At some point in your training, the basics just get boring. Let’s face it.
5×5, 4×8, 3×10… all the basic set and rep schemes, they work. But man do they get stale after a while!
Now, if we’re trying to build muscle or get stronger, the reality is that progressive overload is the #1 key driver in that happening. Meaning, if you progressively add volume or progress your exercise in some way, you will build more muscle and get stronger. You will see results. So those painfully-boring-and-basic training schemes DO WORK…
But sometimes that progress can be stalled due to boredom. Being bored in your training leads to a lack of enjoyment, which leads to a lack of motivation and a lack of motivation leads to less grit and grind.
Grit and grind isn’t’ everything… I don’t expect you to be a “Hardcore Meathead” every time you step into the gym… but I will say, if you’re not ‘getting after it’ in your training then you’re far less likely to see impressive results.
Add to that, if you don’t enjoy it you will never be consistent enough for the progression method to come to fruition and show you results!
But this is where getting creative with how you set up your lifts comes into play! It’s what makes programming more of an art form than just about science.
See, sets and reps are interchangeable and can be manipulated in so many ways while still accomplishing the 3 main components of muscle growth (or building strength, losing fat, etc…):
#1 – Compound Lifts
You can’t get away from the compounds, so stop trying to sub your squats and deadlifts for leg extensions or the inny-outty machine.
#2 – Progressive Overload
Again, it’s just something we cannot get away from and science has proven it over and over again. There must be progression and utilizing different set-rep schemes can actually be a great way to sneak progressive overload in.
#3 – Volume
You need enough volume in order for training to work and sometimes it’s hard by doing just straight sets all the time. But the strategies I’m going to cover today are great tools that can lead to you increasing volume, without you really even noticing (besides the brutal feeling of muscle damage and lactic acid accumulation… more on that later).
So if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter who has done the basics, locked down the fundamentals, built a solid foundation, and are ready to start switching training up a bit so that you can finally start having fun inside your training sessions again…
This one’s for you.
I’m going to show you different rep schemes to have more fun in the gym, rep schemes for more muscle mass and hypertrophy, rep schemes for strength, beginner training rep schemes, advanced training rep schemes, and new ways to simply spice up your training programs going forward.
|Want to listen instead? Great, we recorded a 2-part podcast going over this exact article! It’s available on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or via the player below:|
21 Rep Schemes To End Training Boredom
(And Shock New Muscle Growth)
1.) Work to 3RM, Then 1-2 Drop Sets of 8-12 Reps
This is a great one made popular by Westside Barbell and later on by Joe Defranco. But the basic premise is that you’ll work up to “that day’s ___ rep max”. You can work up to a 1, 3 or 5RM – but either way, it’s a submaximal effort because you cannot work up to an absolute max every session or even week and expect to continually make progress while still avoiding burnout or injury.
I prefer the 3RM, because it’s very difficult to over-reach – it regulates you to stick to a submaximal effort in the 85-95% of max intensity range. This is enough to provide the benefit of maxing out, without going overboard and frying your CNS or causing a joint issue.
It also implies the RPE scale, intuitively. This allows you to reach a high percentage of strength, but keep it to that day instead of whatever percentage is written down on the paper. This in my opinion is much more applicable inside strength training.
Last but not least, we add the 1-2 drop sets of 8-12 reps. This just takes advantage of added volume, but does it at a time where your nervous system is primed for performance and your body has already recruited more muscle fibers and motor units (an added benefit of working in the 80+% range). By priming your body for growth and then adding in higher rep volume… we’re doubling down on hypertrophy.
2.) 1-6 Contrast Sets
This is something I learned from Christian Thibaudeau… in fact, full disclosure – multiple set/rep schemes you’ll learn today have been taught to me by Thibs. He’s KNOWN for his creative and exciting programs, some of which has contributed to my own personal best growth phases.
Like the drop sets added into the last one, contrast sets takes advantage of added volume at a time where your nervous system is primed for performance and your body has already recruited more muscle fibers and motor units.
