Sets and reps.. They are the mainstay of all workouts. After all, without their measure, no workout would have meaning and no body could be built. But are sets and reps more about creatively expressing a kind of bodybuilding license or personal philosophy, or are they truly scientific tools by which we build precise body parts of a certain size and shape?
Art and science can converge, particularly in this case. That’s because sets and reps and the results they bring in particular and specific combinations, deliver very definite things based on mathematics. The mathematics of training include sets and reps, training angles, and things such as time vs. intensity, etc.. The art of training includes how you utilize and direct those mathematics to create a result.
Training is a lot like the practice of medicine – both have elements of the scientific and the artistic. Most people think medicine is strictly a scientific, quantifiable kind of practice, and that doctors are the ultimate scientists. But more than that, doctors are the ultimate artists. The best of them create a pagination of scientific prescriptions and directions that create a result that can be pure magic. So too are bodybuilders – the successful ones – part scientist and part artist. This description of being “scientific” doesn’t include chemical supplementation either.
Training is a science, no doubt, but training is also largely an art. Not everyone can create a work of art and not everyone can create a training routine that is meaningful to the canvas they happen to be working with. Since your body is a canvas, of sorts, it’s important to understand how to lend dimension and image to that canvas.
Look, anyone can put together a routine of some kind. And, to some degree, putting a routine together will garner some result or another. But will it end up being considered a total picture of creative artistry? Not often. We laugh when we hear someone say, “If I took as many ‘roids as that guy, I’d be Mr. Olympia too!” The reason we laugh is that that person seems to have no clue as to the artistry necessary to create and direct a series of routines to net a series of results, in a very methodical fashion, over time. It takes incredible vision to see that this workout on this day, along with the workouts planned on subsequent days, all have a reason for being the way that they are and will culminate in a total picture of power and aesthetics.
So here’s the science of a workout, using sets and reps:
Since there is a minimal amount of time in which a muscle can be stimulated in order to achieve maximum strength and size gains, using a particular set of principles is necessary. Here is an example of what each rep range will proffer:
REP RANGES FOR STRENGTH AND SIZE
1 to 5 reps = Maximum strength increases; enhanced neural drive
6 to 8 reps = Good compromise between maximum strength gains and hypertrophy gains (IDEAL RANGE FOR BODYBUILDERS)
9 to 12 reps = Maximum hypertophy gains and an increase in strength (STILL IDEAL RANGE FOR BODYBUILDERS)
13 to 20 reps = Strength and endurance gains – less hypertrophy.
Gains in strength are best had in the lower rep ranges – which is what powerlifters use – and the best muscle size gains are to be had in the mid ranges.
DETERMINATION OF SET NUMBER AND TYPE
Number of sets chosen
The overall number of both sets and reps should be based on how rapidly you will overtrain. The more sets you perform, you’ll naturally run the risk of overtraining. See the categories below to determine, overall, how much is enough and how much is too much.
Number of exercises per body part
The longer the list of exercises you wish to perform for a body part, the less sets you’ll be doing overall. So if you are doing legs and you choose to do squats, leg press, hack squats, leg extensions and lunges, you should do about 4 sets for the compound movements and 2 sets for the others, such as lunges and extensions, so you don’t overtrain.
If you are already have a lot of mass, the number of sets you perform will be proportionate to your current size and what else you want to accomplish. You will be doing more sets for the larger muscle groups and less for the smaller, but still more than a beginner.
Beginners will require less overall sets and this should be taken into consideration. If you are more seasoned, you may be able to handle 4 sets of each exercise and 3-4 exercises per body part.
Composition of Muscle (Genetics)
More red or white fiber? Fast twitch or slow twitch? This is something you’ll only have a clue about by your performance with endurance and strength activities. If you are explosive but have little endurance, you’ve probably got a lot of fast twitch fiber. You’ll need to cater workouts to these determinations.
Putting it All Together
So here’s how it goes…
Ask yourself the questions associated in the sets section, and determine what your goals are in the rep section, and put together exercises that you know you want to do, with sets and reps assigned to each exercise. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, each workout is even more individual than this. Not only are the above considerations of hypertrophy vs. strength and issues of overtraining, fiber type and set and rep number, important, it’s also important to understand schedule, rest, how you eat, and a host of other factors that cannot be accounted for by anyone but you. That’s why workouts are so individual – and a total creation, using the science of facts.
Here are some other factors to consider and ask yourself before constructing a routine:
- When do you train? (AM or PM)
- Do you work a full day before training?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you get a full 8 hours sleep (minimum) per night?
- Are you getting your caloric needs met?
- Do you eat clean or anything you want?
- Do you have stress in your life?
Can you now see why a workout is such a creative process? How sets and reps are not the only consideration, but certainly provide a great roadmap for results?
Sets and reps are the undeniable parameters we cannot live without. However, sets and reps are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of taking science and creating something original and unique to you and your set of circumstances and criteria. Plug in the other variables of your life, and you’ll find that sets and reps transcend mere science and become… art.