I am struggling to understand how people pre-determine their desired rep counts for each set of a training session.

For example, in another recent question, I saw this schedule posted, and it is a perfect exmaple of the type of advice I am referring to: enter image description here

I don't know about everyone else, but if I walk into the gym and hop up on the pull-up bar, I might be able to crank out 8 chins over the bar from a dead hang... on the first set.

That doesn't mean that every other time I jump up there, I will be able to do 8. Maybe I will do 4 or 5.

If people are lifting to the rep count as their failure point, then how are they not getting diminishing returns during the same session for subsequent sets?

I see this type of definite-rep-count training plan far too commonly for it to be something that only a small group of people can do reliably. Can anyone shed some light on this? What am I missing?


1 Answer 1


They almost certainly aren't going to failure on each set, and probably not even on any sets.

The exact details will vary from program to program, but someone doing 4 sets of 8 would typically use a weight that they could actually lift for 10-12 reps if they were to attempt a single, maximal set. There are a few ways they could achieve this:

  1. Not incrementing the weight until they can get all their reps. So if a lifter were attempting to squat 4x8 at 120kg, and they actually only managed 8, 8, 7, 6, then they'd repeat the same weight next workout and hope to get closer to 4x8.
  2. Using a program that has a prescribed percentage of their one-repetition max (1RM). E.g. For 4x8 the program might prescribe that they use 70-75% of their 1RM weight, which is a realistic amount for most people to squat for 4 sets of 8.
  3. Using an autoregulation system like Reps In Reserve (RIR) or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Here they would estimate the difficulty of each set, and adjust the weight with the aim of hitting this target. E.g. if the target RPE was 8 (out of 10), and the first three sets at 120kg subjectively felt like RPE 8, 8.5, and then 9, then they may drop the weight down to around 115-117.5kg to reduce the difficulty of the final set.

Alternatively, they may be going to failure or to near failure, and just arbitrarily dropping the weight each set to allow them to reach the target rep count.

  • That last sentence leads me to a follow-on question. fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/40027/… Mar 26, 2019 at 4:31
  • While four sets of eight it probably wouldn’t work, if you consider three sets of 10-12 it seems possible. A modest rest time should allow for this. It also depends on your definition of failure too; form failure? Muscular failure on the concentric? Muscular failure on the eccentric? Is cheating allowed? Mar 26, 2019 at 15:11

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