Doing your 1 rep set, which will be done at 90% of max effort – this ensure brute strength while still perfecting form and efficiency – is going to recruit more muscle fibers and get the nervous system able to handle heavier loads. At this point, you rest for 1-2 minutes while reducing the load on the bar by 25-50% (relative to the person and the lift), then perform your set of 6 reps.
Your 6 reps should be done at about 70-75% of your 1RM or at an RPE of 8-9, meaning you should have 1-2 more reps in the tank – but they might be grueling reps.
Performing contrast sets is going to challenge you on a neurological and muscular level, which in my opinion is the most optimal way to ensure muscle growth. It’s also a great way to feel charged up for your higher rep sets and have fun.
You can use contrast sets in rep ranges of 1-4, 1-5, or even 1-8, but I wouldn’t go above that because you just begin to fatigue the body too much for the 1 rep sets and we still need to practice true strength in the 90% range for that.
3.) Pyramid Training (Light – Heavy)
Pyramid training has been around for decades and it’s a pretty simple strategy to use. You start with a lighter weight for more reps and slowly build up to a heavy weight for fewer reps.
If your main goal is strength, this might look like: 10-8-6-4-2 or 9-7-5-3-1
If your main goal is hypertrophy, this might look like: 20-18-16-14-12 or 15-13-11-9-7
The cool thing about pyramid style training, is that you can work up to a relative max for the day, very similar to the first strategy we covered, and sometimes it just feels good to work to a heavy weight!
It’s also very safe in the sense that you cannot really avoid properly ramping up to a heavy weight, because the warm up sets are built into the set/rep model.
Lastly, you cover a wide spectrum of rep ranges. This is great for overall hypertrophy because the volume tends to be pretty great.
4.) Reverse Pyramid Training (Heavy – Light)
Very similar to regular pyramids, but in the reverse (obviously). With the reverse pyramid, you’re working the exact opposite way by starting with a really heavy weight for fewer reps and building up to a lighter weight at higher reps.
These are a double edge sword, because the volume is really high, which is great for growth, but they take a long time to actually get through.
Think about it… by the time you warm up to a heavy weight and finally lift your set of 3 (for example)… you need to peel weight and slowly work your way back down.
But if you’re the type of person who likes keeping it simple and not moving around the gym from lift to lift, this is perfect for you. You’ll spend an hour in the squat rack and get a lot of productive work done!
If your main goal is strength, this might look like: 2-4-6-8-10 or 1-3-5-7-9
If your main goal is hypertrophy, this might look like: 12-14-16-18-20 or 7-9-11-13-15
5.) Strength Wave Loading – 3/2/1 or 5/3/1
Strength wave loading is where we run through a set of 3, a set of 2 and then finally a set of 1 – slowly ramping up weights. Then we will come back to the set of 3 at a slightly heavier weight, so that each wave is just a bit heavier than the previous wave.
This strategy uses the potentiation/fatigue relationship to create a type of “muscle contraction aftereffect”, essentially.
“When a muscle contracts hard, the nervous system and muscle becomes ‘turned on’ and, for a certain period of time, their capacity to produce force is increased: either due to a stronger neural drive or more sensitive neuromuscular junction. This phenomenon is called ‘potentiation’.” – Christian Thibaudeau (Highly recommend his and Paul Carter’s book, Maximum Muscle Bible, for more info on things like this).
The point here is simple… each wave, you’re priming your body to perform better, handle more, and adapt more effectively.
Run 2, 3 or even 4 waves, but keep the reps in the lower-strength rep range.
6.) Hypertrophy Wave Loading – 7/5/3 or 8/6/4
Same exact concept as above, but I will be honest these are not as effective. The reason they’re not as effective is because that potentiation effect that was discussed in the last strategy is not nearly as great when we start increasing the reps higher, due to the lessened neurological dominance of the training.
When chasing the potentiation affect, we need to target pure strength or explosive power/speed. Whereas hypertrophy wave loading is targeting the ability to lift heavier in the higher rep ranges (7 or 8), increase total volume, create a great time under tension, and really just change up the style of how you’re lifting – rather than chasing the neurological benefit of potentiation.
