When to end a set?

Carl

Triple-Digit Post Count
Hi all,

I'm interested in hearing thoughts and experiences of stopping most sets based on when speed starts slowing down. Is this as hard as StrongFirst recommends pushing a set outside of record attempts?

My focus is higher rep bodyweight basics (chins, dips, skater squats).

I come from an intensity training mindset, pre-reading Pavel, and still find I have to fight the urge to push sets too hard. That said, I'm not a fan of doing too many sets of the same move in a single session. 2-3 sets pretty hard and moving on to something else is my preferred route. I do enjoy focusing on gtg 1-2 moves outside of main sessions at a lower intensity (as per gtg guidance).

I'm enjoying my training more than ever using speed slowing down as a gauge to terminate sets. Just curious to hear from others.
 

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
I end my set when I meet the reps I prescribed, or hit failure. Whichever comes first.

If I slow down significantly, or if I could not follow the correct tempo I had in mind, I might take that into account for the reps I prescribe for the next session.
 

Ryan Toshner

SFG TL, SFB, SFL, FMS
Senior Certified Instructor
My focus is higher rep bodyweight basics (chins, dips, skater squats).
Are you saying that your goal is to be able to do more reps? Meaning you'd like to be able to do, say, 25 pull-ups? Or were you just clarifying that you prefer to do higher-rep sets during your training?

Ultimately, your goal is what's important.

If the goal is to be able to do a lot of reps, using speed as your gauge to stop a set is a good general rule for most of the time. As time progresses, you should notice that you can do more reps before your speed drops. Doing more sets is the way to increase the volume. It's OK if you don't particularly enjoy doing that... because enjoyment isn't entirely the goal.

If the goal is to de-stress and get enjoyment from your training (and doing higher-rep training is what you prefer), then there's nothing wrong with doing higher-rep sets (so long as it doesn't cause tendonitis or other health issues). Just realize that that isn't necessarily the most efficient way to improve your capabilities. But in this case, that wouldn't be the primary goal.

Personal experience: I don't typically do any more than 8 reps in any particular set of pull-ups, and I usually do weighted pull-ups for sets of 1-6 reps (which is roughly 1/2 the reps that I could do with the given weights). At Tactical Strength Challenges, I usually do 24-29 pull-ups. Now, I do rock climb roughly once/week, but that really isn't exactly sustained effort like doing a set of pull-ups. So to sum up, the bulk of my training is based on keeping the reps low, but I do get a little bit of a burn roughly once/week (although it's most often in the forearms as opposed to the biceps/shoulders/back).
 

kodo kb

Triple-Digit Post Count
Slow reps are ok. Grinding is not.
Care to elaborate? I've been grinding out some traditional side presses recently and I kind of love the feeling of pushing through the rep. I know that's just an emotional argument, but what's wrong with extra time under tension if that's what it takes to get the lift up in proper form?
 

Carl

Triple-Digit Post Count
Thanks Ryan.

Really useful feedback.

Yes, the goal is to be able to do more reps (higher than the 5 SF standard) but not super high. This is in a few pet moves, pull up variants mainly, where I'd pretty much like to double up my current max reps.

I take your point on enjoyment. What I like to do and what's the quickest path to it might not align. However, I want to be at this for a lifetime so enjoyment is part of my remit.

I want to do all of this while being sensible and not inviting injury so I certainly keep an eye out for anything complaining (tendonitis etc).

I'll stay with the current approach and keep trying to ease my baseline number up, while staying clear of failure.



Are you saying that your goal is to be able to do more reps? Meaning you'd like to be able to do, say, 25 pull-ups? Or were you just clarifying that you prefer to do higher-rep sets during your training?

Ultimately, your goal is what's important.

If the goal is to be able to do a lot of reps, using speed as your gauge to stop a set is a good general rule for most of the time. As time progresses, you should notice that you can do more reps before your speed drops. Doing more sets is the way to increase the volume. It's OK if you don't particularly enjoy doing that... because enjoyment isn't entirely the goal.

If the goal is to de-stress and get enjoyment from your training (and doing higher-rep training is what you prefer), then there's nothing wrong with doing higher-rep sets (so long as it doesn't cause tendonitis or other health issues). Just realize that that isn't necessarily the most efficient way to improve your capabilities. But in this case, that wouldn't be the primary goal.

Personal experience: I don't typically do any more than 8 reps in any particular set of pull-ups, and I usually do weighted pull-ups for sets of 1-6 reps (which is roughly 1/2 the reps that I could do with the given weights). At Tactical Strength Challenges, I usually do 24-29 pull-ups. Now, I do rock climb roughly once/week, but that really isn't exactly sustained effort like doing a set of pull-ups. So to sum up, the bulk of my training is based on keeping the reps low, but I do get a little bit of a burn roughly once/week (although it's most often in the forearms as opposed to the biceps/shoulders/back).
 

