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Rep and load variations for specific goals in resistance training program

This is an excerpt from EuropeActive's Foundations for Exercise Professionals by EuropeActive.

Common Resistance Training Methods and Systems

Resistance training methods refer to the strategy used for organising training sessions. Methods should be selected by the strength zone and goals of the workout. The following sections describe the most common resistance training methods for general fitness proposed in fitness centres and gyms.


Basic Set

This strategy requires the resistance training practitioner to perform all sets of an exercise before continuing to the next. In addition, it is necessary to rest between every set, exercise and even before the following exercise where practical (depending on the requirements of the session and the selection strategy). This method can be used for any resistance training zone but is especially effective for novice practitioners who have to learn the correct technique of the exercise (Naclerio 2005).


Resistance Training Systems

Participants can use several loading patterns or systems in order to obtain the most favourable outcomes from each resistance training session. The most common loading patterns for resistance training are the pyramid and its variations (traditional and reverse pyramids, double pyramid, skewed and flat pyramids), stable load, and stable repetitions.


The pyramid is one of the most popular loading patterns. Its structure, illustrated in figure 7.7, shows that the load increases progressively to a maximum while the number of reps decreases proportionately (traditional). In the reverse form, the load decreases and the reps increase. The physiological effects of this procedure result from the progressive activation or recruitment of available motor units (Bompa and Haff 2009). Regardless of the load used, both systems seem to be appropriate for hypertrophy. The traditional form could be more appropriate to emphasise the capacity to tolerate the repetition of maximum effort, while the reverse form seems more suitable for improving maximal strength.



Traditional and reverse pyramids.


The double pyramid (figure 7.8) consists of two pyramids, one inverted on top of the other. The number of repetitions decreases from the bottom up and then increases again in the second pyramid. Due to a high volume of sets, this pattern is more suitable for muscle hypertrophy rather than endurance.



Double pyramid.


The skewed pyramid (figure 7.9) is proposed as an improved variant of the double pyramid. The load constantly increases throughout the exercise except during the last set, when it decreases. This decrease is meant to add variation and improve motivation. Similar to the double pyramid, fatigue may affect performance and therefore hypertrophy and muscle endurance are the most appropriate outcomes of this strategy.



Skewed pyramid.


The flat pyramid, as represented in figure 7.10, is one of the best patterns for improving strength. In traditional pyramids, the load often varies from 70% to 100%. Load variations of such magnitude can span across three resistance training zones, from hypertrophy to maximal, but in the case of highly trained athletes whose goal is to increase maximum strength, it would be advisable to keep the load in the higher range of 85% to 100% 1RM (Bompa and Haff 2009). However, this strategy is flexible and can be adapted to use a load appropriate to the session or resistance training zone. This strategy has also been called the stable-load pattern (Naclerio 2005).



Flat pyramid.


Another possible option is to arrange the structure of the training session to use a repetition-stable pattern. This system works well for those who want to use the RM continuum strategy because the number of repetitions stays stable while the load can change as fatigue increases throughout the sets.

Learn more about EuropeActive's Foundations for Exercise Professionals.