Working Sets

Working sets

With this Blog I just wanted to explain about working sets when lifting as I see a lot of people that have a plan with 4 sets of 12, 3 sets of 8, 5 sets of 5, but what does that really mean?

A rep or repetition is the number of times you move a weight from A to B, and back down again; using the correct range of motion for your body type (I’ll cover this at a later date).

A set is a group of repetitions.

Lifting weights and doing 4 sets of 12 reps seems to me like something is wrong right away! Are you really stopping at 12 reps? Can you do more? The first thing to determine is; which are your warm-up sets, and which ones are your working sets? They are 2 completely different things, and I’ll show you why and how to perform each one correctly.

Set out your rep range, this is a much better way to work, for example, 8 to 12 repetitions are much more realistic, and will show you exactly how to increase the weight or resistance when lifting.

Now it’s time for your warm-up set or sets. I say this because on your very first exercise you may need to get in a few extra warm-up sets to make sure your body is ready for exercise. This will include increasing the blood flow to the muscles, secreting synovial fluid into the joints, and increasing your range of motion. Select roughly 50% of the weight you would normally lift for 12 reps, even if this feels light, perform 12 reps with a full range of motion, 2 seconds for the lift (positive), 3 to 4 seconds on the decent (negative). Now increase the weight to roughly 70% of your 12 rep max, and again perform 12 reps, full range of motion with a 2-second lift, and a 3 to 4 second decent. Now does your body feel warm and ready to perform your working sets? Or do you need to do one more warm-up set? For me personally, I aim for 2, but if it’s a particularly cold day I will perform more if needed, as this will help prevent any injury to the muscles, connective tissue, and joints.

Now you are warmed up and ready for the working sets! This is where you set out your rep range, and for this example, we’ll use 8 to 12 reps. Now the reason we’ll use a range is that we will now know when to increase the weight as you exercise regularly and get stronger. Pick a weight, and perform as many reps as possible with good form. DO NOT stop at 12 reps, stop when you cannot perform another rep, and you reach muscle failure! This will gauge if you are working in the correct range to reach your goals. Overloading the muscles to failure will also cause more damage to the microfibers of muscle which is so important to then make it grow. I emphasize ‘Good Form’ as you do not want to perform any jerky motions, or cheat which can lead to injury. So now if you have performed more than 12 reps, maybe 13 or 14, we know that the weight is wrong, and you need to go heavier. So for working set 2 increase the resistance slightly, and work to failure again, and hopefully you reach failure between 8 to 12 reps. Now If you can only perform 6 or 7 reps you know that the weight was too heavy for your rep range, and you may need to lower the weight for working set 2. Now there are lots of debates about the number of working sets you can perform, you might want to add another, just remember the more you do, the more damage you’ll do to the muscles, the more you’ll need to eat and rest to recover. I prefer to lower the resistance for my next set to roughly 70% and perform 12 very slow controlled reps, 3 seconds to lift, 1-second pause on the contraction, and a 4 second decent. This will really burn but is so good for blood flow.

For the next exercise do you need to warm up again? It’s a good idea to do at least one rehearsal set. This is roughly 70% again, 12 reps, and is a practice for your working sets. After the rehearsal set, go right into your working set. Pick a weight and perform as many repetitions as possible. Follow the same example as before, any more than 12 reps increase the weight for set 2, and go to failure again. And then perform your last set at 70% of your working sets, and complete 12 reps.

This a great way to gauge what’s going on with your body, making changes, becoming a more efficient lifter and most importantly getting the results you want.

Sometimes you may feel stronger in the gym, other times you may feel weaker, so do not worry about the amount of weight so much, as long as you choose the weight to fail with, that’s what matters. Several things can make you feel stronger or weaker like food, hydration, sleep pattern, work, stress, lifestyle, etc. So do what you can and keep consistency in your training days and lifts and you’ll get great results.


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