Lift weights, get stronger. The equation is simple, right?
Well, there is more to it than that.
Strength training comes in several different packages that rely on the application of appropriate sets, reps, and rest. Your specific goal for strength training (I want to get huge, I want to be stronger, I want to create more power) needs to be defined, and then apply the appropriate strength training parameters to see real progress.
Before you read any further, know this: If you are a novice lifter (roughly one year or less of regular strength training), just about any kind of strength training you do is going to make you stronger. Your body is rapidly adapting to the demands you’ve imposed upon it, because you’ve never put these stressors on it before.
The information below will apply more directly to the intermediate to advanced lifters who use the principles of assessment based progressions and Specific Adaption to Imposed Demand (SAID).
Understanding Basic Strength Training Rep Schemes
The chart below shows the effect of reps on the various strength developments. We’ll break is down a little further. (Note: These rep ranges are averages across a wide sample base. It’s widely accepted as a good guideline, but your specific genetic make-up also plays a role in how your body reacts and adapts.)
Strength & Power - This means training to be able to lift the maximum amount of weight, or training to generate the maximum amount of power. Weight percentages are not the same for strength and power, but the rep scheme is generally the same. (Max strength = 80-95% 1RM, Max Power = 60-75% 1RM)
Ideal Rep Range for Strength is 1-8 reps for each set. Ideal rep range for Power is 1-5 reps for each set.
Hypertrophy - This is the growth at the cellular level of your muscle. While maximal strength will increase muscle size, it’s significantly less than hypertrophy training. Inversely, hypertrophy training will get you stronger, but not at the same rate as maximal strength/power training. 70% 1RM is the sweet spot for hypertrophy training, although it can go up or down dependent on the amount of reps in each set (more reps = less weight, less reps = more weight).
Ideal rep range for Hypertrophy is 8-13
Muscular Endurance - This allows your musculature to become more resistant to fatigue over longer periods of time. You’ll often see this style of strength training applied to endurance athletes such as runners and cyclists, whose training and competition are over much longer periods of time. The musculature is trained to clear lactate/acidosis at a faster rate, delaying and reducing fatigue. Loading for muscular endurance is much lighter - around 50% 1RM.
Ideal rep range for Muscular Endurance is 13+ reps per set.
How Long to Rest Between Sets?
The amount of rest you take between sets plays an important role in developing whichever version of strength you’re developing. The rest period is determined by its relationship with the energy system that is being harnessed to actually fuel your body to lift the weight.
Strength & Power - For lower rep, heavier load lifting, your body relies on the Adenosine Triphosphate Phosphocreatine System (ATP-PC). This fuels your body for very short duration, explosive movements. For strength training, we want to allow the body to fully recover so that you’re able to fully contract your musculature to lift the heavy load.
Ideally, take 3 minutes between sets for strength/power training.
Hypertrophy - As we shift to hypertrophy training, a few things shift. First, we now have of a mix of ATP-PC and Glycolytic energy systems fueling your body. While ATP is good for 10-15 seconds of body jet fuel, the glycolytic energy system takes over after that to provide the majority of the energy (until you shift to a aerobic state). With both energy systems in the mix, you need less rest time. Additionally, less rest time during hypertrophy training has a excellent anabolic hormonal response which triggers muscle growth.
Ideal rest for hypertrophy training is 1-2 minutes
Muscular Endurance - Because these sets will take much more time, we’re now drawing energy in a mix of glycolytic and aerobic. Aerobic energy systems can be utilized for much longer since it oxygen based, which is readily and constantly available (Think of the difference of your pace in a 200m sprint and a 5 mile run). Since we’re training the body to reduce acidosis/lactate, we want to shorten the rest period even further to enhance the results.
Ideal rest for muscular endurance 1:1 work:rest. So if your set took 45 seconds, take between 45 seconds-60 seconds of rest.
Strength training can truly be fine tuned to provide the adaption that you want your body to make, but you need the information to get it there. The key to all of this information is utilizing a progression to continuously challenge your body to adapt.
Will you not see any results if you take 2 minutes instead of 3 minutes for strength training? No… this doesn’t need to be exact unless you are really fine tuning your strength for a powerlifting meet or a bodybuilding show. The information above should give a tool to put in your tool belt to enhance your training and optimize work.
Enjoy nice training!