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Assuming the goal is to progress in size and strength using weight training, what are you thoughts on a routine that either:

1) Uses a rep range of 5-8 (for example), where you start workout day 1 with a weight heavy enough that you can do 5 reps but not 6. And over the next few days/workouts, you use the same weight but aim for a 6th rep (assuming correct form and same speed), and over the next few workouts, a 7th, and finally an 8th rep (means you became stronger overtime). THEN you add enough weight to the same exercise so your next workout will end at 5 reps again, and you challenge yourself to reach the 8th rep over the next few workouts.

Or...

2) A routine that uses a fixed rep limit, say 5 reps dead, so the weight is heavy enough to complete 5 reps but not a 6th. In the next workout, you add a little weight (2 lbs for example), and aim to do 5 reps again.

My thoughts on number 1 is it becomes a nice challenge but I'm not sure if it will help with the goal of strength and size. My thought on number 2 is it will be quicker to stall because adding weight to the bar every workout will mean I will struggle with that weight if my strength doesn't keep up, and I may not have weights small enough to add in very small increments.

Please can I have some thoughts on this? I like the sound of method 1, but is there anything wrong with it?

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Please Check if this question is useful. –  Freakyuser Jun 30 '13 at 16:24
    
Thanks but sorry, its not set or reps I want to know about. I want to know what is better for progression: (1) working from 5 reps to 8 reps over a few days and then adding weight, or (2), keeping reps fixed (say at 5) and adding weight each workout? –  nLinked Jun 30 '13 at 16:53
    
I don't know much about weights myself, I just thought that the other question would be useful. Anyway we'll wait for some expert answers. –  Freakyuser Jun 30 '13 at 16:58
    
@nLinked Progression with what goal in mind? Is it strength? Or is it size? The answer will differ. –  Kate Jun 30 '13 at 17:42
    
Primarily the goal is size, but touching on some strength gains as I've been reading that increasing strength will lead to more size. –  nLinked Jun 30 '13 at 21:12
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'll start with the overall theory. Greg Nuckols wrote an excellent article on increasing work capacity, which is at the core of getting stronger. It provides a great framework to understand everything else.

Option 1: Same weight, but increase reps. This is essentially how the Doug Hepburn training routines are designed. Another example of programs in this family include Big-15 by Paul Carter. I'm currently using this approach myself.

Option 2: Predefined set/rep scheme with regular weight increases. Most beginner programs are designed around this approach. Starting Strength and StrongLifts are two examples that come to mind. Another example would be a linear progression that power lifters of old used to run. Essentially they would work backwards from the next competition, and work to a top set of 8, 5, 3, and then 1s until their competition--each week adding weight. Kirk Karwolksi still trains this way.

Option 3: A hybrid between options 1 and 2. Wendler, Greyskull, and a few other training methodologies use a periodization scheme combined with a concept known as AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible). Basically the first week is for building volume, and you do exactly the prescribed sets and reps until you get to the top set. On the top set you go for as many reps as you can do with good form. The next week is for a transition, and the sets/reps are higher intensity but lower volume. The last week is for peaking, and is the highest intensity and lowest volume. Your training max goes up, and you restart the next cycle with slightly higher weights.

Bottom Line: I've used all three of these methods at different times in my training, and all have yielded good results. There's a trade-off to high intensity and volume. You can't do both. You'll also find that no approach to training works forever. A recent discussion between Brandon Lilly and Paul Carter highlighted this. Brandon Lilly went for volume all the time and saw great results, until he was feeling beat up and couldn't keep it up. Then he went to West Side Method, which is higher intensity needing to be strong all the time. He saw good results with that (all this fits within the increasing work capacity framework mind you), until he started stagnating and feeling beat up with that. He's then returned to more of a volume approach.

Nothing works forever, but different strategies all work to help you get stronger. When you've exhausted what you can get from one strategy, move on to something else. When you are done with that, you can go back to the first.

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Thank you. I thought I was the only one who made up the idea of "option 1". Thanks for the sources, I will have a read through. –  nLinked Jul 2 '13 at 16:32
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Both approaches have worked for me.

Doing more reps with the same weight is challenging for strength at first, and later for endurance. It works strength, endurance, and size. It can be hard to keep adding reps. Personally I prefer going heavier and doing sets of 3 and progressing to sets of 5 (and sometimes adding additional sets in order to get enough volume). I would only recommend such low reps for someone with significant experience under the bar and no mobility issues.

Adding weight every workout is challenging for both strength and endurance in the 4-6 rep range, which works strength, endurance, and size. It can indeed be hard to get small enough plates. (It helps to make them yourself out of washers or sand.)

Both approaches are hard and require a lot of recovery once the weight gets heavy. It's anybody's guess as to which will stall more quickly, since 8 reps is a lot for more modest weights than 5 reps, but you'll be adding weight more slowly on the 5-to-8-rep progression. Six to one, half dozen the other.

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Some interesting analysis there, thank you. I like your take on doing 3 sets and progressing onto 5 - that's another option for me now! My goal is mainly for size but I'd like to include some strength too. What do you recommend for the goal being size? How would you choose to do it? –  nLinked Jun 30 '13 at 21:14
    
@nLinked If my goal were size, I'd do something very close to Arnold's beginner program and I'd eat like a horse. Check out the link Freakyuser posted for discussion of rep ranges: 4-6 is good for beginners because it's a good balance between strength and size; 8 to 12 is better for experienced lifters with the goal of muscle size. –  Dave Liepmann Jun 30 '13 at 21:26
    
The Reg Park 5x5 looks very interesting, similar to what I am doing at present (Starting Strength which I've only started very recently). –  nLinked Jun 30 '13 at 21:50
    
@nLinked The SS routine is a fine approach for someone looking to get bigger and develop a base of strength before switching to a routine that focuses more on the 8-12 rep range. I'd keep doing SS as written. –  Dave Liepmann Jun 30 '13 at 23:16
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The Reg Park 5x5 routine looks fantastic! I just started reading through it and it just clicks with what I want. It's like SS or Stronglifts but with bodybuilding in mind while keeping the old school elements. I think I am going to construct my routine around this. SS is good but this is exactly what I am looking for. Thanks :) –  nLinked Jul 2 '13 at 16:36
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This wikipedia page has a useful table for reps and sets for various training goals.

The main problem with this question is, you will never build strength so fast that you are going to see a significant difference between sessions, so I'm not sure either method will really work. You will see progress from week to week, or month to month, but not likely from day to day. So both your methods will test your will power rather than your actual strength. You may end up getting discouraged by you lack of apparent progress.

Use rep counts as soft targets during training, and indicators you are using the right weight. What matters is that you stress your muscle tissue in a way that will yield your desired result, not the actual count each time.

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Most routines I see, such as Starting Strength, emphasise on adding a little weight to the bar each workout. And when you stall, you keep the same weight or reduce sets or reduce weight in the worst case. If I "stress your muscle tissue in a way that will yield your desired result", what would you do in terms of reps and sets (not the numbers), but structure-/method-wise? –  nLinked Jun 30 '13 at 21:18
    
@nLinked, for size I would aim for higher reps at lighter load which would allow you to get enough lifts in and be easier on your joints. Personally, I like to use the inverted pyramid for my last sets with no rest at all as I progressively remove the weights ... until I look silly getting stuck under an empty bar ;) Most importantly, make sure you eat and rest well otherwise you waste a lot of your effort. –  zeFrenchy Jul 1 '13 at 7:22
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