The lower the reps, the higher the set

FIT Staff
Nov 28, 2013

If you have strength trained before, you will be familiar with sets and reps.

This is basically how many times you perform an exercise in succession (reps, repetitions) and how many times that is repeated (sets).

The most common scheme used is 3x10.which is three sets of 10 repetitions.

The set and rep scheme is what should dictate resistance selection, but many people do this backward.

They select a weight, usually too heavy and perform it as many times as they can. While this will bring about change, one typically plateaus quickly and does not achieve their specific goal.

This is due to the fact that sets and reps have an inverse relationship which will favor one body system over another.

Lower reps stress the neurological system while high reps stress the muscular system.

The lower the reps the higher the sets, while the higher the reps the lower the sets.

Rest between sets will be dictated by reps, the lower the reps the longer the rest.

You want to perform in all the ranges, but your amount of each will coincide with your goal.

To illustrate this let’s look at the general set and rep combinations and their typical outcomes.

1-3 reps for 5-10 sets will produce more strength

4-8 reps for 3-6 sets will produce a balance of mass and strength

8-12 reps for 3-4 sets will produce more mass gains

12 and up for 1-3 sets will produce more endurance

Using this methodology will allow you to have a better idea of what results your workout will produce.

Your set and rep range will also dictate your resistance. If you perform 10x1 you will be going heavy around 90-95 percent of the maximum resistance you can handle in that exercise.

Using a range such as 4x 6-8, the resistance will allow you to perform no more than 8 reps and no less than 6, if so, you change the resistance to accommodate. 

The method is more individualized than using pure percentages of maximum lifts because each person has a different composition of muscle fiber types and might be stronger with one scheme than another.

It also allows for flexibility if energy levels or recovery is insufficient. 

Next column I will discuss periodization and explain how these schemes work together. 



I think the word is succession, not secession (which means withdrawal from an organization)

AJ Oliver

Thanks Dan, that was interesting and useful.
I'm trying to keep my strength & endurance up so I can keep sailing as long as I can. I should focus on strength, flexibility and aerobics, right?
Folks might be interested in the "fitness age" calculator from the Univ. of Trondheim (Norway) that I saw in the New York Times magazine . .

Brandi Barhite

Thanks! We made the change to the word.