The Most Bang For Your Training Buck

By:  Doug Daniels

     Everyone is always looking for the best value or most bang for the buck. This is not only limited to purchasing goods and services, but should apply to power training as well. When a lifter trains, he should be working out in the most effective manner, getting the best workout he can. Every facet of training should be constantly evaluated from exercise selection and performance, nutrition, to the sets and reps. One facet I think deserves a bit more consideration is your choice of set and rep schemes.  I believe a vast majority of the set/rep schemes used by many lifters are not efficiently and logically designed to produce the highest level of gains. You may not be getting back as much from your training as you may desire.

     To illustrate my point, I'd like to analyze a few of the most popular set/rep schemes.  For instance, 5 sets of 5 reps and the 'add weight/cut reps' each set method and propose ways that these schemes can be made more efficient and hopefully, more result producing.

     Let's start with the '5 x 5' scheme.  The 2 most typical ways of doing a '5 x 5' routine is to use the same weight for all sets:

  200 x 5, 200 x 5, 200 x 5, 200 x 5, 200 x 5

     Or to increase the weight on each succeeding set, peaking out on the final or fifth set:

  185 x 5, 225 x 5, 250 x 5, 275 x 5, 300 x 5

     I'll be the first to agree that if you work hard and increase the weights used when you are able, you will progress.  So what's wrong with that?  I say by logically analyzing these two progressions, we can easily increase results.

     In the first example, if you were capable of getting that fifth set with 200 pounds, what good were the first four?  Likewise, in the second example, the last set was the most intense and most beneficial.  The four previous sets only succeeded in tiring you out and resulted in you being able to use less weight for the fifth set, wasting time and energy, not much value in either scenario.

     A better, more efficient way of doing a '5 x 5' scheme that would result in a much higher level of intensity could look like this:

  195 x 5, 225 x 5, 255 x 5, 240 x 5, 225 x 5

     With this more efficient scheme, you would peak out on the third set with 255 pounds and then as you tire and your strength wanes drop the weight a bit on each of the following sets while sustaining a high level of intensity. The new 5 set workout now becomes a very intense, result-producing workout. A great value in time spent.

     Proper warm-up is still important and my examples provide adequate warm-up for most weight trainees without expending valuable energy and time.  Of course, some lifters may require an additional set or two of increasing sets.  Don't waste time and energy performing too many low intensity, marginally effective sets; warm-up then lift your heaviest weights. These are the sets that result in gains.

     Now let's look at a typical add weight/cut rep each set scheme:

  185 x 12, 205 x 10, 225 x 8, 245 x 6, 265 x 3, 285 x 2, 305 x 1

     Here, the same basic principle applies.  Too many light warm-up and intermediate sets and reps result in you being able to lift less on the critical top set.

     A better add weight/cut rep scheme for the same lifter would look like this:

  185 x 12, 215 x 8, 255 x 2, 285 x 1, 310-320 x 1, 295 x 3, 265 x 5

     As you can see, not only does this result in a substantially higher amount of weight used over the workout, but it also provides adequate warm-up.  The down sets in this example, as in my '5 x 5' scheme, allow the lifter to garner additional intensity as his strength and concentration level decreases, over about the same number of sets as the old inefficient scheme.  In addition, the lifter would now be capable of a 2-5% higher top set. That may not sound like much, but over the long-term, total volume is much greater.  Dropping the weight 5% on each succeeding set after the top set is a good rule of thumb to start with. This may require some adjustment for each individual.

     Another benefit is potentially better exercise performance.  Usually, as a lifter becomes tired or fatigued, exercise performance suffers.  Using maximum weights while fatigued increases chances for injury.  By performing the heavier sets sooner and then decreasing the weights as you fatigue, intensity is kept high and proper exercise performance can be better maintained. 

     There are occasions when lower intensity  workouts may be desirable, such as the case of injury rehabilitation and  times where high intensity weight training may be detrimental, such as light days.

     This principle applies toward other similar set/rep schemes like the 3 x 10, 4 x 8, 6 x 6, etc.  The weights you can use on this system may not be exactly in proportion to my examples. It may require a little modification and experimentation on your part.  I feel very confident that if you compare your current practices to my suggestions, you can immediately make all your workouts more efficient, intense, result producing, and safe without requiring any changes to the selection of exercises or other methods you currently employ. This is really such a simple principle; you may wonder why you have not tried this before. As I said earlier, your choice of set/rep schemes are critical to your progress.  Be more analytical and progress.  Make each set and rep count and you will get the most bang for your training buck.

Want to discuss this with other lifters?
Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 1998 Doug Daniels.