Reps, Sets, Debunking myths

People often ask me about the finer details of workouts, sets, reps, breaking plateaus, etc.

If you’re one of those people, then this post is for you. I’ll debunk some training myths, clear up some of the confusion, and throw in some science – gotta love the science!

As I’ve said a zillion times in the past: I AM NOT a certified trainer, nutritionist, doctor, homeopath, etc. So, I will provide links to my research for this post, from the people that are. I encourage you to read beyond my post, to get a real idea of the physiology of exercise and you.

Now, without further ado…

Warming Up & Cooling Down

So many times I’ve seen it – and I’ve even been guilty of it myself – people get to the gym, they’re in a hurry, or for whatever reason, and go straight into their workout routine. The only warm up they’ve done is the walk from the change room to the equipment.
It’s a good way to get injuried.
Let’s clear this up once and for all: warming up in the gym is not comprised of static stretches. You need to get blood flowing to the muscles you’re about to recruit for some serious work, which is why dynamic warm ups and warm up sets are recommended.(link to bodybuilding.com) Dynamic stretching increases your core temperature, which gets things burning before you start the real work.
Leave static stretching for the end of your workout. Unlike dynamic stretching, static stretching does not increase your core temperature. It surpresses your central nervious system, lengthens your worked muscles, and has been shown to actually reduce power and force – which is why you don’t want to start a workout with static stretching.

A “rep” (repetition) is one complete motion of an exercise. The number of reps you do depends primarily on your goals: muscle gain or tone (we’re keeping things simple here). And you can’t do one without the other, so sets deserves a mentioned here too.

A “set” is a consecutive number of reps.A “rep” (repetition) is one complete motion of an exercise. The number of reps you do depends primarily on your goals: muscle gain or tone (we’re keeping things simple here). And you can’t do one without the other, so sets deserves a mentioned here too.

Load also plays an important role.

If strength and tone is your goal (and it should be for a healthy lean body) then, research agrees, your load should be between 60-80% of your maximal effort, 10-12 rep range, for 3-4 sets. Higher reps = muscular endurance, but there must be a load heavy enough to still fatigue the working muscle.

If building mass is your goal, work at 80-100% effort, lower the reps to 4-6, and increase sets 5-6.

Those are very brief guidelines. I suggest reading this for more information.

SUPERSSETS, COMPOUND SETS and DROP SETS

You can switch up the intensity of your workout by adding Supersets, Compound Sets and Drop Sets into the mix. They can also help push you through a plateau.

Supersets and compound sets are very similar: they ramp up your cardio and, because there is little to no rest, they help you get through your workout faster without sacrificing form!

Supersets are two different exercises, for opposing muscle groups, performed back to back. For example: bench presses followed by barbell rows, bicep curls followed by tricep extensions, leg extensions followed by hamstring curls. By working opposing muscle groups, your muscles get enough recovery time to lift with good form on the next set.

For Compound Sets you use the same muscle group: shoulder press followed by raises, bench press followed by incline chest press. You will likely have to go lighter on compound sets, than you would be able to lift on a standard sets. The benefit here is you hit the muscle from different angles, in a shorter amount of time.

Drop Sets typically come at the end of a standard set, when the muscle is completely exhausted from the load it is working at, you then reduce the load by a few pounds to bang out a few more reps, then drop the weight a few more pounds again, etc. You’ll be amazed at how many more reps you can squeeze out when you thought there was nothing left  in the tank – and at the pump you get!  Drop sets aren’t intended for every exercise in your workout.

REMEMBER: Never sacrifice form for bravado!

REST PERIODS

As with sets and reps, rest periods depend on your fitness goals.

If you are training for explosive, low repetition activities of short duration, i.e. sprinters, powerlifters, sprint cyclists, then your optimal rest period between sets is 3-5 minutes.

Bodybuilders, fitness buffs, wrestlers, and long-sprint cyclists/runners, should keep rest periods between 30-60 seconds. The shorter rest improves your body’s ability to flush lactic acid faster, by adapting over time.  This also increases your metabolism, which means you burn fat faster!

Again, work to your ability. If you are just starting out, or returning from injury, keep rest periods between 1-2 minutes.

WHEN

Despite what you may have heard, there is no ideal time of day to workout. It really just comes down to you – when do you have the most energy to put the best effort into your workout?  Experts say choose a time of day that’s convenient for you, so that you can stick to it and be consistent.

I prefer working out in the afternoon, because that’s what my body has adapted to. Sure, there are days I can only workout in the morning – on day shifts – so, I workout then. I don’t like it, but I don’t whine. I just get ‘er done.

That pretty much covers the basics. In subsequent posts, we’ll look at when the best time of day for cardio is, the evils of crossfit, and interval training.

For workout ideas and training splits, this is a good place to start.

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