Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reps. Just Reps.

A Training Plan Rediscovered

Let me tell you a secret... I don't like to do math when I lift. I don't like calculating poundages or percentages. Terms like 'volume' and 'intensity', unless I'm training for a competition, make my skin crawl. When I load up a barbell, I only want to be thinking about this rep, right now.

And here's another secret... Most people in the gym qualify as beginners to advanced beginners, and as such, they don't need to overly concern themselves with volume and intensity as training metrics. They simply need to perfect technical skills, occasionally add some weight to the bar, and get quality reps in. Like most things in life, time on task and consistent, intelligent effort are a lot better long-term than beating yourself into the ground.

A training "plan" that I've rediscovered lately is to simply count reps over the course of a week or month. Just count reps. That's it! I say "rediscover" because didn't we all start out just going to the gym and lifting, trying to add a rep here and a plate there?

Don't worry about intensity, or sets, or volume - just count reps. The simplicity of this frees us from unnecessary complication. I know that if I look at a given 30 days in my training log and I've done hundreds of squats, then I've done my due diligence in training. On the other hand, if I look at a few weeks of training and see that I've only done 25 reps of presses including warm-up reps, then that's a problem.

How It Works
Early this year, a Facebook friend achieved a rep goal of 1000 pull-ups in a month. She's a kettlebell athlete. I thought the goal was genius and, since I'm pretty good at pull-ups (or used to be), I decided to give it a go. 1000 reps in 30 days = 33 reps/day, so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal. 20 years and 50 pounds ago, it probably wouldn't have been, but the honeymoon period was about three days long. When you need to average 33 reps/day, you don't take days off because every day off means more reps you need to average on the remaining days. I made it, but it was NOT easy. If I were to do it again, I'd probably shoot for something a little less ambitious - I don't weigh 150 anymore...

After that experiment, I decided to apply the idea to other exercises as well. For example, in January, over the course of 30 days, I did:
Push-Ups: 1005
KB Press: 960
Pull-Ups/Chins: 1012
One-Arm DLs w. 2" Vertical Bar: 1050
KB Squat: 1000

It was a fun experiment, but I found that trying to maintain a thousand reps for every exercise was too much. I started dreading the thought of cranking out another 33 pull-ups...

Choosing Exercises and Appropriate Rep Targets
Include one exercise or more from the following categories (Dan John)
Push: Overhead Press, Bench Press,
Pull: Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Rows, etc.
Hinge: Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Swings, etc.
Squat: Back Squat, Front Squat, KB Front Squat, Overhead Squat, etc.
Loaded Carries: Farmers Walk, Suitcase Carry, Ruck, Sandbag Carry, Pulling Harness, etc. *
Rotational KB Exercise:  Turkish Get-Ups, Windmills, etc.

Be flexible about your exercise selection and keep the reps appropriate to the specific exercise variant you choose. Push-ups and light swings are one thing - you might be able to easily punch out a grand or more every month indefinitely. Deadlifts and back squats, on the other hand, depending on load, may only be a hundred reps or less (including warm-up reps). If you decide to do pull-ups or chins, choose a total number of reps that will require a daily average that is sustainable. For me, 33 chins/day was a bit much, but half that number would be something that I could maintain just about every day for months.

*A note about loaded carries: Unless tracking distance is easy for you, I'd recommend setting a training frequency goal here. Five solid sessions a month is a good goal for me. I know that if I average one or two sessions of loaded carries a week, I'm doing pretty well. To be completely honest, I hardly ever do loaded carries in the winter months, but as long as there isn't danger of slipping on ice, I should.

Set Rep Targets - Today Is Day One
There's no need to be overly ambitious when you set your rep goals. It's infinitely better to set a goal of 50 reps and achieve it, than to set a goal of 1000 and doing zero.

Of course, keep your regular training log, noting load, sets, reps, intervals, etc, but following this approach, while not preparing for a competition or any specific goal, you may find it easier to focus on "getting the work in"; focusing on reps. Just reps.


Anonymous said...

In some sense this type of program is really escalating density programming with the time period being a month as opposed to 15 or 20 minutes. It doesn't matter the rep scheme, just get the reps done in the set amount of time.
At the risk of always trying to take something simple and complicate it, what about trying to complete the month goal using a series of 15 minute EDT sessions? Burnout is probably the major reason not to do this as it requires daily intense session.

Boris said...

Thanks for commenting!
Sure, within a given session (or across sessions), you could use whatever approach you wanted. I might do 3x10, 5x5, or do timed sets (setting the timer for a minute and cranking out solid reps w. a lighter weight), or do sets of pull-ups within 10 minutes (kind of like EDT).
Sometimes I'll use chains, sometimes I won't. Sometimes I'll do paused reps, etc. I mix it up.

But, yeah, the point is reduce complication and just get in some quality work - my advice would be not to get too wrapped up in the method of rep completion. Just get good reps in and have fun with the process.