Five Set and Rep Schemes that Actually Work

Whether you are new to the industry or been around for a while you can sometimes get overwhelmed with the amount of articles written that are touting certain set and rep schemes to get strong. No matter what set and rep scheme you can think of, someone has written about it and will claim it’s the best.

The problem is, once you get past the beginner stage a lot of these programs don’t work very well, if at all. Here are five programs that work extremely well for both beginners and trainees that have spent their fair share of time in the weight room.

**As a side note, I didn’t design or come up with any of these programs and am not taking credit for any of them either**

I’m not going to comment much on the 5/3/1 program because there is a ton of information on the internet about the program and I don’t just want to regurgitate it all and bore you to death. I will say this though; Jim Wendler and his 5/3/1 is without a doubt one of the most popular programs out there and for good reason. I along with numerous other coaches have seen great progress and gains in strength using the 5/3/1 program and would recommend it to anyone that needs to gain strength. Simple, straight forward and effective.

You can find a more in-depth write up HERE.

A spinoff of the popular 5/3/1 program previously mentioned by Jim Wendler, Brad Kaczmarski developed and incorporated the same principles at higher reps and lower percentages. This program may be perfect for those that are not interested in the lower reps and heavier weights or just need a change of pace from the lower reps and heavier weights that come with 5/3/1.

The idea of developing the program for Kaczmarski came after using the 5/3/1 program for close to a year. Kaczmarski concluded that his athletes needed more volume — his inexperienced athletes could benefit from more adaptation and his more experienced athletes could benefit from the additional quality volume.

The result: impressive strength gains in the college and high school athletes that Kaczmarski works with. I can personally add that I have used it with success with my athletes and would recommend it as well.

You can find Kaczmarski’s program HERE.

Cluster Sets
I’m not sure who was the originator of this type of sets and reps but I got this from the great Dan John. For cluster sets you can get creative and choose from various rep schemes but I will use the one that Dan John used as an example; a 2-3-5-10 cluster.

First, pick a weight that you can do for 15 or so reps. For the first cluster you perform 2 reps. Rest for 10-15 seconds. The second cluster you perform 3 reps. Rest for 10-15 seconds. The third cluster you perform 5 reps. Rest 10-15 seconds. The final cluster you perform 10 reps. You’ve now completed one set which you performed 20 reps with a weight you can in theory only lift for 15 reps. Rest 3-5 minutes, add some weight to the bar, and repeat the cluster for a total of 3-4 sets depending on your goals.

I’ve used this and not only does it help in strength gains, but it adds some fun and a challenge to the workout. It definitely spices things up and keeps things interesting.

100 Rep Challenge
This again is a program that I found via Dan John. This program is about as simple and straight forward as you can think of. Pick a weight that is moderately heavy but not crazy heavy. Do as many reps as possible without failing (one rep shy of failure). Rest for 2-3 minutes. Repeat until you hit 100 total reps. Do the same thing the following week and try to do it in less sets. Simple but by no means easy.

3×3, 2×8
This is a scheme that I came across about a year ago, and subsequently used it for a period of time (along with others at UNH) and we all saw some great progress in strength while using it. I found this via Eric Cressey and he calls this the “Stage System.” In this type of training, you perform your first sets (3×3 in this case) at a heavy weight and slower speed. Once you are done, you move on to your second grouping (2×8 in this case) which will be performed at a lighter weight and more bar speed. The program should help with size, strength and speed.

A variation of the program can be found HERE.

Midweek Reading Material

Happy hump day, folks! Here are a handful of good reads from the last week or so.

First, a post I added to the blog this week;

5 Qualities of a Successful Strength Coach

And the rest of the list;

10 Ways to Remain Athletic as You Age by Eric Cressey

Extreme Ownership by Michael Boyle

37 Fitness Experts Share Their Biggest Workout Mistakes by Gareth Jones

Message Therapy or Physical Therapy School? by Charlie Weingroff

A Coaches Guide to Strength Development Part VIII by Stuart McMillan


5 Qualities of a Successful Strength Coach

“A coach is someone who carries a valued person from where they are to where they want to be.”


Have a Plan for Everything
Always plan with the ending in mind. Nothing should be left to chance. Strength training should be planned and progressed year-round. Conditioning should be planned out. Recovery protocols should be in place. None of this is difficult but it takes a little bit of time from you as a coach on the front end to ensure that your athletes are where you want them to be when it matters.

“Why are our athletes are so healthy. Our athletes are so healthy because we plan for them to be healthy. We don’t do dumb, random shit. Nothing is ever done by chance.” – Mike Boyle


Be A Student of People
At the end of the day, being a coach of any kind is a people business, a relationship business. If you want to be successful you need to understand what makes people tick and also realize that everyone is different. The same philosophy on motivating one person won’t necessarily work with another person. Some people will open up to you right away, other people will take a long time. No matter what type of personalities you are dealing with, you need to understand how to tap into them and get the most out of them. If you improve your ability to understand and deal with people, your success as a coach will instantly increase. Get to know the person so you can coach the athlete.

And if you haven’t read it yet, Dale Carnige’s How To Win Friends and Influence People is a must read.

Be Consistent
Being consistent as a coach may be one of the most important qualities you exhibit on a daily basis. You can’t be a hard ass one day and then a cuddly bear the next day. You can’t have high expectations one day then let things slide the next day. Be the same person day in and day out. For better or worse, athletes need to know who they are dealing with on a daily basis. And for the record, I’d recommend you consistently be someone that athletes enjoy being around. If they want to be around you’ll get buy-in, which will lead to the results you are after.

