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Frequently Asked Questions about Programming

In recent articles we have spoken about the process of training. We spoke about how we get results through consistency; we spoke about how deload weeks are essential for progress and we spoke about how variability keeps your body guessing to continue to get results.

In this week’s article we will talk about how to set up a training cycle while keeping your goals in mind using specific sets, reps, intensity, volume and tempo.

Let’s go over some basics first with definitions of each.


A set is a group or a cycle of repetitions.

A repetition or rep is the amount of times you will repeat a specific exercise within a set.

A superset is 2 different exercises to be completed back to back with minimal rest.

A triset is 3 different exercises to be completed back to back with minimal rest.

Intensity relates to the amount of weight you use in a set.

The volume is the combined or overall weight lifted during a session by multiplying your sets, reps and weight. For example, you squatted 5 sets of 5 reps at 225 lbs. Your overall volume for this cycle is 5,625 lbs.

Tempo is simply the time it takes you to complete a repetition. For example, we will use 30X0 as the tempo for a back squat. The first number indicates the lowering potion of the movement which is 3 seconds. 0 is the bottom of the lift meaning no pause. The X means as fast as you can on the lifting portion of the movement and the 0 on the end means no pause at the top.

Percentages are a way to gauge the intensity or how much you can actually lift. For example, if you can squat 260 lbs 1 time, then your estimated 5 rep max would be 225 lbs which is about 87% of your 1 rep max. For our free loading chart click here.

Reps, Sets and Your Goals

Your goal will determine the sets, reps, volume, intensity and tempo you will choose. The following chart will give you an idea of what ranges you need to be in to achieve that goal.

How are they used?

Typically, when programming, no matter the goal, if intensity (weight you are lifting) goes up, the volume (the overall amount of work) goes down and when the intensity goes down, the volume goes up. I.E The more weight you want to lift, the less sets and reps you’re going to be able to do. The less sets and reps you do, the less volume you do. It works the same on the opposite end. The less weight you move, the more sets and reps you’ll be able to perform which increases the overall volume. For example, let’s take the squat again.

If you squat 5 sets of 5 reps (5x5) with 225 that comes out to 5,625 lbs of volume. Now, say your goal is to build muscle, we will want to increase your reps to a higher rep range. Side note: Remember what we said about the inverse relationship of intensity and volume. If one goes up the other comes down. So, if we increase our sets and/or reps, the weight has to come down. So, now we change to 4 sets of 8 reps (4x8) at 205 lbs which around 80% of your 1 rep max. The intensity (weight) has come down, the reps have gone up, the sets have come down, but the overall volume has risen to 6,560 lbs. This is a perfect example of the intensity going down and the volume going up. This can all seem a little complicated and “sciencey”, but this is how we get results.

In my next article, I will spell out a few different set and reps schemes that will get you the results you want if you are willing to put forth the effort consistently.


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