Understanding Prescribed Rep Ranges

“So do I want to hit the top rep of the range every set?” A simple question I hear often that can require a more complex answer,...
Dylan Harris
March 27, 2023
Understanding Prescribed Rep Ranges

“So do I want to hit the top rep of the range every set?”

A simple question I hear often that can require a more complex answer, depending on a few factors. Our training philosophy is progression, which means continual improvement in results inside and outside of the gym. Without nerding out too much and complicating the answer, the progressions are individually based on how a person responds to the training, their recovery rate, nutrition, sleep, and a variety of other factors. For all of our clients, when we program for them, we prescribe each exercise with a designated rep scheme or rep range. Rep schemes are specific reps to be hit each set. So something like 6,6,4,4,2,2. This means that there are 6 sets, each set you hit that specific rep. And then there are rep ranges, where you have a range of reps you should shoot for each set.

I am going to touch on how and why to use rep ranges.

Rep ranges allow for flexibility in weight selection for each movement based on the phase of training they are in. It is not uncommon to prescribe a single rep goal of something like 10 reps, but the client is in between on the weight they can do for 10 reps. One weight they can do 2-3 reps more than 10 reps, and the next weight up they can only get 8 or 9. So a “range” allows some flexibility in weight selection. But it also allows for us to make sure the client isn’t redlining in every workout. Too many times, people go from zero to 100 in the gym, then crash and burn within just a few weeks. It leaves them discouraged and frustrated, and can usually cause them to blame the gym/working out for their failures. In order for us to ensure that isn’t happening, we can evaluate the entire workout one set at a time, and gauge how the client is responding as we go. It’s a true statement that there is a method to the madness when it comes to programming.

Based on what phase of training you are in will vary the reps you do, but the rep ranges usually average 2-5 reps. What does that mean exactly? An easy example is this: If I have a lower body workout day, and my main goal is strength, my first 1 or 2 movements will have 3-5 reps for 3-4 sets. The initial goal is to hit 5 reps each set. But if we can get through 2 sets of 5 and feel like we have more in the tank, we want to increase weight by a small margin. That way on sets 3 and 4, even if we get 5 reps on those sets, we’ve increased intensity for 5 reps. But what about if we don’t get 5 reps? What if we were to get 4 reps on set 3, and 3 reps on set 4? Would that be a failure? Absolutely not. We simply found a challenging weight that landed us in the desired rep range. So the next goal is to take those weights that we are getting for 3-4 reps, and get to where we can do them for 5 reps. Once we can do that weight for 5 reps for two consecutive sets, repeat the process of adding weight, hitting 3-4 reps, until we can now do that weight at 5 reps for two consecutive sets. But in the process, we didn’t redline our body by grinding out a true 5 rep max, but also didn’t cut ourselves short by sticking with 5 reps on a weight that we could have easily completed 6 or more reps with, just because the prescription said “5 reps”.

The beauty of coaching and training clients is that it’s a never ending dance. You’re always trying to anticipate the next move of the other (the client). Everyone progresses at different speeds and at different times throughout training cycles, but having a rep range for many of the movements in a workout can keep the body training at a more consistent rate, which gives us better progress over time.

Hopefully this was helpful and gave some insight into how to interpret rep range prescriptions. Take care and train hard!

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