Geoff Chafe

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
@kodo kb Proper form is the difference. Slow reps are powerful and high tension reps, but slow. Grinding, is leaking tension, shaking, out of position, technical failure. A slow rep is a good rep. A grinding rep is a bad make.

When you push your maxes you a bound to get some bad makes, but your daily training should be technically sound reps, in a moderate work range.
 

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
then there's nothing wrong with doing higher-rep sets (so long as it doesn't cause tendonitis or other health issues). Just realize that that isn't necessarily the most efficient way to improve your capabilities.
Sorry I might be missing something. You're arguing that doing high reps isn't the most efficient way to improve your capacity to do high reps?
 

jca17

More than 300 posts
I believe he's saying that burning yourself out is not necessarily the best way to improve over time. Same as for gaining strength. Keep as many motor units training as possible for your sets.
So you still increase the number of reps you do, but you stop once some of your motor units have reached their limits (ie, reps begin to slowdown). Then in performance, you can let it rip and really crank out a lot. I listen when anyone with the last name Toshner talks about strength or strength endurance :)
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
This old Geoff Neupert piece on just this topic is a good read:

Rep Speed: The Secret To Perpetual Progress |


I just wondered what others had experienced with this approach who are more focused on bodyweight and higher rep type work and goals.
After reading the article I'm not sure I'm entirely with the premise. When you slow down, yes it generally means motor units are cycling in and out. However, I often feel stronger on higher rep sets when I begin to slow. This is also generally a voluntary act - I realize I'm going too fast and slow down. Then settle into some real quality reps. When I feel I'm close to tanking I'll speed up.

Most of the time I @ 305pelusa - stop when I hit my intended reps or reach tech failure. I have to say, with higher rep bodyweight exercises I use Rest/Pause often on the last set of a movement and feel I get very good return.

It all depends on the goals - for strength it pays to leave some in the tank, for size you need to push it more.

The most important factor is whether your rep counts are going up with the "slow down" protocol. If you find you are stuck slowing at the same rep count/time under load all the time, you aren't forcing an adaptation and that rep count will never change. If you find your capacity is improving then stay with it until the body stops responding.

For really high rep stuff I switch to a clock as my measure.

Edit to add:
One of the reasons I don't totally agree with stopping at the first slow down on bodyweight/high rep exercises is that you weren't recruiting all your available motor units to begin with, high or low threshold. Slowing down a bit is IMHO required to send the signal for more output/more motor unit recruitment.

Then again, my response to the urge to slow down is to speed up. When the engine room says that's all we got, the set is done. So maybe I agree with the whole idea and am just interpreting it poorly...
 
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jca17

More than 300 posts
I wonder what Neupert says in KB Muscle about fatigue and slowing? From what I hear the program involves some of the most brutal 15 minute workouts you'll do, and I also hear it really works. Anyone know? Is he ok with pushing through slower reps for occasional hypertrophy training, or does he intend that program to be done without rep speed slowing down? Also, since he lifts explosively (whereas most of Pavel's teaching involves a slow gear grind style), does maintaining bar speed matter more for his training than a slower gear lifter?
 

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
I believe he's saying that burning yourself out is not necessarily the best way to improve over time. Same as for gaining strength. Keep as many motor units training as possible for your sets.
So you still increase the number of reps you do, but you stop once some of your motor units have reached their limits (ie, reps begin to slowdown). Then in performance, you can let it rip and really crank out a lot. I listen when anyone with the last name Toshner talks about strength or strength endurance :)
I think it's fine if you keep your rep speed fast to train for max reps.

What I don't understand is the recommendation to do low reps in order to build up higher reps. As Ryan says, he doesn't go above 8 reps in a set, to try to push his max Pull-ups. I bet he could do 15 in a row, all fast, but he's choosing to end prematurely, even before slowing down.

He's arguing that doing higher reps isn't the most efficient way to build up your ability to do high reps. And that lower rep sets are a more efficient way. I'm not sure I follow.
 

Geoff Chafe

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
This old Geoff Neupert piece on just this topic is a good read:

Rep Speed: The Secret To Perpetual Progress |

I just wondered what others had experienced with this approach who are more focused on bodyweight and higher rep type work and goals.
@Carl Great topic.

It the article he talks about bar speed or bell speed in power lifts. Definitely, when power drops, it time to stop.

With strength exercises or calisthenics you can still lift explosively with max power and tension on a slow rep. You are putting everything into the load, it is just not moving as fast on that last rep or two.

When you are going for a heavy single or the last rep of a five rep set of KB MP, it may be a slow rep, you may be leaning back or to the side more, but you are not purposely lifting slow. You are putting as much effort into the bell as any other rep.
 
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Carl

Triple-Digit Post Count
Makes sense.

Are you a fan of to failure training for higher rep calisthenics work? Have you found it useful?

I'm experimenting with the speed approach for now so will report back
if/how that supports my goals. If nothing else it's helping me be more process orientated than fixated on numbers.

Many ways to the top of the mountain! ;)

I end my set when I meet the reps I prescribed, or hit failure. Whichever comes first.

