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  • Hypertrophy rep/set variation

    For someone focusing on hypertrophy, I was wondering how you would compare certain variation of rep-set schemes vs. those that you suggest in the template (as well as compare to each other):

    1. Doing sets of 6 @ RPE 8 until you can't any longer, or until they turn the lights off in the gym. Of course there are diminishing returns, but assuming time is not an issue and one is not focused on being economical, is there a point where there are negative returns? And once you can no longer do a full set @ 8, is there value in continuing to drop the weight and doing sets @ 8 (like the down-side of a pyramid) to accumulate even more fatigue?

    2. Doing sets at a given weight, probably in the 65-70% 1RM range, but varying the reps to stay at 8 RPE, until below 5 reps/set. So, say, I start doing 10 reps @ 8 for 2-3 sets, now I hit 8 RPE at 9 reps the next set, then 8 reps for 2 sets, then 7 reps for 2 sets, etc., etc.

    3. Some combination of changing reps and weight on bar, in a pseudo-pyramid fashion: start with a low weight for 10 reps, then add some weight for 8-9, add until you hit RPE 8 at 5-6 reps; then reduce the weight in similar steps, all the while adjusting reps to stay in RPE range.

    I've played around with all of these a little, the idea being I want to leave very little in the tank in a given work-out (differentiated from leaving the tank dry on a given set), especially since I'm not as confident in my ability to judge RPE yet and don't want to err on the side of under-training. Just do as many reps as possible (for instance, shoot for 50-70 on the presses, 5-10 at a time, anywhere from 4 to 10 sets); and I feel that after doing a workout from the template I always want do more. All else equal, and ignoring other constraints, would you recommend this approach, or would you expect better results with the template scheme (and paying close attention to load to stay in 6-rep range)?

  • #2
    1. There's research suggesting an incremental dose-response effect (meaning more sets = more hypertrophy, albeit with diminishing returns) up to 45 sets per week (though this research does not tend to use large, compound barbell movements). With that said, there is probably potential for "negative returns" if you suddenly expose yourself to a substantially higher volume of training than you're previously adapted to, where the amount of acute muscle damage that needs to be repaired interferes w/ a substantial hypertrophic response (and you also increase the risk of injury, given what we know about acute to chronic workload ratios).

    2. I'd guess that this would probably not generate a significantly different response than scenario 1, if you're hitting that effort level on each set.

    3. This would probably result in worse outcomes from a hypertrophy standpoint.

    For exclusively hypertrophy-focused outcomes (i.e., you don't care about absolute performance on the main barbell lifts), the simplest way to look at it is probably using the number of sets per week performed to those higher effort levels, and aiming to increase this over time as tolerated.
    IG / YT

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Austin Baraki View Post
      For exclusively hypertrophy-focused outcomes (i.e., you don't care about absolute performance on the main barbell lifts), the simplest way to look at it is probably using the number of sets per week performed to those higher effort levels, and aiming to increase this over time as tolerated.
      So does this imply that for strength-based outcomes, number of sets is not the best metric? Or more to the point, would you favor total rep count or total set count as your barometer? I've been wrestling with this lately as I try to design my own programming as informed by your recent 3-part series on the topic.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by MNNelson View Post
        So does this imply that for strength-based outcomes, number of sets is not the best metric? Or more to the point, would you favor total rep count or total set count as your barometer? I've been wrestling with this lately as I try to design my own programming as informed by your recent 3-part series on the topic.
        While there has been some evidence regarding the dose-reponse of strength outcomes using total set counts, strength-based outcomes are more complex. They are partially (and substantially) driven by hypertrophy, but also require other considerations re: skill, neuromuscular efficiency, etc (as we have discussed elsewhere).
        IG / YT

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Austin Baraki View Post
          1. There's research suggesting an incremental dose-response effect (meaning more sets = more hypertrophy, albeit with diminishing returns) up to 45 sets per week (though this research does not tend to use large, compound barbell movements). With that said, there is probably potential for "negative returns" if you suddenly expose yourself to a substantially higher volume of training than you're previously adapted to, where the amount of acute muscle damage that needs to be repaired interferes w/ a substantial hypertrophic response (and you also increase the risk of injury, given what we know about acute to chronic workload ratios).

          2. I'd guess that this would probably not generate a significantly different response than scenario 1, if you're hitting that effort level on each set.

          3. This would probably result in worse outcomes from a hypertrophy standpoint.

          For exclusively hypertrophy-focused outcomes (i.e., you don't care about absolute performance on the main barbell lifts), the simplest way to look at it is probably using the number of sets per week performed to those higher effort levels, and aiming to increase this over time as tolerated.
          How high effort levels are we talking? I heard you say in a podcast that the hypertrophy response was optimum at failure or close to failure - do you know how many reps from failure we're talking about here? Cheers

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          • #6
            Originally posted by JohnBloggs View Post
            How high effort levels are we talking? I heard you say in a podcast that the hypertrophy response was optimum at failure or close to failure - do you know how many reps from failure we're talking about here? Cheers
            This is a current topic of discussion in the exercise science community. There's some research suggesting that getting within 3-4 reps of failure is adequate for hypertrophy purposes, though the threshold has not been definitively determined as far as I'm aware.
            IG / YT

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