Understanding the principles of sets, reps and rest intervals

When you are designing a workout plan, there are many reasons to do something a certain way. Everyone can somehow justify why doing something might be beneficial and somebody can come along and argue those points. However, one thing that is universally accepted by most credible trainers is that there is a certain range of numbers to stay between when it comes to reps, sets, and rest intervals. These are the basic guidelines to follow when you’re mapping out your fitness plan. First, you must determine your goal — everything centres on your goal. For example, if your goal is to obtain the strength to deadlift 525 pounds, doing 20 deadlifts with 225 pounds and resting 60 seconds between sets probably won’t get you there anytime soon. Here is the simple way to remember how to get into the right zones so you can create great workouts and reach your goals as fast as possible. Sets and reps are inversely related. This means that the more sets you do, the fewer reps per set you have to do; and if you do fewer sets, you should do more reps. Sounds somewhat confusing, right? Let’s skip all the science and get to the meat and potatoes of how this works. If you are a strengthoriented athlete and your goal is to move big weights, you should be in the rep range of one to five using three to five minutes of rest in between each of five to 12 sets. Stay with low reps because the weight you are moving should be on the heavier side. Take long rest periods between sets because the lifts are very taxing on your body. Without sufficient rest, it would be very tough to perform the next set because your muscles and central nervous system need enough time to  restore everything they just lost by doing that set. So, what is heavy weight? The
weight you can lift for a single repetition is considered your onerep max. Once you know that number, you can work within 70 to 100 percent of that zone. For example, if your one-rep maximum
is 100 pounds, your strength zone would be between 70 and 100 pounds. Now, let’s say that your goals (like most people) are to burn some  fat, add some muscle and generally look and feel better. For this objective, use 8 to 12 reps with one to three minutes in between sets. We also recommend using 12 to 20 sets per muscle group. As a plan of action, you might work on your legs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday by performing five sets each day for a total of 15 sets. Alternatively, you could do legs one day a week and knock out 20 sets at 60 to 80 percent of your one-rep max if that is more convenient for you. Using a lighter weight that you can do for the allotted amount of reps will activate your body’s response to stimulate muscle growth. If training for endurance, use between 60 and 70 percent of your one-rep max and train using more than 12 repetitions with between 30 and 120 seconds of rest between each set. Since this type of training
uses lighter resistance, you can use more repetitions and decrease the number of sets per muscle group. For endurance, we recommend you use between one and 10 sets depending on your goal.
As you can see, these are just very general guidelines to help you better understand where your target range should be. You can try many other very specific options but it is very important to understand the basics first. Once you understand the basics, you can tweak your routines, try different combinations and, most importantly, find what works best for you.

Shane Topalovic is the owner
of Next Level Athletics, an elite
training center that provides
individuals and teams with the
most comprehensive training
methods available today. Shane
is also the Head Strength and
Conditioning Coach of the
Windsor Express and the Fitness
Director for Windsor Vardar
Soccer club.
If your team is in need of a
consultation or session,
contact Shane at
Shane@nxlathletics.com
or 519-984-6607