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Favorite Set & Rep Schemes for Building Size

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

When it comes to building muscle, there is far more we can do than just the basic 3 sets of 10 reps. Now don't get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with 3 sets of 10. There is a reason it is so common and popular - because it works! I program it often in my own training and in the programs I write for my clients and online teams. However, it is easy to get caught in the trap of repeating it for every single exercise for every single workout.


The problem you run into when it is repeated too often is two-fold. For starters, your body adapts to the stimulus placed on it. Therefore, it's only a matter of time before 3 sets of 10, stops working as well as it used to. Furthermore, you are completely missing adaptations that take place in other rep ranges! There is a tremendous amount of muscle that can be built in both lower and higher rep ranges.


Secondly, you run into just the mental boredom of doing the same thing over and over again. Having fun in your training makes it ten times more effective. When you are having fun, you will put forth a greater effort. Greater effort = greater gains. Spicing things up gives you something to look forward to, bring some novelty to your training and allows you to experience new things to learn about your limits and what you're capable of.


With that said, I am going to give you some of my favorite set and rep schemes to help accomplish just that. Something that will spice things up, give you some fun and novelty as well as test your limits - all while helping you build that precious muscle to keep building the body you are after. Let's go....

5x5


I would be remiss to not quickly mention the tried and true 5x5. This is not earth shattering by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, within the strength training world, 5x5 might be more popular than 3x10. However, for someone that is stuck in the 3 sets of 10 rut, then incorporating 5x5 within their training is going to bring them tremendous gains.


Tackling the lower rep ranges is going to bring a nice change of pace to their training and work the muscles in a completely different way. Now, it is imperative to mention that you are not taking the same weight you use for 3 sets of 10 and performing 5 sets of 5. The weight you use for 5 sets of 5 should be considerably heavier, as this is where the benefit comes from. This is also why 5x5 is typically more often used with your bigger compound lifts. Getting more volume at a heavier weight is a great contrast to the 3 sets of 10 load. If you know or have a 1RM, then you should be completing a 5x5 with around 70-75% of your max being sure to rest at least 2 minutes between sets.


Crazy 8's


Crazy 8's are absolutey brutal and guaranteed to bring some intensity to your workouts. They work on a 3 week block and don't progress like usual set and rep schemes. Instead of progressing the load or reps each week, you will progress by increasing your training density each week. This is accomplished by decreasing your rest periods between each set.


Crazy 8's are performed by completing 8 sets of 8 reps. A good starting point in your first week is around 60-65% of your max with 2 minutes of rest between each set. However, each ensuing week, your rest gets cut by 30 seconds. Therefore, by the third week of the cycle you only get 1 minute rest between sets. After the third week, you can increase the weight by 5% and repeat another 3 week cycle, following the same rest period progression. However, 2 cycles (or 6 weeks) is the most I recommend doing crazy 8's for a particular lift. After 2 cycles, change the lift or switch to another scheme. Let the body fully recover and prepare for another bout in the future - because like I said - THEY ARE BRUTAL. In addition, I only recommend doing Crazy 8's with one exercise per training block.


Example Cycle of Crazy 8's


Cycle 1

Week 1: 8x8 Back Squat @ 65% - 2 minutes rest between sets

Week 2: 8x8 Back Squat @ 65% - 90 seconds rest between sets

Week 3: 8x8 Back Squat @ 65% - 60 seconds rest between sets

Cycle 2

Week 1: 8x8 Back Squat @ 70% - 2 minutes rest between sets

Week 2: 8x8 Back Squat @ 70% - 90 seconds rest between sets

Week 3: 8x8 Back Squat @ 70% - 60 seconds rest between sets


10x3 w/ Speed Emphasis & Burnout


This one is a hidden gem because it works beneath the surface. In order to move the bar with speed, the load used is going to be lighter than is typically seen in muscle building circles - especially when you consider you're only performing 3 reps and not 15+ like you typically see with lighter loads.


However, performing reps explosively targets our fast twitch muscle fibers and helps our body with the prioritization and influence of them within the rest of our training. This is crucial as our fast twitch muscle fibers possess the most potential for growth!


In this scheme, I like to use anywhere from 50-60% of a 1RM and perform 3 explosive reps every minute for 10 rounds. On the tenth and final set, however, we will rep it out for as many reps as possible - still pushing for explosive reps. This burnout at the end will increase the total training volume as well as build up a lot of metabolic stress - both big drivers of muscle hypertrophy.


10x10


The king of volume schemes - German Volume Training (GVT). 10 sets of 10 has been time tested and proven true time and again. It's simple, brutal, and effective. 100 total reps of muscle building glory.


When I incorporate GVT into my programs, I typically choose one upper body movement and one lower body movement to apply it to for a given training block. For example, 10x10 Bench Press on your first upper body session of the week, and 10x10 Front Squat on your first lower body session of the week - resting 2 minutes between sets.


I typically start people out at 55-60% of their 1RM in week 1. The goal week to week should be to add anywhere from 5-10 total pounds to the bar and run that progression for anywhere from 4-6 weeks.


While 5-10 pounds might not sound like a lot of progress, we must remember that 5 pounds over 100 total reps is 500 total pounds of extra volume. If this progression is sustained for 6 straight weeks, then you are lifting 3000 more pounds of volume in your last workout - THAT'S BIG TIME. That's German Volume Training.


4x25


Last but not least, if you want to just completely punish yourself and suffer, we have the trusty 4 sets of 25. While this is the same total reps as a 10x10, it is on a completely different level of suck. Especially when you account for the fact that the loads used for a 4x25 are not that much lighter than what would be used for a 10x10, as I like to use around 50-55% of 1RM with 2 minutes of rest between sets.


The 4x25 scheme is much more taxing and draining that GVT, thus it is used intermittently. A 2-3 week stint is all I will typically run these for and they're used for a jolt of intensity within a program to break the monotony of a cycle, or to try and spark some fresh adaptation. Progression week to week on these are intuitive. They suck so bad that just getting through it is typically good enough. However, as with GVT, very small additions in weight are what is tolerated and aimed for. If you can add more than 5-10 pounds from the previous week, then you did not go heavy enough to start. When you do 4x25 correctly, you should dread doing it.


Conclusion of my favorite set & rep schemes for building size


Building muscle is a science and the body is an adaptive organism. Different training methods will yield different results and the timing of certain methods can maximize the results from a given block. Now it cannot go without saying that if you are to build muscle, then your nutrition must be in line with those goals as well. The training creates the demand to grow, the nutrition is what allows it to take place. If you have that covered, then implementing these methods in a well balanced and organized training regiment will yield LEGIT size.


If you need help or want to see how I incorporate my favorite set & rep schemes for building size in such a program, hit the link below and sign up for Team Valor. October 2nd marks the start of our Armor Phase - where we focus on increasing strength and adding lean muscle tissue to our frame.




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C-Roy



c roy posing at c roy strength and performance

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