving for, given your time and effort, there are optimal intensity brackets to which you should adhere to when developing a program. The reason for this is because when you stick within certain parameters, your body’s adaptive mechanisms know exactly what you are trying to accomplish, you can easily quantify progress, and you can also identify if you are overtraining.
Depending on the goal, the percentages are as follows:
The 10% rule when training for strength
When training for strength, considering that much of the development of increased strength is a result of the adaptations made by the nervous system (increased neural drive to the muscles, improve the synchronization of motor units, increase the activation of contractile apparatus, and decrease inhibition of protective mechanisms of muscle), you should never stray too far away from your ideal working weight during a workout. If the load variance between your lighter sets and heavier sets is greater than 10%, there will be various adaptive demands placed on the nervous system for one precise motor pattern, which ultimately translates into sub-optimal gains.
For example, let’s say you are bench pressing, and the weight you are intending on using is 315 lbs. and you can manage that weight for roughly 6 reps. If you get to the point where you can no longer either A) complete 4 reps, or B) decrease the weight by as much as 10% (283.5 lbs. in this case) and perform 6 reps, then your time on the bench press for that specific workout is over.
When training for strength, the drop-off is due to neural fatigue, which takes a lot longer to recover from, and is something you want to minimize as much as possible. By continually lowering the weight to perform more sets and reps because that’s what the program calls for, you are only really smashing your nervous system further into the ground, making it harder to recover from.
Remember, you want to push yourself, but only so far. If you push yourself beyond your ability to recover from the work you are doing, you will quickly become overtrained, and that can take up to several months to recover from.
Not only does performing more sets and reps at a lesser intensity decrease your body’s ability to recover, but it also trains the nervous system to become accustomed to lifting lighter weights. If you are trying to get stronger, the last thing you want to do is train your body to be weaker by continually exposing it to lower intensities.
The 20% rule when training for hypertrophy/strength-endurance
When training for hypertrophy or endurance, you can allow for a 20% variance in load between your lighter and heavier sets, since these methods are based on cumulative fatigue and metabolic accumulation. Hypertrophy protocols are not nearly as much of a burden on the nervous system as strength protocols, so the main cause of the drop-off is muscular/metabolic fatigue which is far easier for the body to recover from and is why you can allow for a greater drop-off.
In this case, let’s use a 315 lbs. bench press again, this time aiming for 10 reps. If you get to the point where you can no longer either A) complete 8 reps, or B) decrease the weight by as much as 20% (252 lbs. in this case) and still perform 10 reps, then your time on the bench press for that specific workout is over.
THE GYM AIN’T THE SAHARA DESERT, I GET IT, NOW GIVE ME SOMETHING I CAN WORK WITH
Now that we’ve ruled out broad range pyramids from being an effective way of going about making serious gains in strength, and to a lesser degree, size, it’s time to go over some more appropriate loading patterns, that are better suited to accomplish this goal.
Step Loading/Plateau Loading
Step loading, or plateau loading, refers to performing two or more sets at a given intensity, before increasing the weight and ‘stepping up’ to the next weight, or reducing the weight and stepping down (should you choose to go in that direction, which is most appropriate for those training for hypertrophy, but can also be used for strength development as well). This type of loading is one of my personal favourites, simply because in my experience (both with myself, and with clients) the second time you perform a set (as long as it wasn’t a full blown max effort), it’s typically much smoother since your nervous system has been activated.
It’s very common that, even with a proper warm-up, the first working set is still a bit of a rehearsal, and ya may feel a bit ‘off’. If you haven’t actually attempted to lift a certain amount of weight, all the preparation sets in the world with lower intensities can’t possibly prepare you for how that weight is actually going to feel until you get in there and actually lift it.
Taking the 10% rule of strength into consideration, a sample of a workout using the step/plateau loading pattern may look something like this:
Set 1: 6 reps @ 81%
Set 2: 6 reps @ 81%
Set 3: 4 reps @ 86%
Set 4: 4 reps @ 86%
Set 5: 2 reps @ 90%
Set 6: 2 reps @ 90%
Set 1: 5 reps @ 82%
Set 2: 5 reps @ 82%
Set 3: 5 reps @ 82%
Set 4: 3 reps @ 88%
Set 5: 3 reps @ 88%
Set 6: 3 reps @ 88%
In the first example above you may notice that there are 3 steps, in which 2 sets are performed with each intensity, whereas the second example shows 2 steps, in which 3 sets are performed at each intensity. Both are very effective, and how you ultimately decide to divide up your reps, and steps, is up to you, but should obviously be determined by your goal and what adaptation you are trying to make.
