THE SS SET AND REP GUIDE
Details, details, details.
With The Strength Sessions programme, every month we change the exercises in a carefully calculated manner. You have a little flexibility of course, but we basically all work the same skills each month — that’s the beauty of it: we all suffer the same experiences and workout as a community.
That said, the structure, and the details can be changed from person to person. You get to make some decisions here if you want to. You choose:
Which set and rep scheme.
How you organise the exercises.
It’s important you get this right to make the most of your training. It’s got to work logistically, it’s got to work physiologically and it’s got to appeal mentally.
As much as I’m striving here to give you some control and flexibility, we mustn’t get stuck with analysis paralysis or side-tracked by getting our priorities wrong.
Here’s what matters to get results:
–> Getting better at the progression ladders
Do not get caught up in thinking you should do more. Normally:
–> You don’t need to complicate.
–> You don’t need more sets
–> you don’t need loads of different exercises hitting the muscles from loads of different angles.
Results speak: If you move up the progression ladders, your physique will show it — it will be the body that can do harder thing…and you want that body.
If you want more tone, look at your food, not your exercise.
If you stagnate, if you need more muscle, to blast through plateaus, that’s when it’s time to analyse in more depth, and you can build a more complex set and rep plan according to the instructions below.
3 sets. 3 times per week.
It does get more complicated and more flexible — you should want that, but know that if you do three sets three, times per week, that’s a perfect start.
Don’t get bogged down in the detail, that’s secondary.
If you’re just beginning, if you’re on a particularly calorie restricted diet, or if you just want a minimalist strength routine, do your best 3 sets of each move, 3 times per week.
Start in strength endurance range for one month, then move to mid-strength range.
Have about one minute rest between sets of one exercise, but you can pair two together to save time if you want to.
Structure the exercises however most logistically convenient.
Use a weight or progression that keeps you within the set and rep guidelines.
Do as many as you can neatly each set, try to add one rep or (one second on the static holds) every workout (or every other workout).
Concentrate on effort, technique and consistency.
BEYOND THAT, THERE’S A LOT GOING ON AND YOU CAN START TO FIDDLE WITH THE DETAILS
But only after you have proved you can be consistent, and have a couple of months of three sets of three under your belt. Then we can play with different set and rep schemes and with adding extra bits and pieces. To build any workout…
IT STARTS WITH THE RIGHT REP
Like one push up, that’s a ‘rep’.
If you’re in a strength phase, you need a weight, or progression of an exercise that you can do 6-8 reps (that’s a ‘set’) or a 6-10 second static hold on the gymnastic statics.
If you’re in a mid-strength phase, you need a weight you can perform 8-12 reps or 10-15 seconds of at your best.
If you’re in a strength endurance phase, you want to use a weight or progression that you can perform 12-16 reps or a 25 second hold of at your absolute best.
REPS PER WEEK
Once you’ve got your ‘rep’, we first decide how many reps per week we need to do.
Within a range of course, to allow for good days, bad days and how we decide to make progress.
Strength – 48-75 total reps per week. Or 30 static holds of 5-6 seconds on the gymnastic static moves.
Mid-Strength – 75-100 total reps per week. Or 30 static holds of 6-8 seconds on the gymnastic statics.
Strength Endurance – 100-125 total reps per week. Or 20 static holds of 10-15 seconds.
SETS PER WEEK
Then, we have to break it into sets. If you can do all your reps in one go, or one day, you’ve got something a bit wrong!
There is some flexibility here, but basically:
For strength — to get our 50-75 reps, or 30 static holds per move done, we could do either:
10 sets of 6 or 7 — or 10 sets of 3 static holds clustered together with 15 seconds between each).
12 sets of 4 reps — or 2-3 statics (to a total of 30 in the week).
For mid-strength — to get our 75-100 reps each week, we could do:
12 sets of 6-8 or two/three statics per set (totalling 30 in the week)
10 sets of 8-10 or three statics per set
For strength-endurance — to get our 100-125 reps per week
10 sets of 10-12. 2 statics of 10-15 seconds per set.
