Which Set and Rep Scheme is Best?

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Got a couple of questions around the same topic:

“I would be interested in suggested set/rep strategies for different goals using body weight exercises. I am currently working my way to a 100 push-up set. I’ve been adjusting sets, reps, and rest. I’m reading about conflicting strategies. i.e. 3-9 sets throughout the day, everyday, in a 60% of maximum rep range vs. doing max reps for 3 sets with several rest days between workouts. There are some other strategies besides these. Some are very specific in set/rep regimen that I know are unrealistic. So I’m interested in your experience and perspective.” – Doug

If you want to go to China, you can fly, or take a boat. You can choose from several different airlines, different times.

The point is there is more than one route by which to accomplish a goal.

If there was just one way, we would have figured that out by now, and everyone would be doing it! Wouldn’t that be nice?

Both routes you mentioned can work for this goal. And there are still others. The important part is not to mix the two. Mixing ideas is where people get into trouble. “I’ll just do 3-9 sets of max reps throughout the day…”

And what works best for one person, may not work best for another. Therefore, you need to try an approach, make gains with it, and see if it carries you to the goal. If not, after working at it for a while, you must adapt, taking a different route.

Do I have a personal preference? Yes, I don’t much often go to failure. Three sets of that is still worse. This will work for some time, but then you’re very likely to hit a plateau.

I cover more details of my approaches in The Ultimate Guide to Bodyweight Training Series, available on sale here.

In those too, I give several options, because, once again: what works best for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.


Jared asks something quite similar:

“What is the best way to train for more technical skill based moves, such as one arm handstand or isometric moves such as the front lever. When it comes to strength training, we all know about sets and reps, but when it comes to isometric holds, should I have a set time to go for on each set, or just try to hold as long as possible for each set.” -Jared

There isn’t much difference.

1 second = 1 repetition

A set is still a set.

If you think about this in these terms then there is no difference in approach.

Here too, you can keep it easier, or go to failure. Both approaches work; although I tend to take the easier route by not going to failure. As Jared said, these are more technical, and thus to practice a skill, you want to be fresher in mind and body.

That is discussed in Practicing Strength and Movement.

I’ve done lots of bodyweight training over the years. From handstand and back flips, pushups, squats and bridging and everything in between. As such, I have lots of courses out on these exercises too. All of them and many more are on sale right now.

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