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How to Incorporate Top Sets

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  • How to Incorporate Top Sets

    So before this pandemic blew up over here I undulated rep ranges in the week for main lifts such as 5-10 early in the week and 10-20 later in the week. The progression scheme focused on rep progression such as coming very close or surpassing a threshold of reps at a certain exertion on the first set before increasing load. It was doing fine and well for me, but being locked up for so long has instilled the desire to "realize" my strength better in the form of top sets. If the best I can do with 4 sets across on a squat is 315 lbs in the 5-10 rep range, it will take a very long time for me to do 4 straight sets of any rep range with say 405 lbs. But if I could do 315 lbs 4x5-10 @ ~7 chances are I could do 335-355 lbs 1x5-10 @ ~7 relatively quickly and move on from there. I know that the research says as long as you take sets in the 5-30 range to a certain proximity of failure then the hypertrophy is pretty robust, which makes me think that even doing less tonnage (do experts even consider actual tonnage as a relevant metric nowadays?) doesn't mean much of anything as long as you achieve that 5-30 rep range with 0-4 RIR.

    An illustration of what I envision; a top set of 6 or 7 or whatever @ 7 followed by an 8-12% reduction in intensity with 3 more sets @ 7.

    I never did a top set -> backdown set approach in my training career, I only trained with straight sets, so this is more about sprinkling some novelty in some, err, novel times I guess you could say, than figuring out the "most optimal" structure. With that in mind since I know the coaches here very often do top sets, then they probably know if there are drawbacks particularly for hypertrophy. I would intend to use the top set -> backdown once a week and continue my traditional approach on the other day.

  • #2
    Yea I don't really like this programming approach for strength improvements. I also don't think rep progressions are great for hypertrophy purposes, though they work better for hypertrophy than strength.

    If you don't care about this, keep doing what you're doing. If you do care about strength, particularly of the maximal, low velocity, variety- then I don't think your programming would be my first choice.

    Fortunately, we have lots of templates (free and paid) on our website illustrating how we would program

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Jordan Feigenbaum View Post
      Yea I don't really like this programming approach for strength improvements.
      Are you saying this load focused progression would get stopped in its tracks relatively fast or that it's not amazing for 1RM improvements?

      I also don't think rep progressions are great for hypertrophy purposes, though they work better for hypertrophy than strength.
      A few points;

      1) did you come to this stance from what you've seen as a coach? My first guess is the researchers haven't taken a stab at this question.

      2) perhaps a TLDR summarizing the reasoning behind this would be of valuable insight.

      3) Taking those 4 sets of squats, how would you plan them in a way that you would in fact consider great for hypertrophy purpose?

      4) In a comparison between the straight set, rep progression vs top set -> backdown set method... would there any difference in hypertrophy as long as the number of hard sets is the same?

      As a side point; while I'm malleable and optimistic to the idea that I could be doing things better, that idea is concurrent with the opinion that my training outcomes so far haven't been bad, and even up to the last days of pre-lockdown were well on schedule... not to go into that too much but if the other method is just as robust for overall size and strength then I would entertain the idea. Now if I discovered something better I'd do that, probably.

      If you don't care about this, keep doing what you're doing. If you do care about strength, particularly of the maximal, low velocity, variety- then I don't think your programming would be my first choice.
      I'm not discounting the possibility of me ever doing a strength block or two and a peaking block to actually "realize" my strength, but in this thread's case, rather than trying to figure out how to be maximally strong I'm trying to find a way to lift at higher intensities, without violating principles of hypertrophy training. Muscle is considered responsible for a big amount, like ~70% or so of an advanced lifter's strength. The plan is the remainder of 2020 will be focused on getting jacked, and 2021 is anyone's guess at this point.

      Just some of the number ranges you see for that; 30-80% 1RM in the 5-30 rep range at 0-4 RIR. Those numbers are what the internet can readily spit out, and without splitting hairs over whether say it's 0-4 RIR or 0-5 RIR, the example I posted meets those 3 criteria. This is all barring nuance. I'm sure there's some nuance to this, maybe, who knows. I guess you could say this thread is trying to understand said nuance and why on principle a top-set -> backdown set vs straight set approach might be better or worse. For that modality, at least.


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      • #4
        Originally posted by Sero View Post

        Are you saying this load focused progression would get stopped in its tracks relatively fast or that it's not amazing for 1RM improvements?
        Hard to predict the response, but my prediction would is that it's not very good for strength development and it may not actually be a useful way for progressive overload. While it is adding volume, it's not adding a significant amount and it shifts the strength stimulus ever so slightly too. Would be better off adding weight or adding set.

        On the other hand, you might not need to engage in progressive overload each week just to drive hypertrophy. Depends on the context.


        Originally posted by Sero View Post
        A few points;

        1) did you come to this stance from what you've seen as a coach? My first guess is the researchers haven't taken a stab at this question.
        Yes and researchers have looked at this in various forms. There was a lot of hype around the ARPE programs set up this way, but it didn't pan out.

        Originally posted by Sero View Post
        2) perhaps a TLDR summarizing the reasoning behind this would be of valuable insight.
        I don't know what you're asking.

        Originally posted by Sero View Post
        3) Taking those 4 sets of squats, how would you plan them in a way that you would in fact consider great for hypertrophy purpose?
        4 sets of 8-12 reps @ RPE 8 across. There probably wouldn't be any difference for untrained folks. The biggest issue I see is your rep scheme and then load drop. I would expect all back off sets to be in the RPE 5-6 range. That said, hypertrophy is pretty easy to stimulate and people respond differently to training so...it would be hard to predict.



        Originally posted by Sero View Post
        4) In a comparison between the straight set, rep progression vs top set -> backdown set method... would there any difference in hypertrophy as long as the number of hard sets is the same?
        Don't know and impossible to predict. That said, # of hard sets is not the metric I would use either. It's more complicated than that.

        To be crystal clear though, I would not focus solely on hypertrophy for extended periods of time if I was interested in being the strongest I could be.

        Last edited by Jordan Feigenbaum; 05-20-2020, 02:21 PM.
        Barbell Medicine "With you from bench to bedside"
        ///Website /// Instagram /// Peri™ Rx /// Whey Rx /// Barbell Medicine Podcast/// Newsletter /// Seminars ///

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