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Getting Started Part 8- Set/Rep Structure

After selecting the appropriate exercises for your training needs, the next step is to understand how different set/rep structures affect the type of adaptation that occurs. By manipulating the intensity and volume of training through specific set/rep structures we can train the whole spectrum of adaptations ranging from maximal intensity absolute strength through very low intensity muscular endurance. In this post we’ll highlight several of the common training adaptations and their associated set/rep structures.

Through the hard work of exercise and sport scientists, we can fairly accurately identify the training intensity associated with a given number of repetitions performed. In addition we also know what volume (sets x reps) at a given training intensity optimizes specific training adaptations. Proper exercise selection gives you the ability to choose what specific movement and/or body parts will improve, and proper set/rep selection gives you the ability to decide the way your body improves. Training at a very high intensity with low volume will work wonders in improving your absolute strength, and performing very high volume with low intensity work will be excellent for developing muscular endurance. In the table below, we outline several common training adaptations and their optimal set/rep structures.


While the table above is a great reference to refer to when assigning set/rep structures to many of the common resistance training exercises (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift etc.), power development exercises such as the Olympic weightlifting movements (Clean + Jerk, Snatch) and ballistic resistance exercises (Jump Squat, Squat Jumps, Bench Throws etc.) necessitate the use of a different set of set/rep structures. The Prilepin chart below is best applied to power development exercises. The chart originates from A.S. Prilepin, a national team weightlifting coach from the Soviet Union.


Using the prescriptions within the above tables will allow you to train very specific physical characteristics. Be sure to refer back to your training goals, to ensure your set/rep selections align with your desired training goals.

Next up in the Getting Started Series, Part 9- Energy Systems

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