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A Step by Step Guide to Planning a Workout Part 5: Reps, Sets & Weight




You've made it. You're at the gym, workout in hand, and ready to go. The only step left is to decide how much weight you'll use and for how many reps and sets.


In order to make the right decision for your goals, you should understand that there are three different types of resistance training. Which one you choose is based on your desired outcome. I'll outline all three below, explaining when you'd use them and the right number of sets and reps for that particular goal. The information I outline is based off ACE's Phase 3: Load Training, in their Functional Movement and Resistance Training Integrated Fitness Model.

1. Muscular Endurance Training


This is the type of training you use if you're a beginner, are looking to tone/firm your muscles, or plan on competing in an endurance event such as a triathlon. Essentially this is working your body's ability to contract a muscle repeatedly, or sustain contraction over a long period of time.


Guidelines to training for muscular endurance:


How many times you should do it: 2-3 times a week

How heavy your weight should be: Less than 70% of your one rep max*

Number of sets: 1 - 3

Number of reps per set: 12-15

Rest between sets: Less than 30-60 seconds


When to increase your weight:


To begin, you'll find a weight that makes you fatigue after 12 reps. If you can go on for hours with this weight, it's too light!! Eventually your body will get strong enough to do 15 reps at this weight. After a couple workouts at 15 reps, you're ready to increase your weight by about 5%. When you do, drop down to 12 reps and slowly work back to 15, following the same steps.


Notes: If you're just starting out this is likely the type of training you'll begin with. You can do basic straight sets, or these are good exercises to do in a circuit as explained in my blog post here. Also, ladies, this will NOT, make you look like a bodybuilder! Please don't shy away from heavy weights because you don't want to look "big". Heavier weights are what will help you accomplish the results you want. Those competition guys and gals LIVE at the gym to get that look.

2. Hypertrophy Training


This is the type of training that builds muscle mass (i.e visual bulk). So if you want to look bigger, this is for you. It is typically the type of training bodybuilders use. Do note it involves some serious commitment to the gym. If hypertrophy training is your goal, there's lots of info out there with numerous websites dedicated entirely to this topic. Below I've outlined just the basic tenants of how your workouts should break down.


Guidelines for Hypertrophy Training:


How many times you should work the same body part: 2 - 3 times a week

How many times you need to hit the gym: 4 - 6 times a week

How heavy your weight should be: 70% - 80% of your 1 rep max*

Number of sets per exercise: 3 - 6

Number of reps per set: 8 - 12 (10 is ideal)

Exercises per muscle: 2 - 6 (4 is ideal)

Rest between sets: 30 - 90 seconds


When to increase your weight:


Just like muscular endurance training, you'll start out with a weight that has you fatigue at the lower end of the rep range (somewhere around 8-10). Once you can complete 12 reps at that weight, it's time to add on. About 5% is a good place to begin. As with muscular endurance, you drop back to the lower end of the rep range, working back up over time.


Notes: If you're just starting out, it's best to start with some muscular endurance training to build up some strength. From there you can switch to hypertrophy training to start building mass.

3. Muscular Strength Training


When training muscular strength, your goal is to increase the amount of weight you can lift in one rep, aka your 1 rep maximum. People who typically train this way are power lifters, Olympic weight lifters, or athletes looking to increase specific performance.


Guidelines for Muscular Strength Training:


How many times you should work the same body part: 2 - 3 times per week

How many times you need to hit the gym: 3 - 5 times a week

How heavy your weight should be: greater than 80% of your 1 rep max*

Number of sets per exercise: 2 - 6

Number of reps per set: less than 6

Exercises per muscle: 1 - 2

Rest between sets: 2 - 5 minutes


When to increase your weight:


As with the other two training types, you'll start by fatiguing your body on the low end of your rep range. Around 4 to start. Once you can do 6, it's time to add weight. Again, 5% at a time is a good place to begin, only going higher if you need to.

What is your One Rep Max?


I use a percentage of one rep max here to indicate how heavy the weight is that you should be lifting. So what is it? It's simply the weight you could lift in that particular exercise if you only had to do one rep. Now obviously when we train we do multiple reps, hence why we work at a percentage of that.


There are a few ways to figure out how much weight to use to start off, including some tests. The easiest for first timers is to go by feel. Pick something reasonable and try for your desired reps. It it feels way too easy, go up a notch the second set. Too hard, and can't make it to the right rep range, go down. You can use this first time at the gym to find a solid footing in where you should start out. If you've ever worked with a trainer there are some tests they may do with you to help you figure out an accurate starting point. However, if you're starting out and on your own, feel is fine.



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