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The Science Behind Rep Schemes: Which is right for your goals?

When you step into the gym, the first thing you must decide is when weight training is which muscle groups do you want to exercise that day, followed by which exercises for those decided muscle groups. Once that is decided, the next decision is: how many reps and sets, and at what weight, should I train? That is the question we will be tackling today, as we attempt to decipher which rep range, total number of sets, and weight lifted is appropriate based off your desired goals. We will be the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) standards to determine this.

First, lets identify the three most common goals of strength training protocols. Usually, the goal is increases in muscular strength, muscular hypertrophy (growth) or muscular endurance. Each one of these stated goals requires a different style of training, and there isn’t always a large crossover between the results from one training style to another.

According to ACSM guidelines, muscular strength adaptations happen at the lowest rep ranges, specifically 1-5 reps per set for 3 sets. Muscular hypertrophy occurs in the 8-15 rep range for 3 sets. Muscular endurance occurs in the 15-20 rep range for 3 sets.

The other factor to consider here is weight used for each set. Once again, we will defer to ACSM’s standards to help establish this. ACSM recommends 70-90% of the 1RM of any given movement for increases in strength, 40-60% of the 1RM for muscular endurance, and 50-75% for hypertrophy.

The final component of rep scheme development that we must consider is rest time and speed of movement. For muscular strength, the movements should be done slowly, with 2 minutes of rest per set. For muscular hypertrophy, movements should be done at a moderate speed, with a 1-minute recovery in between sets. For muscular endurance, the movements should be done at a moderate speed with 1-2 minutes of rest in between sets.

Establishing guidelines for your particular goals are extremely important. By taking the guesswork out of the equation, you can scientifically work towards your goals with the best possible formula behind you, and thus take your training to the next level.

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