As you go through each wave you will be ramping up the loads used – which is a key driver in more volume – making this a great strategy in order to build your 7 or 8 rep loads. During these higher volume waves you will only repeat 2 or 3 waves, simply because the volume is much higher than the strength waves.
7.) Weekly Undulated Straight Sets
This is a new approach to the classic sets (3×10, 4×8, 5×5 – for example) that can be used to provide variety every week while also tackling 2 goals at once.
And undulating periodization models implements variety throughout the session, weekly split, or monthly block. It’s basically the act of changing your rep and intensity zone between speed, hypertrophy, and strength.
So in the case for weekly undulation, you’d keep the same movement patterns and exercises but each week change up the stimulus between the 3 main target outcomes – strength, speed, and hypertrophy; in that order.
This might look like:
Week 1 – 5×5 @ 80-85% of 1RM for Strength
Week 2 – 6×3 @ 65% of 1RM for Concentric Speed
Week 3 – 4×8 @ 70-75% of 1RM for Hypertrophy
Week 4 – 5×4 @ Week 1 + 5-10lbs
Week 5 – 6×3 @ Week 2 + 5-10lbs
Week 6 – 3×10 @ Week 3 Same Weight
Now you have variety in a controlled setting (undulation), while still implementing progressive overload. This style is implemented in my latest strength program, Functional Muscle 2.0.
8.) Strength Circuit – 5/4/3/2/1
In the 8 ½ years I’ve been training, this is one of the programs that pushed me harder and gave me more gains than I’ve ever experienced before.
Volume is low, intensity is high, recovery demands are even higher (especially neurologically), and it’s exciting and boring at the same time… yeah, let me explain.
For this, you will choose 5 compound movements: it’s best done with a hip hinge or squat, horizontal press, explosive pull, vertical press, and finally a vertical pull, but can also be done with movements of your choice as long as it’s a full body circuit.
This could be: Front Squat – Floor Press – High Pull – Military Press – Chin Up
You will run through these movements like a circuit, taking minimal rest periods between each movement and about 3 minutes between rounds. This works on metabolic capacity, pure strength, and because of the low rest periods you end up shocking the body into some serious muscle mass gains.
The reps for the circuit: 5-4-3-2-1 @ ~85-97.5% or 80-90%
When setting up percentages for these, it will all depend on how often you’re training this circuit. It’s designed to be repeated, yes the same exercises each session, for 4-5 days per week. If running this circuit multiple times per week, you’ll alternate the higher percentage days with the lower as a naturally deload to keep your body away from complete max effort daily (To get really detailed with this program or if you’d like to run it as it’s truly designed – check it out inside The Boom Boom Elite).
9.) EMOM’s – Every Minute on The Minute
CrossFit definitely made these popular again, but they don’t always have to be used in a metabolic setting. We can use these for strength compound lifts, hypertrophy work, isolation exercises, etc…
If you’re low on time, like to keep the pace and tempo high in your training, or just want to experience a brutal pump, these are a perfect way to mix up your training and increase the lactic acid and metabolite build up (crazy pump/burn).
Compound Strength EMOM:
10 Min – BB Bench x3-5
Compound Superset EMOM:
Alternating Min: 12 Min – BB Bench x3-5 + Trap Bar Deadlift x3-5
Alternating Min: 10 Min – BB Drag Curl x10-12 + Tricep Push Downs or Dips x10-12
Full Body EMOM:
Alternating Min: 10 Min – DB Deficit Rev. Lunges x5/side + Weighted Chin Up x5
10.) Sadiv Sets (12 Min EDT)
I’ve used these a lot in my training career, but haven’t done so in a long time so was excited to write this article and remember about these. They’re simple as can be, brutally intense, and accumulate difficulty AND volume as you goes.
Set a timer for 12 minutes, pick a weight that you can hit 6-7 perfect reps with, and perform as many 3 rep sets as possible in your 12-minute timeframe.
Because you have a 6-7-rep max you’re using, it’s easy at first BUT you need to be smart and take enough rest to consistently hit the 3 reps with a full ROM. It’s also great to be repeated later on, because the density challenge allows you to work on building up the volume you can complete within the 12-minute timeframe.
