Optimizing Strength Gains Using Repetitions In Reserve

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Strength training remains one of the most important components of your exercise program. Research supports its’ utilization for improving pain, function, flexibility, strength, injury rates, and overall health. While a single session of strength training can lead to significant gains in strength and muscle hypertrophy research supports training large muscle groups 2-3 days per week. Another important component of strength training exercise prescription is intensity. Selecting an appropriate weight for a set of exercises can be challenging for most individuals and errors often lead to less than optimal improvements in injury and sports performance.

Traditionally, individuals would select a weight based off their tested 1 rep max on a given exercise which may or not be appropriate for every individual. More recently Physical Therapists have been advocating for a repetitions in reserve prescription where weights are selected based on how many repetitions an individual could complete at the end of a given set. For example, if a weight was selected and performed 5 times the individual would be asked how more repetitions they could complete with good form. If the answer is more than 2 repetitions the weight would be increased to dial in the appropriate intensity. A recent study compared the benefits of these two methods of repetition selection.

Graham and Cleather in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research randomized 31 experienced weight trainers to one of two programs (2019). The first program, fixed load, based weights on a percentage of the athletes 1 rep squat max. Conversely, the second group adjusted their weights based on the number of repetitions in reserve at the completion of their set. Volume (reps, sets, days per week) was standardized between groups. Each individual completed their 12 week squat training program based on these prescriptions. Authors reported both groups improved their front and back squat performance, but significantly better results were found in the repetitions in reserve group.

This study highlights the benefits of the repetitions in reserve model. In short, this model reduces operator error in weight selection because intensity is always adjusted to the individual.

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