When it comes to weight selection, the most important thing to understand is that any set between 5-25+ reps, taken to the same proximity to failure, will produce about the same muscle-building effect.
This means that the weight you choose should accomplish one primary objective. That is, to achieve the target “reps from failure.” Even if this means falling outside of the target rep range. Understanding your weight selection ensures your reps count. For more about “reps from failure,” head to this blog post.
How To Use Rep Ranges
Weight selection is crucial to ensure you’re working till failure. Let’s assume the target rep range is 8-12 reps. If you pick a weight too light, just do more reps. If you choose a weight that was too heavy, then just stop at 6 or 7 while maintaining the target reps from failure.
Hitting the target “reps from failure” is significantly more important than meeting the arbitrary listed rep range. But, rep ranges are still incredibly relevant.
It is a prudent move to train through a variety of rep ranges for each muscle group. It is also prudent to understand that certain movements are best trained in lower or higher rep ranges.
All too often, people think they need to hit the same number of reps on each set. Meaning, they see the program written as 3 sets of 8-12 reps, and they immediately try to get 12 reps on every set.
By doing so, this person is inevitably failing to match their “reps from failure.” There is no way they could hit 12 reps on the final set with the same difficulty. This person certainly worked harder on the final set.
Let your reps drop set to set as needed to achieve the desired reps from failure. In most cases, we will see something like 12-11-10, or 12-10-9, where the reps drop as a means of ensuring the target effort level is reached.
If you achieved 12-10-9 in one week, the progression for the next week is super simple. Try to add a rep to every set or add a small amount of weight and try to match reps the next week. You could even add weight to the first set only and leave the other two sets at the prior weight. This is where your weight selection could differ within sets.
There really isn’t a “rule” here. Try to disassociate your brain from a given rep target. Instead, focus on achieving the desired effort level (reps from failure) for the designated week of your progression.
Variation Across Movements
Extremely demanding free-weight movements, like the deadlift and squat variations, are not great choices for higher rep ranges. Why? Because of how much they make you breathe. When you get fatigued aerobically, you are likely to compromise form. This increases the risk of injury and suboptimal technique. Having said that, it is relatively easy to maintain concentration and aerobic function for sets up to 8-10 reps.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see movements like lateral raises, leg extensions, leg curls, and other isolation movements. These exercises are “single joint” movements, and therefore are not conducive to lower reps. Due to the low complexity of these exercises, they will not cause you significant fatigue to do higher rep sets.
At the end of the day, we want to be as diligent as possible in our weight selection. We want so to get close-ish to the target rep ranges but still be malleable in implementation. Once you have the data from the first week, it should be easy to make adjustments.
DB Weight Selection
These days, it’s common for people to have an adjustable DB set. This will allow them to train in whatever rep range they need to. However, in the DB Physique program, we only “require” you to have three DB sizes (light, medium, and heavy). Having this different weight selection allows you to hit your given reps per set.
The rep range targets in the DB-only programming are quite wide. This can be confusing at first.
A good general rule of thumb is to target the bottom of the supplied rep range if you have access to heavy DBs. The higher-end rep range targets are meant for those that have an insufficient DB selection.
For larger compound movements, the supplied rep range is usually 6-15, whereas the target rep range for a lateral raise may be listed as 12-25.
When To Increase Weights
There are many ways you can go about adding load to your movements. Try not to waste energy with mental toil on this topic. Working closer to failure each week will inherently take care of most of your weight additions.
In most cases, you will need to add weight (or reps) each week, as a way of ensuring you are in fact working closer to failure.
Using an example, let’s assume the rep range is 8-12. Say you achieved reps of 12-10-9 with “3 reps from failure” across the 3 sets.
Now imagine you don’t increase the weight (or reps) the next week. Inevitably, you would still be 3 reps from failure.
So the addition of weight (or reps) to your movements, should be a ubiquitous practice that is required to meet the target “reps from failure.”
Deciding How To Add Weight
When doing your best to stay in or near the target rep range, you have some freedom when increasing weights.
For example, someone may very much dislike high reps. This means that if the range is 8-12, they will probably try to be in the 8-10 range. If they ever achieve a set that hits 11 or 12 reps, they will make a confident increase in the next week.
If you prefer to err on the side of the higher end or the lower end of the target rep ranges, both are correct. It is also totally fine if you do your first set to the target reps from failure, then adjust the weight for the next set.
A Final Point
Remember our body doesn’t know how much we’re lifting. It just knows the stimulus it receives.
Are we wanting to continually see progress in the gym, stay injury-free, and also maximize body comp?
It might be helpful to choose weights that are challenging BUT that we can still move well, move with control, and also get the full range of motion. Are we constantly muscling through lifts, folding like a taco, and/or feeling sore where we shouldn’t be? Adjusting weight choices and monitoring our movement patterns might make a huge difference.
At Paragon Training Methods, our workouts are backed by science, and we program according to evidence-based research.
This means training cycles are thoughtfully planned out… which means YOU can more quickly see results, achieve your goals, and stop spinning wheels in the sand.
Our workouts take 30-60 minutes per day, you’ll be training 3-4 days per week, and we encourage at least 1-2 rest days per week. Who said you have to spend hours and hours working out 5-7 days per week to look great and achieve your goals?
If this sounds like the life you WANT to be living, what are you waiting for?