11.) Cluster Sets
Cluster sets are, in my opinion, one of the best ways to break through a strength plateau and improve your technique at the same time. It allows you to lift more weight in a shorter period of time by allowing you to take very short rest periods in between each cluster set, but this also increases your heart rate as you’re lifting which is an excellent way to improve (or challenge) your mental focus and physical form while lifting heavy weights.
Here’s how it works: 4x(3×3) – a classic cluster – would be performed by doing 3 sets of 3 with only 10 seconds between each set. After accomplishing all 3 mini-sets, a total of 9 reps, you’ll have completed 1 of 4 total rounds.
This allows you to lift a 4-5RM for 9 reps in a small amount of time, which is one of the main reasons why I believe it’s one of the best techniques to smashing your strength plateaus.
12.) Myo-Rep Sets
Developed by Borge Fagerly, the Myo-Rep is a way to extend your already challenging set even further. This is a great drop set/rest-pause technique to add more volume and muscle damage to further enhance hypertrophy.
I would say with confidence this is a purely hypertrophy focused strategy, really just used to add some volume to the end of your set and create a “burnout” type of exercise.
After your final set (you can use this on a set of 6, 8, 10, 12… doesn’t really matter) rest 20 seconds and do just 3 more, perfect and full ROM, reps. Rest 20 seconds, do 3 more reps. Rest another 20 seconds, do 3 more. Continue doing this until you can no longer perform 3 reps, you’ll know because you’ll only get 2 reps.
13.) Rest Pause Sets
Rest-Pause training is really well known, it’s been around forever, and it’s very similar to the cluster sets – however I find it more boring because I’m impatient inside my training and like to be constantly moving (not necessarily a good thing).
For a rest pause set, you’ll simply take your set of say 10 reps and break it up into 10 mini sets of 1. Hit a heavy, full ROM, rep – rest 10 seconds – hit another rep – rest 10 – etc… until you complete your given target of 6, 8, 10, or until form is breaking down. This is a great way to, once again, use heavier loads for a higher volume in a shorter period of time. Even though your time under tension isn’t constant, it’s still there and neurologically you’re getting used to lifting heavier loads more often.
14.) Mechanical Drop Sets
A mechanical drop set is where we manipulate the angle, grip, or some other variable inside the exercise so that you can continue lifting the same exact weight AS fatigue settles in. This is an excellent way to safely extend a set further and further, for more tension and volume.
Example: DB Bench Press Mechanical Drop Set
DB High Incline Press x6-8 → DB Low-Incline Press xMAX → DB Flat Bench xMAX
During that mechanical drop set, we took a set of 6-8 reps on an incline bench and extended it to be 3x the volume and 3x the time under tension. You can do this with rows or chin-ups by manipulating your grip or adding assistance as you go, Triceps by using a board on your chest that limits range of motion and decreases the ROM as you go, or similarly on the squat by limited range with a box, as well.
15.) Partial Range Drop Sets
Simple and very similar to the mechanical drop set, you’re essentially just extended the set further and further to increase time under tension and overall volume. I even described my favorite one in the section above, Triceps Of Death – which is where we perform a close grip board press and add boards as you go, making your reps go from a full range to a partial range as you fatigue.
In any other exercise, you would simply perform full ROM for as long as you can, once fatigue starts to settle in you limit ROM more and more. So you may go from a full range rep, to ¾ range rep, to ½ range rep, and finally finishing with just a ¼ range rep.
16.) Variable Resistance Continued Sets
These can be done using any ‘extra’ equipment, really. Chains, bands, balls, weighted vest, etc… but I prefer to use bands and utilize the potentiation, very similar to the contrast sets explained at the beginning.
Example: Add bands to a trap bar, standing on the bands that are wrapped around the trap bar you’ve added a completely new variable of resistance. Once you complete 4-5 quality reps, you’d remove the bands and perform 4-5 more quality reps. If you wanted to add another layer, you could add 4-5 more bodyweight or light kettlebell reps in as well.
