“You can’t friggin’ count, dammit!!” — Just about every client I’ve ever trained
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Ahhhh, the poor, misunderstood rep.  How is it that the basic building block of strength and conditioning came to be so widely maligned, slandered and sullied?

Forms, techniques and applications of the rep vary among the best in the iron game.  Even for the same practitioner, and within the same set.  And for good reason.  Novices will view the rep count as an end-all, be-all, paint-by-numbers thing.  Seasoned pros understand the rep to be just one of *many* directionally-accurate indicators describing progress toward the greater goal.  And those indicators will change depending on the set’s goal…with the understanding that there may be more than one goal for the day’s workout.

Again, this is more to do with directional accuracy, and so little to do with accounting acumen.

But hold on, it’s not nearly as confusing as it might otherwise seem.

For instance, when I suggest a target rep count for an exercise, it’s for (as stated previously) directional accuracy only; nothing more than that. Are we beginning this journey by traveling north, south east or west?  Are we flying, driving or hiking? We need a direction to get up and rollin’, son.  A method of travel, and a destination.  We need a send-off direction; but too, we need to allow for pivot, and embrace second-by-second course correction dictated by form, fatigue and/or inroad.

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The iron game is comprised of many facets; it’s as much art as it is science.  In fact, it’s an alchemy of sorts.  Those who truly excel at the endeavor (or in the barbell sports, for that matter) are comfortable in this realm, and easily navigate between these facets.   They blend, bend and manipulate the hell out of all available variables (the more the merrier!), moment to moment.  Those who stall in the iron game are either unable, unwilling, or uncomfortabale with doing that.  Success in this realm requires one to be more fox than hedgehog; more da Vinci-like polymath than reductionist.  For more on that idea, check this out.

And as alluded to previously, we need to keep the goal of each particular set in mind.  Are we aiming for hypertrophy?   If so, the intent needs to be muscle “inroading”, fatigue, burn, time under load.  Striving ever-nearer toward “failure”.  We’re not looking to move weight fast, we’re looking to isolate and “work” the target muscle as much as possible.  If the goal is hypertrophy, and you’re focused on “moving weight” then you’re fuckin’ up.  Simple as that.

The opposite is true if the goal is speed or power production.  Here, we’re looking for fluid output from the body.  Isolation, feel and burn is the *last* thing we want.  The feeling after a completed set of “dynamic” work is totally different than that following hypertrophy work.  In fact, if you put on your bodybuilding hat (or doo rag) while attempting to perform speed/power output work, you’re just going to fuggle things up.  There is a HUGE difference between being explosive, and grinding through reps with a strength or hypertrophy focus.  If speed/power output is the goal, and you’re trying to “feel” the work, “horse” or “leverage” the weight, you’re fuckin’ up, son.

Notice a lot of nebulous terms here?  Come to grips with it; that’s the nature of this business. Much of this is “feel” and art.  Not comfortable with the term “alchemy”?  You probably need to find another endeavor.  Something more black-and-white.  These methods can only be alluded to, they can’t be well packaged, plotted, graphed or well defined.


Let’s now consider programming, which presents even more of an interpretation issue.  There’s an overwhelmingly large difference between doing a standard 3 sets of 10 conventional reps, and *aiming* for 3 sets of 10 hypertrophy-focused reps performed my way.  I’m going to force you to squeeze, or maybe do partials midstream.  I’m going to hit you with forced reps, Jreps, rest-pause, alter the cadence, and anything else that I sense will make this set productive.  “10”, in my mind, is simply an indicator of direction.  It’s no more than an “east” on the map.  To me, “10 reps” is an indicator that we’re embarked in “assistance” (aka, hypertrophy) work.  Nothing more.  Just as Houston is “east” of Austin, but it’s not directly east.  If I were to go directly east, I’d miss the mark.  Same as one who is married to the “10 reps” idea will never (yes, I said *never*) even come close to maximizing his/her hypertrophy potential.  You simply have to be much more creative and fluid than that.

More fox than hedgehog; more da Vinci than reductionist.  You have to be an alchemist in this game.  That, or be content with mediocrity.

Why does “Dog Crap” training work?  531?  5 x 5?  Because the programming is simple, and intensity is easily baked into the prescription.  They’ve removed much of the nebulous factor.  Whether this was by genius, accident, or design, I don’t know.  But I do know the two big reasons why these programs work.  And as an aside, this is why I prescribe 5×5 to trainees who I can’t work with in face-to-face scenarios.  You can’t go wrong with 25 total reps of a compound movement done with sufficient intensity.

And as an aside, the “nebulous rep” is one reason why it is so insanely hard to pull off meaningful lab studies on hard-core S&C programming.  As coaches, we know what techniques, modalities and combinations work.  But pity the scientist who has to cobble together studies that reduce these methods to a point in which they can be studied. This is one major reason why there is such a gulf between the lab and S&C floor.  Science must reduce to effectively study, but those in the S&C pit realize that the very act of that reduction renders the original modality impotent.

This is akin to a grammar marm denouncing the works of William Faulkner on the basis of it being a nightmare to properly diagram one of his sentences.

And so it goes.

For more on that idea, check this out.


In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –




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