Ok… so ever since I wrote my Idiots Guide to Programming piece, I’ve had people come and ask about sets and reps, and exercise selection. Which is kind of annoying because I left it out of the original post on purpose because I genuinely feel it’s too broad an area to get specific in a blog post about, and because someone is DEFINITELY going to take something I say here, apply it poorly and then blame me because they’ve been an idiot.
But I’m a complete whore and people have been asking, so I’ll deliver – but with the express qualifier of – don’t blame me for your stupidity.
Now that that’s out of the way, allow me to remain ambiguous. What follows are some general guidelines on reps/sets and exercise choice, but first, some general points about general things, generally speaking.
Push something, pull something, do something for your legs… and do it 2-4 days per week.
If you just based your workout around those three simple things, you’d probably be more healthy, have increased injury resistance, be more in balance and achieve your goals faster.
It’s simple, it’s VERY quick, and it’s “functional” in the strictest sense of the word.
It’s not going to be very often that you hear me refer to something Charles Poliquin says as a positive, but there’s at least one concept of his I really love – technical failure.
Reps stop counting once your form breaks down beyond a defined technical standard. For example, that’ll be bouncing or bum lifts on the bench, not breaking parallel with your squats, or not getting your chin over the bar for chin ups and pull ups.
This post was inspired by a question on the boards.ie fitness forum recently. A poster was having trouble increasing the number of pull ups and dips that they could do – they were stuck at 4 of each and going nowhere.
The biggest challenge for a beginner looking to increase their bodyweight strength numbers is that you can’t ‘work up’ to bodyweight in the same way as you would build up numbers with a barbell and dumbbells (unless you want to cut a limb or two off?!). If you were a 75kg guy looking for 5 reps with bodyweight on the bench press then you might start at 60kg and 12-15 reps and add weight and drop reps each week on the way to your target. Obviously if you’re a 75kg guy only able to do 4-5 pull ups, you can’t use that method because you can’t go below bodyweight.
So what to do…? Well you can partially deload your bodyweight with bands and work with higher reps that way – adjusting band tension to allow for more/less assistance, this is a favourite of Will Heffernans and from seeing the results its gotten both guys and girls, it’s a pretty damn good way of doing things.