What are Reps From Failure?
In strength training, Reps from Failure a.k.a. Reps in Reserve (RIR), serve as a way to determine how much weight you should be using for any given exercise. It is a helpful way to quantify the intensity of a strength training exercise by considering how many MORE reps you could theoretically do before you reach either technical or muscle failure. Basically, we’re trying to determine how much gas you have left in the tank before you can no longer perform a lift properly. The gas left in the tank = your reps in reserve.
In our Paragon Training Methods programming, you will commonly see us use the term reps to failure, which is another way of saying Reps in Reserve, seen most often as RIR.
Why Do We Use RIR?
It’s important to understand how to properly train to failure, and that’s where the concept of RIR comes into play. RIR allows you to personalize your training session based on your baseline preparedness, your daily readiness, and your overall efficiency in a given movement. Ever wonder why our training app TrainHeroic asks you to review your sleep, mood, energy levels, etc. before you start your session? Lightbulb!
If you’re an experienced lifter, you probably know some of your 1-rep maxes for various lifts, so you can easily choose an intensity of load for the day based on that knowledge. But if you don’t know your 1-RM off the top of your head, or if you’re performing a lift that wouldn’t call for a 1-RM like a DB Lateral Raise, for example, using the RIR method is a quick and easy way to help you find that relative intensity and meet the programmed stimulus for that exercise.
What About Using Percentage Calculations?
Calculating a percentage of your 1-RM to choose the load you need for your lift works, but the calculated load might be too heavy if you’re feeling like trash that day. If you think about it, our 1-RM is determined by our PEAK performance level. But we’re definitely not performing at our peak EVERY day, which means we may be overtraining or overdoing it on days when we’re feeling fatigued, our coordination or precision is poor, we feel sore, or our energy is low for whatever reason.
Training this way can potentially increase the risk of injury, and risk overtraining, and can also just be straight-up frustrating when the lifts feel harder than they should.
In contrast, an RIR-based workout prescription will automatically adjust to how you are feeling on that particular day with that particular exercise.
Bottom line: RIR teaches us how to train HARD but also to train SMART.
While training to failure definitely has its benefits during different parts of our training cycles, it’s not to be used every single session. By using RIR, we’re training for quality, rather than quantity, so we can optimize our recovery and produce better results in the most efficient manner possible.
How to Calculate RIR
In basic terms, to determine your RIR, you would subtract the number of reps you could ACTUALLY perform from the number of reps you could POSSIBLY perform on any given lift, with proper form and tempo.
For example, if you’re performing a Heels Elevated Back Squat and you complete a set of 8 reps but feel like you could have potentially done 10 reps with proper form, tempo, and at the same weight, your RIR would be 2. This is because you could have POSSIBLY performed two more reps.
This sounds really easy in theory, but it takes time to understand how to accurately estimate your reps in reserve, especially as intensity varies for every lift.
As another example, let’s say the programming for the day says something like this:
1 set x 6 reps with 4 reps from failure, AKA 4 RIR
This means that you’ll do the weight of your 10-rep max (6 + 4 = 10) but for only 6 reps.
A Basic RIR Guide
When you’re just starting your lifting journey, or even if you’re an advanced athlete, determining proper RIR can be really tough to quantify. Think of this chart as a way to “check in” with yourself after a lift and see if you truly hit the prescribed intensity as programmed for any given lift until you really start to understand what the RIR prescriptions feel like.
4-6 RIR = Moderate to Somewhat Hard
3 RIR = High intensity, vigorous
2-1 RIR = Very hard, close to failure
0 RIR = technical failure
Think about it like this: when you feel the movement start to slow down and become tough, you’re probably getting close to three reps from failure. Use that as a good starting point (:
At the end of the day, we’re trying to find the middle ground between pushing hard ENOUGH, lifting heavy ENOUGH, and also not trying to absolutely obliterate our body. It’s a balancing act and an art that takes time to learn.
Training at peak intensity 24/7 isn’t sustainable, could be a fast track to injury, and isn’t super conducive to consistently seeing progress over time.
For certain movements, we can train closer to failure, while for other movements we might not want to go that far. If you want to read more on this, check out our Progressive Overload blog. Otherwise, just know that our programming is going to be best written and suited for your recovery and progress.
Quality Programming = More Efficient Gains
“More” doesn’t always equal better. Good programming (like ours) will provide a massive return on investment of your time AND energy spent working out.
We want you to enjoy fun and effective workouts, and then go make memories and live a BIG life (:
You also don’t HAVE to train 6-7 days/week to finally achieve your goals and look your best. We have thousands of members around the globe who can prove it ♥️
- Workout from home or at a gym
- At whatever time of day works best for your schedule
- Workout 3-5x/wk for 30, 45, or 60 min/day
- Options to still include the things you love: Running, Olympic weight lifting, Peloton, Metcon-style workouts…
No matter which program you choose, you’ll have:
- incredibly fun and effective workouts
- 24/7 coaching guidance from LCK, Bryan, and Paragon Coaches
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All our workouts can help get you to where you’re trying to go.