Resistance Training 7 Step Approach - Step 5: Training Load and Repetitions
Terminology Used to Quantify and Qualify Mechanical Work
Mechanical Work - force and displacement (distance) an object or weight is moved. A quantifiable way in which you can measure mechanical work is like in Olympic weight lifting when you multiply a weight lifted by the number of times lifted.
Load Volume (or Volume Load) - Basically a measurement of weight (units) multiplied by distance (distance units) and repetitions. To note however, that certain repetition quantities alter the quality of the work being done. For example, 1 set of 15 repetitions is not the same as 3 sets of 5 repetitions.
Relationship Between Load and Repetitions
Repetitions is and should be inversely related to the load lifted, especially when calculating correct loads for specific repetition amounts. For example, the higher the load, the lower number of reps an individual should be able to lift.
Calculating 1-repetition maximum (1RM) and 10-repetition maximum for individuals is a highly effective tool to structure a proper resistance training program. Depending on an individual's goals, their resistance exercises should remain within a specific rep range to meet such goals, which will be discussed later.
Keep in mind that an individual's 1RM (or calculated 1RM) on a weight machine may be significantly higher than doing a similar action with free weights as more synergistic muscles must be involved, potentially lowering the overall strength capacity of the user.
Below is a chart that can be used to determine 1RM based on percentages of weights lifted. There are many exceptions to this chart however based upon what muscles are being worked as well as the individual's comfort and skill level.
%1RM - # Repetitions Allowed
100 - 1
95 - 2
93 - 3
90 - 4
87 - 5
85 - 6
83 - 7
80 - 8
77 - 9
75 - 10
70 - 11
67 - 12
65 - 15
There are few different ways you can calculate a 1RM for a specific exercise for an individual. For starters, a test can be conducted in which an individual can progress through a few "warm-up" sets and then, using a hypothetical 1RM, attempt to lift their heaviest weight possible for 1 repetition. Another way to calculate is by using the above chart to have an individual complete an exercise with a desired weight for as many repetitions as they can (preferably below 10 reps or so) to then calculate a theoretical 1RM.
When attempting an accurate 1RM test, where the individual is attempting to lift their heaviest weight for 1 repetition, a few things should be considered. First of all, only those individuals who are considered intermediate or experienced weightlifters who have a lot of experience at the specific exercise should attempt a 1RM test. Also, only power or core exercises that involve large muscle groups and multiple joints can withstand the large forces placed upon the body.
Assigning Load and Repetitions Based on the Training Goal
Once a strength and conditioning specialist has made a well-judged assessment based on an individuals needs (Step 1: Needs Analysis), as well as tested for actual and theoretical 1RM's, a training program can then be designed based upon the trainee's goals and therefore load and repetition quantities.
Generally, there are 4 main categories of resistance training goal sets.
1. "Strength" training is when an individual stays in a 1-6 rep range or so (85-100% 1RM). Strength training has minimal muscular growth, but very large potential for very strong muscles. Strength training should primarily be kept to "Core" exercises (large muscle groups, multi-joint).
2. "Hypertrophy" training is the training mode that creates the most muscular growth with added strength as well. Here, an individual should aim for a 6-12 rep range (85-70% 1RM).
3. "Endurance" training is to teach your muscles to be as fatigue-resistant as possible. Not a whole lot of strength gains are found here, nor much muscular growth, but muscular endurance training certainly has its place in training many individuals and athletes alike. Here you would want to push your repetitions higher than 12 (67% 1RM).
4. "Power" training is similar to strength training but slightly different. Due to the fact that the muscles are trying to displace (move) a weight as fast as possible, the muscles can not generate as much overall force, therefore slightly lowering the power weight goals to stay within a specific rep range. Here, you would be aiming for approximately 80% 1RM in order to stay in a 2-5 rep range.
Variation of the Training Load
Although an experienced weightlifter or athlete may mentally feel prepared to lift "heavy" 3 times a week (M,W,F), the heavy strains placed on the body can quickly lead to overtraining. Instead, a 3 day-a-week training schedule involving power and other core exercises should be split into a "heavy", "medium", and "light" day where the light day involves lifting 80% of the loads lifted on the heavy day, while maintaining the same repetition counts as the heavy day.