If I slow down significantly, or if I could not follow the correct tempo I had in mind, I might take that into account for the reps I prescribe for the next session.
M
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
I end my set when I meet the reps I prescribed, or hit failure. Whichever comes first.
We prefer that a student never start the rep he isn't confident of finishing in good form. We prefer failure be used infrequently or not at all in training, and be saved for competition.

Personal experience: I don't typically do any more than 8 reps in any particular set of pull-ups, and I usually do weighted pull-ups for sets of 1-6 reps (which is roughly 1/2 the reps that I could do with the given weights). At Tactical Strength Challenges, I usually do 24-29 pull-ups.
What I don't understand is the recommendation to do low reps in order to build up higher reps. ... He's arguing that doing higher reps isn't the most efficient way to build up your ability to do high reps. And that lower rep sets are a more efficient way. I'm not sure I follow.
Different people will have different amounts of carryover from weighted work to unweighted or, to use my own example, less weighted rather than unweighted. My example:

A few years ago, I trained for max pullup reps while holding a 20 lbs. dumbbell between my feet. My training approach was to use more than 20 lbs. in training, using enough weight that I'd get around 50% of my max reps in training so, e.g., if my current training max was 13 reps, I'd use enough weight that I could do sets of 6-7 reps. Typically I trained the heavier reps twice a week, and once a week I'd go for a near-max with the 20 lbs. dumbbell. A "near-max" or "training max" means, for me, never failing on the last rep, but always going for the last rep I knew I could get, even if it was slower. I step-cycled my weekly near-max attempts, so they looked like 10-11-12-8, 11-12-13-10, etc. IOW, once every 4 weeks, I stopped roughly when things started to slow down.

My result: 19 reps with the 20 lbs. dumbbell between my feet, age early-to-mid 50's, if memory serves. I worked my training max up to 17, then did an actual max effort where I got, just barely, that 19th rep.

@305pelusa, what @Ryan Toshner is suggesting, and I am, too, is keeping the focus on strength and letting the reps more or less take care of themselves. If you get stronger, you'll get more reps without having to train a lot of high-rep sets. Again, I want to stress that this is individual in nature, and that some training of higher reps is necessary, but often, someone experienced at repping out and who knows what that feels like can get by with very little of it in training.

-S-
 

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Are you a fan of to failure training for higher rep calisthenics work? Have you found it useful?
I don't think it's necessary to kill yourself on every set, but I do generally work close to my rep maxes when working with higher rep calisthenics. Gives a good pump too, which is a main reason why I do higher rep work anyways.

It works just fine for me. It's just basic progressive overload. It's trying to do a little more everytime. Sometimes, you meet your limits and might have to back off a bit next session.

I'm experimenting with the speed approach for now so will report back
if/how that supports my goals. If nothing else it's helping me be more process orientated than fixated on numbers.
Yeah, let us know how it goes. The "speed method" is tremendously popular. I'm not super sure how it fits with high rep calisthenics, but it's been recommended in the past. Look:
Lifting Speed Matters | DD

I tried his Push-up program because I was intrigued. It worked all right. Not saying something works or doesn't. I just prefer the more conventional method of progressive overload by adding reps.
 

Bro Mo

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
In the last few months since I've had a HR monitor, I have been able to notice a correlation between how quickly my HR drops after a set and when to stop to avoid ill effects. Generally, 1-2 set after the shift in recovery time is the max.
 

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
My result: 19 reps with the 20 lbs. dumbbell between my feet, age early-to-mid 50's, if memory serves. I worked my training max up to 17, then did an actual max effort where I got, just barely, that 19th rep.
Just wanted to say that's a good record, but don't come quoting your age to me as though it makes it more impressive. I know you're strong as f*** for your age, so I expect nothing less from you Steve :D
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
Makes sense.

Are you a fan of to failure training for higher rep calisthenics work? Have you found it useful?

I'm experimenting with the speed approach for now so will report back
if/how that supports my goals. If nothing else it's helping me be more process orientated than fixated on numbers.

Many ways to the top of the mountain! ;)


M
When doing high rep work ( anything over 12 reps, 15 max) I use Rest/Pause quite a bit, but not for every set or exercise, and not even every session. Usually the last set of an exercise, and only on one or two exercises in any given workout. On difficult movements where I cannot hit at least 5 reps I'll do Drop sets, applied in the same way.

To my way of thinking, Rest/Pause and Drop sets (in terms of bodyweight training this might be a rapid change of an exercise to a version with more mechanical advantage) are both forms of "training to failure". Though some would not agree with my take, you are pushing yourself beyond the limits of a straight set.

Even if you don't actually stall out mid rep, you were unable to continue with the initial load and the effect of these strategies is very similar to having a spotter give you some assisted reps upon reaching technical failure.

In my experience these techniques work very well with bodyweight training to add some intensity to higher rep movements, and additional reps to movements that are almost too challenging to trigger a positive adaptation.
 
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