8 sets of 15. 2-3 statics of 10-15 seconds per set. Make sure it adds up to 20 total.
Gymnastic Holds Together
We have two ways of doing the gymnastic hold training:
Option 1: in clusters of 2 or 3 as a ‘set’ to be alternated with Classic Compound moves.
Option 2: all statics in a row with 45-70 seconds rest between them. This way you can pair any two or 3 gymnastic moves together and perform up to 10 holds in a 10 minute period.
Use whichever fits into your workout better logistically.
Then we break up these sets between two-to-six workouts per week, with 2-6 sets per day depending on frequency.
More days, less sets per day.
There are volume benefits of doing more in one day.
There are freshness and grease the groove benefits of doing less each day, so it’s up to you!
YOU CAN CHOOSE HOW TO GROUP THE EXERCISES
You can do them all every time in every session or break them up into separate days.
You can pair similar or different exercises together.
Or you can break them up logistically into the ones you can do at home or in the park and the ones (if any) you need or like to do in the gym.
It doesn’t matter. Generally, we want to separate similar exercises from each other, otherwise you tyre too easily (it’s more of a bodybuilding strategy), however, every now and then there could be an argument for it, for guys who want to start packing on size or girls who want to blast through strength plateaus.
YOU CAN CHOOSE HOW MANY DAYS PER WEEK TO TRAIN
Next we need to choose how many days per week we will train, and how many exercises each day.
Obviously, the less days per week we train, the more sets and the more exercises we do in each workout.
The more often we train, the shorter and sharper the sessions can be.
This will be dictated by your personality and preferences, as well as your schedule and logistics.
Each have their various benefits and drawbacks:
You can train two days per week, but your workouts will have to be longer and contain everything. This is better for those who like to feel they have had a full workout and of course can suit some people’s schedule better — it’s great for you weekend warriors. However, if you have a bad day, you will have to wait longer to make up for it and if you don’t have the energy to consistently perform well fora full workout, it’s a poor choice for you.
You can train three days per week: you still need to do every exercise every workout with this setup, but the workouts can be slightly shorter and it’s less of a big deal if you have an off day.
You can train four days per week: here we can start to break up the different exercises into different days, and workout time starts to shorten. We can start to have a gym workout and a home workout, or for those who prefer a legs day and a non-legs day.
You can train five days per week: this is moving towards my favourite style now, where workouts really start to shorten, frequency of practice is very high and importantly, your brain starts to learn that this training stuff is something you do all the time. Workouts are shorter, but you’ll bring a lot of focus and intensity towards getting the most out of your work, you’ll finish strong, but energised, the odd bad day won’t matter so much and you’ll have time for extra stuff afterwards if it’s appropriate for you.
Of course, you need to be able to make time to train every day, more days of warming up and showers can take more time, but it’s worth it, particularly if you can slide it into your schedule without too much disturbance.
You can train 6 days per week: even further along the continuum. Ideal if you like to break your exercises into two groups and do them all three times per week. Workouts can be as short as 20 minutes and you get all the positive mental effects of training nearly every day. I do recommend having one day per week off planned for though — that can be for a lazy Sunday, or just save it for when life happens and you don’t get it done that day. This style is great for those who like to do extra sometimes. You commit to always doing the core programme, which you should be able to do in as little as 20 minutes per day if you’re training six days per week, then on days you have the time, energy and motivation, you can do extra!
WHAT ABOUT REST?
Rest is dictated by the phase of training you’ve selected:
For Strength: We need the most rest, about five full minutes betweeen sets of any one exercise.
For Mid-Strength: We need a little less rest, about 90-120 seconds between sets of any one exercise.
For Strength-Endurance: We need only a little rest. About 45-60 seconds per set.
But, of course, you don’t have to just stand around.
You can pair exercises or do other stuff in your rest.
