The Complete Guide to Repetition Ranges

 

Working in a gym, I find myself discussing training with everyone from power athletes, to bodybuilders, to crossfitters. Most of them have one thing in common; they have the one and only magic formula that works for everyone.

A bodybuilder might tell you that you're wasting your time by doing less than eight repetitions. A football player might say anything over 5 reps is a worthless. A crossfitter might argue that the total number of repetitions does not matter, as long as you puke by the end of the workout.

With these different opinions going around, you can imagine how hard it is for a gym newbie or a weekend warrior. This lack of knowledge might even be enough to keep him out of the gym all together. We don't want that.

In this article, I'll clear up the confusion about rep ranges and give you a sample workout to try next time you're in the gym.

 

Slow Twitch and Fast Twitch

Throughout the rest of this post, I'll be referring to slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers. There are three types of muscle fibers Type 1 (slow twitch), Type 11 A (fast twitch), Type 11 B (super-fast twitch.)

Type 1 slow twitch muscle is the kind of muscle you see on an endurance runner. It's smaller, less powerful, and less prone to fatigue. They produce low levels of force for an indefinite amount of time (2). Avoid spending too much time training slow twitch muscle, unless you want to look and perform like a marathon runner.

Type 11 A fast twitch muscle is the type that has the most hypertrophic potential (2) – this is just a complicated way of saying they can grow the largest. Because of that, it's where most bodybuilders spend their time training. It fatigues much faster than Type 1 muscle, but slower than Type 11B. 

Type 11 B super fast twitch muscle is the type you would see on a sprinter. It's larger, more powerful, and more prone to fatigue (2). You've heard the expression “You can't sprint a marathon.” Well, it's true. The more explosive and forceful your training, the quicker your fast twitch fiber will fatigue.

 

Henneman's Size Principle

Henneman's Size Principle states that under load, motor units are recruited from smallest to largest. In order to prevent fatigue, the body first activates the slow twitch muscle fiber as they require less energy. The larger fast twitch muscle fibers will activate when forced to work against a heavier load, or apply force in a shorter amount of time (3).

This is the scientific way of saying, leave the pink dumbbells at home. If you want to look like a bodybuilder or sprinter, you'll need heavy weights and explosive movements.

 

Speed and Plyometric Training

Look at a sprinter's physique, and watch them perform. It's the most functional and aesthetic body type. With speed and power training, it's about activating the muscle as fast as possible. To keep the central nervous system (CNS) fresh, we won't use external load or train to fatigue (5).We'll use full recovery to prevent fatigue. By the time you start your next set, your breathing rate and heart rate should have returned to baseline. Speed and Plyometric training should be done at the beginning of the workout.

The time you spend working should be kept minimal. Recovery capacity will vary greatly between individuals when working at this level of output, but a good rule of thumb is to rest a minute for every 10 yards you sprint. For those unaccustomed to this type of training, this will seem boring. It can be, so it's a great time to incorporate some low-intensity corrective exercises.

By the end of this portion of your training you should feel amped up and ready to crush the rest of your workout. Aim to finish this section within 10-20 minutes.

 

Power Training

Power can be expressed through the equation: Power = Force x Velocity. This means there are two variables we need to control in our training; the first is the force, which can be thought of as the weight we are using; the second is the velocity, or speed at which we are moving that weight.

This is where olympic style lifting can come into play. I like the hang clean because it is the easiest to learn, and doesn't have the same mobility prerequisites as some of the other olympic lifts. (Olympic lifts are not the only way to train power. If you have not had the opportunity to be coached on them, I would recommend subbing for a jump squat, explosive trap bar deadlift, or dumbell box jump.)

Power training requires heavy weight, high sets, and low reps. 3-5 sets of 1-4 reps is a good place to start. Check out prilepin's table for a more thorough understanding of volume and loading parameters.

