One of My Favorite Set and Rep Schemes For Strength and Size

One of My Favorite Set and Rep Schemes For Strength and Size

Set and rep schemes are the the core component of any strength training program. Unfortunately some trainees move houses more often than they change their set and rep schemes.


One of my favourites to bring up a major lift and build some new muscle tissue is something I've been calling 12, 9, 6, 3, max reps.


While it is definitely not a traditional training method to use for strength I've seen it bring up stagnant lifts on a handful of clients.


Its not something I've invented, I actually derived it from Tom Platz, at a muscle camp I attended last year.


Your going to do 5 sets of 12, 9, 6, 3 and then a final back off set of as many reps as possible at 70% of the weight you got for 3 reps.


Lets use squats as an example. After warming up complete your first work set of 12 reps. It should be a hard 12 reps but not a ball breaker.


Rest for 90 to 120 seconds, add around 10% to the bar and do the second set of 9 reps (the amount to add will vary from person to person quite a bit depending on your muscle fiber makeup and strength at different rep ranges)


Again rest 90 to 120 seconds, add weight and complete a third set of 6 reps.


Then finally after another 2 minutes rest complete a heavier set of 3 reps which should be close to your 3RM.


For your heavy set of 3 reps, calculate 70% of the weight used and then after another rest period go all out and try to get as many reps as possible for a final set.  It should be a minimum of 15 up to around 25 reps.


With this final set something funny happens. Often you will have more weight on the bar than your first set of 12 but some how you knock out more reps even though the first set was still very hard.


Whats happening is that the heavy set of 3 potentiates the nervous system to make the final set feel lighter than it is and you can get more reps than you would expect.


Another great thing about this system is the progression. Mentally its easier to do than just trying to add weight to a set rep scheme every week.


Lets say for simplicity in week one you squat

70kg for 12 reps

80kg for 9 reps

90kg for 6 reps

100kg for 3 reps

70kg for 18 reps (70% of set 4)


In week 2 you know you got 80kg for 9 reps. So on the first set you just need to do another 3 reps on that 80kg weight and you would have a 10kg increase. But you're not going to go up 10kg. You're going to do your first set at somewhere between set one and set two. Say 75kg.


Last week you got 80kg for 9 reps so 75kg for 12 reps doesn't really seem like an increase even though it is a significant one.


This progression flows to the following sets as well. In week one you squatted 90kg for 6. So 85kg for 9 doesn't seem like too much of a jump.


In week 1 you squatted 100 for 3. So 95 or even 92.5 for 6 is not that much of a stretch. The set of 3 is going to be harder to increase than the other sets but none the less you should be able to maintain 2.5-5kg jumps for a few weeks. Unless you are already quite an advanced lifter.


Using this system has several of benefits.


You can progressively overload a variety of rep ranges from 3 reps up to 20+.


This means you are tapping into multiple adaptive mechanisms for increasing strength and hypertrophy. Some neural stimulus on the 2 heaviest sets. A hypertrophy response on the sets of 9 and 12, and some additional metabolic stress on the final back off set of 15+ reps.


Another benefit of this rep scheme is that it can help you see in which rep ranges you are relatively weaker. For example, someone who usually favours low reps might get a really solid weight on the 3 rep set. Then on the final back off set at 70% die in the ass because they are not strong for reps.


Or alternatively I've had guys who kill it with high reps and get 30 on that final set at 70% of the 3 rep set. Which means they probably need to focus their future programming on bringing their strength up as that is their current weakness.


With this rep scheme I would only use it on one exercise per workout. Possibly two if they were antagonist exercises and paired up such as a bench press and a row. The rest of the workout would be assistance work performed with more traditional set and rep schemes depending on the training phase.


Happy Lifting




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