If you have a goal in weight training, then it is important that your rep scheme corresponds with that goal. If your goal is to get stronger, then you need to load a bar up and do 2-6 reps. But if your goal is to get strong, and you consistently do sets of 12-15 reps, then you need to know you will never maximize your strength. When is the last time that you changed your rep scheme? Have you been sticking to that old Men’s Health routine of 3x10-12 for the last six months? Every session you walk into the gym, you should make your rep scheme a priority.
By paying attention to rep schemes, you can ensure that you are always working on something. For most of us, that something is leveraging our genetic potential while trying to take it to new and greater capacities. If you wander through the weight room and are casually picking up weights and putting them down, then there is a large chance that you are missing out on making gains. If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail.
In the world of rep schemes, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, there are road maps to follow. The laws of lifting say this, in generic terms: “Do something until that routine no longer gives you an adaptation, and then change it and move on to something else.” What this mean is that if you have done the same exercises for 3 months with the same rep scheme, your body is bored and no longer gets sore. However, if you change your rep scheme from 3 sets of 12 to 4 sets of 6, then your body will be pleasantly surprised by the stimulus, welcome it, absorb it, and adapt to it. I am not saying you have to change your rep scheme every session. That is also not beneficial. The body needs to be exposed to a rep scheme consistently so that it understands what you want from it, and then it needs to move on. Stay with a rep scheme too long and your body doesn’t change; leave a rep scheme too early and the body didn’t have enough time to understand what you wanted from it.
This is all very general, but what I have observed is that going back to the basics can always be beneficial. There have been plenty of new inventions and gadgets, but the rep scheme paradigm is a great way to keep workouts focused, invigorating, and disciplined. So what does your rep scheme say about you? Are you someone who can’t stick with a plan at all and must always change? Chances are, you’re running from any serious commitment in life as well. Are you the guy that has a routine, likes it, and is not willing to change it because it is now your safe haven, your sense of control, and your sense of mastery? Chances are, you’re inflexible, unwilling to change, rigid in your thought process, and afraid of letting go.
Pick a rep scheme and stay with it for a minimum of 3 weeks and a maximum of 6 weeks. Don’t just go through the motions. Pick a goal, work towards that goal, and let the rep scheme take you closer to that goal.
-Jon Eric Fountain, CPT