Other factors, such as the amount of sets you choose to perform should also influence just how you decide to plan your steps. If your goal is to increase your performance in a specific lift, a step/plateau loading specialization could consist of 5 sets of 2, then stepping down (within the 10% bracket, generally 7% is ideal, as a 5% drop may be too heavy to complete all your reps) and performing another 5 sets of 3 (known as the East-German Stair-Step System) or 4 sets of 4, followed by another 4 sets of 5 (known as the Chinese Method), or 8 sets of 1 before dropping down to 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps for a similar movement pattern (Modified Hepburn Method). The sheer volume of high quality work that the above specialization examples provide is what delivers the strength training effect.
The same loading pattern could be used with a hypertrophy protocol if you really wanted to, although this specific loading pattern is probably better suited for strength protocols because of the positive effect it has on motor pattern development due to the repeated efforts at high intensities.
Due to muscular/metabolic fatigue, it’s not likely that you would get many reps after ‘stepping up’, or at least trying to by up to 20%, therefore if you plan on using a step/plateau loading pattern when training for hypertrophy it is in your best interest to start on the higher end, and work your way down 20%. A sample of such a workout would look like this:
Set 1: 5 reps @ 84%
Set 2: 5 reps @ 84%
Set 3: 10 reps @ 74%
Set 4: 10 reps @ 74%
Set 5: 15 reps @ 65%
Set 6: 15 reps @ 65%
I realize that the example above somewhat contradicts what is said earlier about confusing the body’s adaptive mechanisms with such a broad rep range, but in this case, as stated earlier as well, it is slightly acceptable to train with a such a broad range of reps for hypertrophy ONLY.
All in all, step/plateau loading is a very effective loading pattern that is best suited for those training for increased strength, and is definitely one of my personal favourite loading patterns.
Pendulum loading is a tapering type of loading pattern in which you work your way up (like a pyramid loading pattern) to a near maximal attempt(s) and then back off for a few sets (like a reverse pyramid loading pattern).
How is this different than the pyramid loading patterns that I criticised and condemned earlier you may be thinking? It’s different because it adheres to the 10% rule of strength, and the reps remain within a tight range, not such a broad ‘all over the map’ approach like the pyramid loading patterns.
This type of loading can be used for hypertrophy as well, but in that case, it really wouldn’t differ from the pyramid loading patterns all that much, except there may be more total sets to complete the pendulum (typically 5-6 sets are performed in a 3 up, 3 down fashion).
Taking the 10% rule of strength into consideration, a sample of a workout using the pendulum loading pattern may look something like this:
Set 1: 5 reps @ 83%
Set 2: 3 reps @ 87%
Set 3: 2 reps @ 92%
Set 4: 2 reps @ 92%
Set 5: 3 reps @ 87%
Set 6: 5 reps @ 83%
Set 1: 4 reps @ 85%
Set 2: 3 reps @ 90%
Set 3: 3 reps @ 90%
Set 4: 3 reps @ 90%
Set 5: 3 reps @ 90%
Set 6: 4 reps @ 85%
Like step/plateau loading, there are various ways to assemble a pendulum loading pattern. The first example above shows sets performed at 3 different intensities, while the second example shows sets performed at 2 different intensities.
In these specific examples, the former has sets performed with higher relative totals than the latter, while the latter example has more total sets performed with 90% than the former. Both are very effective and have their pros and cons.
The first example uses the sets prior to the heaviest ones as neural rehearsals, which is very beneficial to a less advanced lifter as they may need more opportunities to prepare for extreme intensities, where as a more advanced lifter would need less rehearsal before jumping into the heaviest sets of the workout, and performing greater volumes with extreme intensities.
An effective approach could be to use those examples in successive workouts for the same lift/bodypart, and here’s why. The higher relative intensities used, and broader rep range in the first workout, would be used to build confidence in the lifter by letting them realize how much they are capable of lifting, while minimizing neural fatigue due to only less sets being performed above the 90% marker.
Also worth noting is the repetition maximum of 5 in the first example, compared to 4 in the second example, could have a greater hypertrophic response as well, and this increase in hypertrophy, as minor as it may be, would likely also contribute to being stronger the next time you train. Will you build a noticeable amount of muscle in one workout by performing one extra rep? Maybe/possibly. But it’s a positive adaptation nonetheless, and that adds up in the end.
