Rep schemes are approaches to the number of repetitions and sets performed as part of your workouts. Your choice of rep scheme should vary depending on your training goals.
This article is a guide to rep schemes and considers commonly used approaches, making recommendations based on your fitness objectives.
How many repetitions should I do?
Your target number of reps during an exercise should be based on your training goals. General guidelines are included below -
|Reps range||Benefits / Objectives|
|0-3||Maximum and relative strength|
|3-5||Maximum strength & low end hypertrophy (muscle growth)|
|5-8||Best combination of maximum strength development and muscle hypertrophy.|
|6-10||Good strength training range but better hypertrophy.|
|10-15||Excellent hypertrophy, average strength development with fatigue.|
|15-20||Some hypertrophy, focused endurance with significant fatigue.|
Approaches to reps and sets
There are two primary approaches to rep and sets -
- Volume schemes - higher number of sets, usually not maximal
- Intensiveness schemes - lower number of sets and maximal
Execute as many reps as possible until failure (unable to continue with good form).
e.g. Perform as many push-ups as possible in one set.
Complete the prescribed workout or movements as fast as possible.
e.g. Perform 100 push-ups, 50 pull-ups and 50 dips, for time.
Perform 1 rep for the first set of exercise(s), 2 reps for the next set and repeat until you reach 10 reps in the set.
e.g. Push-up, pull-up, dip 1-to-10 would be - 1 x push-up, 1 x pull-up, 1 x dip, 2 x push-up, 2 x pull-up, 2 x dip, 3 x push-up...
Perform 10 reps for the first set of exercise(s), 9 reps for the next set and continue dropping repetitions until you reach 1 reps in the set.
e.g: Push-up, pull-up, dip 10-to-1 would be - 10 x push-up, 10 x pull-up, 10 x dip, 9 x push-up, 9 x pull-up, 9 x dip, 9 x push-up...
Perform 5 sets of each exercise in the group / single exercise. First set is 50 reps, second set is 40, then repeat through 30, 20 and 10 reps for the final set.
e.g Push-up, sit-ups 50-40-30-20-10 would be - 50 x push-up, 50 x sit-up, 40 x push-up, 40 x sit-up...
Complete 3 sets of each exercise in the group / single exercise. First set is 21 reps, second set is 15, and third set is 9 repetitions.
e.g. Push-up, sit-ups 21-15-09 would be - 21 x push-up, 21 x sit-up, 15 x push-up, 15 x sit-up...
Dictates 20 seconds of highly intense exercise (at 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 rounds).
Notes: The Tabata scheme is a popular approach to training due to measurably improved aerobic and anaerobic capacity vs steady state training.
For Rounds (AMRAP)
AMRAP - As Many Rounds / Reps as possible. The AMRAP scheme is a timed set and athletes are challenged to complete as many rounds of exercises as possible.
e.g. Pull-ups, Dips AMRAP in 20 mins would involve as many successive sets of pull-ups followed by dips as possible in the 20 minute period.
Example Rep Schemes
Climbing Rep Scheme
The climbing rep method can be used with an rep / set combination (e.g. 3 sets x 8 reps, 10 sets x 2 reps). The scheme starts your sets with a light weight and sees you increases the weight each set.
- If you hit your target weight for the final set, increase the set weights by 5-10 lbs the next week.
- If you get to a set a feel that’s the heaviest you can go, simply finish the remaining sets at that weight.
- If you fail a set drop back down to the last successful set and finishing the remaining sets at that weight.
Density Training Scheme
Density training focuses on the total amount of work you do for a fixed amount of time.
For weight training this scheme prescribes many sets of low reps. It’s a hybrid approach to reps in which the aim is to hit the high volume work but still at high intensity. This way you still get the benefits of focused high volume training (high rep sets) without sacrificing form. Density training does this by keeping rest intervals between sets very short.
Density Scheme Structure and Timings
Generally, you perform one set every minute e.g. if it takes 20 seconds to complete a set, you get 40 seconds rest until the next set. This may change to 90 / 120 seconds depending on the reps or rep max percentage used.
Density Scheme Reps Structure
Take the number of reps you can do in one set for an exercise at a given weight and double that number. Divide this up into sets of equal reps.
For bodyweight exercises - when you have completed a workout at a given number of reps, simply increase the number of reps per set. For example, if your target pull-up reps is 100 in 10 sets and you achieve 10 reps per set, in the next workout go for ten sets of 11 reps.
German Volume Training
The GVT scheme is 10 sets of 10 reps on an exercise with 1 minute rest between sets. You use the same weight on all 10 sets and if you complete all 100 reps you increase the weight the following week.
Useful rep scheme resources
- Fitstream one rep max calculator
- Guide to rep schemes
- Choosing rep schemes
- Reps for strength training
- Reps for muscle building
- What is the best set and rep scheme?
- How should I arrange my sets and reps?
- How many sets and reps should I do?