Once again we’re continuing a set further and further, using resistance as the variable we can tweak to allow for more volume to be performed in the same exact movement pattern.
17.) Speed + Hypertrophy Super-Sets
You’re going to think I’m obsessed with potentiation training… well, I guess I kind of am! It works, it’s fun, proven by science, and it’s challenging. What’s not to love?!
Now we’re going to use 2 completely separate outcomes, in collaboration, in order to double down on potentiation and recruit more fibers, prime the CNS, and build more muscle.
Example: Perform a set of 3 reps, FAST, with 65% of 1RM – take a 1-2 minute rest period and slap on a little extra weight (or none, if not needed), then perform 8-12 reps with the new weight (leaving about 1 in the tank).
This, once again, takes advantage of the fact that strength and speed amps the nervous system and actually allows your body to recruit more muscle fibers – which is going to allow your hypertrophy set, in the 8-12 rep range, to be twice as effective because more muscle fibers are present during the set. It’s especially great because it’s recruiting different muscle fibers, so now growth is multi-faceted.
18.) Antagonistic Super-Sets
If you’re short on time, prefer to train in a full body style, or have joint aches and pains, these are PERFECT. This is where you pick a movement, then pick the exact opposite (usually) and super set them together, only taking 30 seconds or less between movements.
- Bench Press + Bent Row
- Military Press + Chin Up
- Squat + Leg Curl
- Deadlift + Leg Extension
- Curl + Tricep Extension
The reason I like these is because it picks up the pace in your training, if you use adequate rest between sets I find that lifting the weight is a bit easier when you return to the first movement, and it’s a great way to ensure less joint stress because you’re using opposing movement patterns, rather than hammering the same one repetitively.
19.) Giant Sets
These are the ultimate bodybuilding sets, made popular by the legend himself, Milos Sarcev. This is where you perform not just 2 exercises, but 3 or even 4 exercises supersetted together – all on the same exact muscle.
This is not going to allow your lifting to continue being heavy, because the purpose here IS to burnout. To create maximal muscle damage and fatigue. Nothing but hypertrophy should be your focus when implementing these.
You’ll usually perform all exercises in the hypertrophy zone, anywhere between 8-20, but you’ll notice they lower as you go at times because fatigue is so high. The goal is to take minimal rest between anything, to keep tension and fatigue high, but take about 3-5 minutes at the end – you’ll need it!
- BB Bench + DB Bench + Decline DB Fly + Incline Cable Fly
- BB Squat + Leg Press + Leg Extension + Bodyweight Squat
- BB Hip Thrust + DB RDL + Hip Abduction Burnout
- Chin Up + Lat Pull Down + Low Elbow Cable Row
- BB Curl + Seated DB Curl + Standing DB Curl + DB Hammer Curl
20.) Big and Boring – 6×6, 8×8, or 10×10
Another bodybuilding legend, Vince Gironda, started using protocols like this in order to build his physique for preps and they worked really well.
The secret? It’s a shit ton of volume. Pretty simple!
You’d pick a movement and perform 6×6, 8×8, or 10×10 (the later being German Volume Training).
It’s boring, but hits big volumes and creates serious results.
21.) “85 for 25”
For someone like me, who really likes to keep up the pace – this is perfect. Rather than doing 5 sets of 5 at 85% of 1RM, the typical and classic strength rep-set scheme programmed by many… you’d set a timer and get it done at your own fasted pace.
Example: Deadlift – 25 Total Reps at 85% of 1RM for time.
I could do 3, 4, or 5 reps at a time. I could even hit some 6 rep sets if I’m feeling great or drop it down to 2 if needed. The key here is simple, I hit the strength intensity range and I get the volume in.
Set the timer, race yourself, and get stronger.
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Cody McBroom is owner and head coach of Boom Boom Performance. He’s a Strength Coach and Nutrition Expert located in Seattle WA. He coaches people in person and online, now internationally. His passion is helping individuals changing their lives through body composition transformation, as well as creating content across all platforms to help individuals and other coaches learn more about training and nutrition.