Although the highest relative weight lifted is less in the second week, the increased volume more than makes up for it. It’s these repeated efforts that ultimately will have the greatest impact of motor pattern development, and thus strength gains.
Unlike step/plateau loading, the pendulum loading pattern is a lot more popular for those training for hypertrophy/aesthetics. The reason for this is primarily due to the fact that competitive bodybuilders (and also recreational lifters that train primarily for aesthetics) need to avoid injury as much as possible (as an injury is easily identifiable under the bright lights on stage and therefore could ruin one’s career), but also realize that to build muscle, they need to lift relatively heavy weights.
The pendulum loading pattern enables them to do so, while minimizing the risk of getting injured by performing only one or two sets at a relatively higher intensity, AFTER performing one or two lighter sets prior.
Even though there is an acceptable variance in load of up to 20% for hypertrophy protocols, it isn’t absolutely necessary to exercise that right, to that degree. A sample of a workout using the pendulum loading pattern geared towards building muscle may look like this:
Set 1: 12 reps @ 69%
Set 2: 8 reps @ 77%
Set 3: 6 reps @ 84%
Set 4: 6 reps @ 84%
Set 5: 8 reps @ 77%
Set 6: 12 reps @ 69%
The first two sets in this case are used to pump blood to the targeted area, and mentally rehearse the movement. The use of relatively lighter weights enables you to maintain perfect form and control over the weight, so when you get to the sets in the middle of the pendulum you are as mentally and physically prepared as possible to execute the movement as perfect as possible.
The heavy sets in the middle of the pendulum are used to recruit the high-threshold motor units, which are then further exhausted with the following lower intensity sets, which by contrast will feel lighter and can enhance the training effect by enabling you to perform ‘cleaner’ reps (because the weight feels lighter).
DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Step/plateau loading, and pendulum loading patterns just happen to be two of MY personal favourite loading patters, but they aren’t the ONLY effective ones out there. To go over each and every single loading pattern would go beyond the scope of this article, and it’s likely that an entire book on all the loading patterns that people have had success with would still be incomplete because there is an infinite amount of ways to divide up the loading parameters to get results in the gym. Are they all just as effective? Definitely not! These two just happen to be some of the ones that I’ve had success with, and is why I’ve decided to share them on here.
It’s also important to note that the examples above are just that, examples. The intensities are not adjusted to any specific lift, or bodypart to which its corresponding fiber type would highly influence the amount of reps performed at a given intensity.
The goal, as far as what strength quality it is that you want to maximize, should ultimately determine exactly how you decide to select the appropriate amount of reps and intensity.
There is enough information out there these days that nearly anyone can develop a training program. Developing an effective training program that delivers the best results, given an individual’s time and effort in the gym however, is another story. There are several, and I mean SEVERAL variables that need to be taken into consideration when designing an effective training program. Hopefully this article has helped in bringing some insight into just how to go about doing that.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY
In closing, it’s becoming more and more apparent that people in the gym either A) think they know what they are doing, or B) know someone that thinks they know what they are doing. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t many, many fitness enthusiasts, trainers, or strength coaches out there that ‘get it’, but truth be told, they are few and far between.
In my opinion, the reason for this is because of the abundance of watered-down bullshit available these days through the media, fitness magazines, and internet. Because of this, people more often than not come into the gym with either no plan of action at all (which is always an effective way to go about accomplishing something, isn’t it?) because they think that ‘working out’ is all they have to do to get results, or follow a plan that is completely incomplete.
I know this to be true, because once upon a time, I was the teenage ‘know it all’ who would come into the gym thinking that there was no one that could educate me simply because I thought I was in better shape than anybody, and if someone was not as genetically gifted as myself, they probably didn’t know what they were talking about (man was I wrong). I had no idea of how effective a properly structured program could be until I decided to follow some that appealed to me.
In working with clients, consulting with friends, and through personal trial and error, I found several effective ways to divvy up the loading parameters to get quick results. There were times, and still are, where I’d try to take all that I’ve learned and develop my own programs. At first they weren’t what I’d now consider ‘good’ programs, but they did produce some results. The biggest difference between where I started, and where I am now as a trainer/coach/program designer is that I understand, now more than ever, how to accurately adjust the loading parameters to accomplish a specific goal, and develop a certain strength quality, in a timely manner.
Should you choose to make your own programs, for whatever reason, whether it be that you want to be different, or unique, or that you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment because you were able to personally develop a successful plan, the following point may help more so than any others that you’ve encountered in your endeavors. This is the main underlying principle to which I follow when customizing a program. It’s not necessarily a ground-breaking tip that will change your life forever, if anything it’ll just reinforce what you already probably thought to be true. At the end of the day, keeping it simple is usually the BEST thing you could do.