 

Strength Training

By working against a heavy weight, your body will be able to recruit the greatest combination of Type 11 A and Type 11 B muscle (2). Like power training, we'll be working with heavy weight, high sets, and low reps. There are two main differences that separate strength training from power training. First, we'll be using a heavier weight; Second, we'll be moving it at a slower velocity (5).

You can perform anywhere from 3-6 sets of 2-5 reps. It's important to keep your total number of reps low. The closer you are to your one rep max, the lower the total number of reps you will want to complete.

Be ready to grit out some tough reps here to increase your overall horsepower. Your maximal strength will be the limit to both size and explosiveness. Focus your effort on these few reps; make them perfect. It'll pay off when you're jumping three inches higher in that pick-up basketball game. The cute girl on the treadmill wants to see you dunk... Maybe not, but it'll make you feel like superman, and she definitely wants to see confidence.

 

    Hypertrophy Training

    The word hypertrophy is a Greek word defined as “nourishment or growth.” Hypertrophy training is ideal for building muscle mass. To do this we'll train with high volume. Generally around 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps. This will allow us to recruit the majority of the type 11A muscle.

    It is important that this training take place after you finish your speed, power, and strength training. This will allow us to take advantage of a phenomenon known as Post Activation Potentiation (PAP.) This means that the nervous system is able recruit a higher percentage of motor units (muscle) and thus produce more force after high intensity training such as speed, power, and strength training (4). In meathead terms, you'll be able to use more weight which will result in more gainz.

     

    Muscular Endurance Training

    Athletes typically overlook muscular endurance training. Consider anything over 12 reps to be muscular endurance. Sets aren't as important, but are generally kept between 2-4.

    Muscular endurance training causes the body to use up all the available glycogen- primary energy source- in the the muscle for energy. The body adapts by storing more glycogen in muscle cells (1). This is advantageous for two reasons; first, more glycogen in the cells will lead to a higher work capacity, second, the added glycogen causes the muscle to stretch and absorb more water.

    If your goals involve either larger muscles or a higher work capacity, be sure to devote training time to muscular endurance.

     

    Putting It All Together- Leg Day

    This workout will focus on the strength and power in the vertical plane, and building mass in the horizontal plane. These two could easily be flipped for your second leg day of the week.

    *Note that this program is relatively advanced, and not meant for a beginner. You should have already mastered jumping and landing mechanics and hang clean form. If you're uncomfortable with these exercises, feel free to sub them for a similar exercise.

     

    Plyometrics -

    A1. Box Drops 6x3

    A2. Box Jumps 6x3 – 90 seconds rest

    *Focus on being explosive and landing mechanics.

    Power -

    B1. Hang Cleans 5x2 – 120 seconds rest

    Strength -

    C1. Front Squats 5x3 – 120 seconds rest

    Hypertrophy -

    D1. Romanian Deadlifts 4x8

    D2. DB Step Ups 4x6/side – 60 seconds rest

    Muscular Endurance -

    E1. SHELC 3x15-20 – 45 seconds rest

     

     

    References

    1. Greiwe, J. S., R. C. Hickner, P. A. Hansen, S. B. Racette, M. M. Chen, and J. O. Holloszy. "Effects Of Endurance Exercise Training On Muscle Glycogen Accumulation In Humans." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (1999). Print.

    2. Mac, Brian. "Muscle Types." Muscle Types. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. <http://www.brianmac.co.uk/muscle.htm>.

    3. Mendell, Lorne M. "The Size Principle: A Rule Describing the Recruitment of Motoneurons." ARTICLES. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. <http://jn.physiology.org/content/93/6/3024>.

    4. Sale, Digby G. "Postactivation Potentiation: Role in Human Performance." Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews (2002): 138-43.American College of Sports Medicine. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

    5. Swinnen, Bram. "Training for Power and Speed." Training for Power and Speed. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. <http://functionalresistancetraining.com/articles/training-for-power-and-speed>.