Optimal Reps For Strength vs. Size

If you're like most people, when you hit the gym or weight room, you have an agenda in mind. Typically, people are either aiming to increase their strength or their size. While you can bet that you'll see improvements in both areas, if you want to focus on one or the other, you'll need to customize your workout routine to better reflect those goals. One of the best ways of doing that is to follow the optimal rep scheme that meets that agenda. 

Optimal Rep Scheme for Strength

When you're aiming to increase your strength, you are also tapping into your central nervous system. You want to make your central nervous system work more efficiently. Doing this naturally pushes you to increase the intensity of your reps. This focus on your body's neural path dictates the ideal rep scheme that focuses on the following rough guidelines:

  • more sets
  • fewer reps within those sets
  • longer rest times
  • shorter time under tension

Following the basic outline above, then, an optimal rep scheme for strength might look something like this:

  • 6 sets comprised of 3 reps each completed as quickly as possible
  • rest for 3 to 5 minutes in between sets. 
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Optimal Rep Scheme for Size

As you might expect, the optimal rep scheme when you're concentrating on increasing the size and bulk of your muscles involves focusing on the metabolic aspect. To do this, you're going to want to combine fewer sets with more reps while reducing the amount of rest time in between those sets. This isn't to say that you won't experience some increase in strength while you're utilizing this rep scheme, but that won't be the primary focus. Your muscle growth will significantly outpace your gains in strength.

So to work for hypertrophy -- that is, to increase the size of your muscles -- the overall guidelines to follow include:

  • more reps included in each set
  • fewer sets
  • reduced time frame for rests
  • more time spent actually completing the move

Based on the above formula, a typical workout when you want to build the size of your muscles might look like this:

  • 5 sets with 10 reps
  • continuous movement with no pause 
  • short rest period in between sets - between 60 and 90 seconds with 90 seconds being the absolute longest

When you have these optimal rep schemes for both strength and size laid out for you, it is easier to tell at a glance which scheme is going to work best for your goals. You'll be able to better target your workout more quickly so you can focus your limited workout time on the rep scheme that best meets your goals. A major take-away that you need to be aware of when it comes to the above information is this: if you aren't making progress, it's time to change things up. Even if you feel like you're working hard, you won't make progress past that plateau you find yourself in unless you reset your focus.

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› Optimal Rep Scheme
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Hi, my name is Joseph

I’m a U.S. AirForce Veteran, College Graduate with 352 credits mixed by undergrad/professional and graduate school. I am an Entrepreneur and enjoy sharing my interest and love for fitness and Entrepreneurship with everyone. I have lofty, obtainable goals for my website. 

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