YOU CAN DO IT!
When developing a program, always prioritize the strength quality ranked highest on the list provided at the beginning of the article, at the beginning of the workout. For example, should you choose to perform reps that crossover from one strength quality to the next, begin the workout with the heavier loads to potentiate the nervous system so that the loads used later in the workout feel lighter than normal and pay off even more.
Exercises – The first exercise (or exercises should you choose to alternate between agonist/antagonist movements) performed should be the ones that give you the most bang for your buck.
Sets – After selecting which exercise is best suited to achieve the desired result, it would make sense that you prioritize it by performing the most amount of sets with it.
Reps – The reps ought to be based on what strength quality it is that you are trying to develop most.
Basically there should be an inverse relationship between the amount of sets and reps you choose to perform. The lesser amount reps you choose to perform per set, the more sets that are needed to provide the necessary volume to get the most positive training effect.
If you choose to train in different strength quality zones, the amount of sets should be reduced for each successive exercise, while the reps increase in direct proportion to develop that strength quality.
Here are some brief examples of how to do this for various goals to help you in designing your own successful programs with explanations to help understand:
Exercise A (1+2) – Very high sets, very low reps (ex. 6-8 sets, 2-4 reps – step/plateau loading, and wave-loading patterns are very appropriate here)
Exercise B (1+2) – Moderately high sets, moderately low reps (ex. 4-5 sets, 3-5 reps)
As stated earlier, it is in your best interest to keep the loading parameters as identical as possible, so that your body isn’t guessing as far as what stimulus you want it to adapt to.
IF however, you choose to modify the loading parameters for the second pair of exercises (and every exercise performed thereafter), and decide not to follow the same strict rep range in relation to the parameters used for the first exercise(s), then a slight reduction in intensity, in favour of more repetitions is appropriate.
When training for relative strength, it is acceptable to stray into the absolute strength/functional hypertrophy zone, as the slightly higher repetitions may translate into new found muscle mass, which would likely have positive effects on strength development. Refrain from performing too many reps per set, as the increased muscle mass may come in the form of non-functional hypertrophy, which can be detrimental to those who DON’T want to gain weight, or have to adhere to specific weight classes for sport.
Set A1 – 2-4 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, 6-8 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
Set A2 – reduce weight by 5-15% and perform another 1-2 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, reduce weight by 5-10% and perform another 3-4 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
Set A3 – reduce weight by 5-15% and perform another 1-2 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, reduce weight by 5-10% and perform another 3-4 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
*With the fast twitch drop-sets, there is an inverse relationship between the reps performed, and the percentage to which you should drop the weight with each set. The more reps you perform, the greater percentage you should reduce the weight. For example, if you perform only 2 reps on the first set, you should only reduce the weight by 5%, as a 15% reduction would likely deliver sub-optimal results. If you perform 4 reps on the first set, then a reduction in up to 15% is acceptable.
Exercise A1 – 2-4 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, 6-8 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
Exercise A2 – 4-6 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, 8-10 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
Exercise A3 – 6-8 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, 10-12 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
Exercise A4 – 8-10 reps for fast twitch muscles/individuals, 12-15 reps for slow twitch muscles/individuals
*With both drop-sets, and giant-sets, there is an inverse relationship between reps per set. The lesser reps you perform per set, the more sets you need to do to get the training effect. For example, if you perform fast twitch oriented giant-sets, you should perform at least 5 giant-sets, where as the slow twitch oriented giant-sets wouldn’t need to be performed more than 4 times (3 being ideal).
Giant-sets as well as drop-sets in this case, are subject to the 20% rule of hypertrophy. If you cannot perform all your sets with at least 80% of the starting weight, the workout for that specific bodypart is over.
Building muscle is the result of repeated efforts combined with time under tension. Performing multiple exercises in a row, as in a tri-set or giant-set, or the same exercise over and over while reducing the weight after reaching failure, as in a drop-set, exhausts the higher threshold motor units, and as you lower the weight, prolong the time under tension.
In the case of tri/giant-sets, you get the added benefit of stimulating the muscles you are training from multiple angles, which is also necessary to recruit and fatigue as many muscle fibers as possible.
Tri/Giant Sets are phenomenal for both hypertrophy, as well as strength-endurance, as long as you adjust the loading parameters accordingly. Absolute strength can also be increased as well, but gains in strength are typically a secondary result.