E.g. If you’re pairing Static Chin Ups with Constant Tension Skater Squats in a mid-strength phase, it’s gonna look like this:
–> do your set of chin ups
–> rest 30 seconds
–> do your set of skaters
–> rest rest 30-60 seconds
–> repeat until you’ve done all your sets
HOW TO MAKE PROGRESS
There are many ways you can structure your workouts and many ways you can aim to progress.
I’ve picked the three set and rep schemes that work best with The Strength Sessions programme.
The main thing is to be consistent and organised enough to know that you’re getting better.
Over a month, you might get 2-5 reps of improvement on the classic compound lifts and you might add a few seconds and a bit of neatness to the gymnastics stuff.
That might sound a lot, but if you can do that consistently, it’s bloody fantastic. You’ve got to be organised enough to be able to see that because it doesn’t mean anythings going to feel particularly easy pleasant, and if you get better you HAVE to recognise it, otherwise this can be an awfully frustrating thing. So, our 3 easy to track methods:
Option 1: Steady State
With this set-up, you decide at the start of the month how many sets and reps you do.
Then, for the whole month, you do the same.
The increase in challenge only comes in the next month. However, with particular focus on the gymnastic mindset, you should be able to do better reps and better holds over the month, and it should get easier to get it done.
On the surface, it might take a bit of patience as we are taking the possibility of smashing your records off the table, but your body takes time to adapt, and for many, this will actually be the set and rep scheme that allows you to make progress the fastest.
Option 2: The Practice and Record Set Method
Similar to the above is the practice set and record set method. Works exactly the same as the above, except on the second set of each exercise.
On the second set, (however many sets you’re doing that day — it works with all the setups), you go for a record.
This style pushes the body a little harder without being extreme, but it allows and encourages us to try and beat our best each day, which can be more fun and very motivating.
All reps in the record set have to be neat and tidy of course, with no grinding. But within those confines, you can go for it and try and set a new record.
After the second set, you go back to steady state style practice.
Option 3: The Complete-The-Sets Method
With this method, your set and rep scheme: that’s your goal.
That might be 4 sets of 6 reps for a classic compound move.
So you choose a weight or progression where you can’t quite complete all the sets neatly.
You want to be about 4-5 reps (or just a few seconds) short in total.
Your goal is to strive to complete all your sets as you improve over the month. Then you can aim at more reps or use a harder progression.
Don’t get drawn into doing more reps on your first sets, if you get better, just get the job done and save your strength for completing the later sets.
A month is not a long time to do this workout, so it’s a good idea to keep a note of how well you did, so you can come back and see how much better you’ve got when we do the same workout 3 months later.
Once you’ve got all that organised, you can then turn your attention to extra stuff, IF YOU WANT to.
But remember, more isn’t necessarily better.
Better results are better.
Training is about getting a little bit better — often. Getting a little bit better is about training with focus, frequency, and having the capacity to recover and adapt.
If you train so much you can’t recover and adapt, you won’t keep getting better!
It’s a very common mistake too. So only add stuff if you really want to and have your food and sleep right, and if you do add extra, make sure you pay attention to your strength, energy and performance…is it really making you better or would you adapt faster with all of your focus on less?
More doesn’t mean a better body, being leaner and climbing the progression ladders is what gets you a better body.
If you train 6 days per week as I suggest, your core Strength Sessions programme is going to take about 20-30 minutes.
That suits our goals and is enough — done right — to have a serious impact. My idea is that you should have a rule that you never miss the core programme, but if you want to, — which you often will — you can do extra!
This could be anything that suits your body and goals:
–>Other training methods, for sport or fitness
–> Rehab/flexibility work, to support your training.
–> Hand balance training, that’s what I do.
–> More similar exercises, if your body responds well to more
–> More ab work, if you think you need it.
–> Bodybuilding style exercises, if you want to add more mass or enjoy this sort of stuff.
Stick to the guidelines and plan your training each month. Make sure you have the right difficulty of rep, a clear set and rep scheme with progression plan chosen, then make sure you have the logistics down and are clear on how you’re going to make it happen. Every month when the programme changes, you should take time to replan and get excited to start again.