Show People You Care
It’s a quote that everyone has probably heard at one time or another, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s the truth. Athletes don’t follow you because you are the strength coach or the fact that you’ve been a strength coach for many years. Athletes follow the person, not the position. They need to know you care and the only way that happens if you actually care. You can’t fake it either, sooner or later they’ll figure you out.


Constantly Educate Yourself
“You can’t teach what you don’t know, you can’t guide where you don’t go.” The one constant in the profession of strength and conditioning is that things are always changing, whether we like it or not. Seemingly every single day, strength coaches and physical therapists are finding better ways to train to improve performance and/or reduce the likelihood of injury. The only way to stay on top of the ever-changing field of strength and conditioning is to continually educate yourself. Go to seminars and clinics. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Make it a priority every single day to somehow get better. Most importantly, have an open mind and be willing to change, otherwise you may find yourself behind the curve in a constantly evolving field. Be smart about it as we can never put an athlete in danger, but we as strength coaches should always be trying a lot of stuff and keeping what works.

Weekend Stuff to Listen To

If your living in the northeast you are fully aware by now that we are in for a long, cold weekend. Make good use of your time by taking a few minutes to listen to one or all of these podcasts that are chalked full of great content.

Physical Preparation Podcast with Eric Cressey

Physical Preparation Podcast with Chad Kolarcik

Entrepreneurship in the Fitness Industry with Layne Norton and Sohee Lee

Total Human Optimization Podcast with Dr. Andreo Spina

Iron Game Chalk Talk: Money Management for S&C Coaches

Enjoy and stay warm!

10 Random Thoughts

Here is another quick post with a  few random thoughts that have been going through my head the last couple weeks. Hopefully it makes you think a little!

Random Thoughts

  1. In my opinion, single leg exercises are more functional, better for injury prevention, and translate better to sport since most sports are essentially played on one leg. Does that mean you shouldn’t do bi-lateral lower body exercises? No, but I think single leg exercises should make up the majority of lower body training.
  2. Take on as much as you can. Learn as much as you can. Develop as much as you can.
  3. This seems like common sense but I don’t know if it actually is. But, if an athlete can not perform a movement well without load, you have no business loading the movement.
  4. Unless an injury is caused by some type of contact injury or is due to a pathological issue, its preventable. Hold yourself accountable as a strength coach to continually evolve and evaluate your programs — they can always be better.
  5. If you don’t have a ‘why’ for an exercise/movement/drill being in the program, then why is it in the program?
  6. Eric Cressey recently said, “Don’t fit people to programs, fit programs to people.” I couldn’t agree more. Some exercises just won’t work for people for various reason. Adjust, progress, regress and lateralize to something that will work for the person standing in front of you. Programs are not one size fits all.
  7. I may piss some people off, but I like Trap Bar Deadlift better then squatting for athletes. Both are very highly quad dominant movements, but the Trap Bar Deadlift has a much lower barrier for entry then either front or back squatting due to less joints being in play. The Trap Bar also has no spinal compression, more upper back involvement, and a grip component, and we know grip strength correlates to shoulder health. Lots of wins with the Trap Bar.
  8. When it comes to actual squatting, the more squatting I watch, the more it becomes obvious that the Front Squat fits most athletes better. Mike Robertson recently said that he now only Front Squats athletes. Kelly Starrett has mentioned in the past that her prefers Front Squatting for athletic populations due to a better upright posture and a high core demand. We all know Michael Boyle’s thoughts on back squatting. Michael Thompson PhD at Springfield College no longer allows back squatting in his weight room and has moved to Front Squatting only. Joe Kenn has said he no longer would back squat any athlete, in any sport, at any level. Lots of very highly respected strength coaches seem to be in favor of the front squat, and I’m sure there are many others feel the same. We know many people lack shoulder mobility (external rotation in this case) to get the bar behind their back. Beyond this, research has shown that you can get the same increases in performance (Vertical Jump, 10 Yard Sprint, ect.) with the Front Squat as you can with the Back Squat. To me its hard to argue and makes much more sense to me to Front Squat.
  9. “The movement patterns that we lose first, are typically the movement patterns that we learn first.” Gray Cook
  10. Athletes need to spend time training outside the sagittal plane. Too much emphasis is put on the typical clean/bench/squat/deadlift type programs. Don’t neglect the sagittal plane, just make sure to train outside it as well.

Communication for Coaches

“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get the message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”

Gilbert Amelio, Preseident and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp

Often times us as strength coaches focus all of our attention on technical aspects of our jobs; developing a better training plan, improving their ability to teach/coach a certain lift and things of the like. And for good reason, this is extremely important.

However, as a coach of any kind and at any level your success can hinge on your ability to communicate with your athletes. Being able to communicate your message, have an athlete understand the message and implement that message can be hard at times.

So how can you develop better communication skills? Here are a few quick tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Simplify Your Message

John Wooden was notorious for keeping things extremely simple with his athletes. Wooden was also notorious for coaching quickly using very few words. To communicate well, simplicity and clarity are your best friends. Keep your message short, sweet and to the point. The reality is athletes probably don’t want to spend a ton of time listening to you talk anyway.

Understand Your Audience

Sometimes as coaches we forget who our audience is. Athletes don’t understand all the science terms that we can throw around — and they don’t really care either. Isometrics, eccentrics, periodization, stretch-shortening cycle — they all mean nothing to athletes. Explain to athletes how something will make them better and they’ll buy in. Anything beyond that is a waste of both your time and the athletes time.

Demo Everything

This may seem a little outside the box, but as a coach you need to demo as much as possible. We know that most people are visual learners. You can be an incredible communicator, break down every movement and drill that you want the athlete to do in precise terms, and many times athletes will still not do it well or up to your expectations as a coach. When you show them exactly what you want, the majority of the group will do exactly what you showed them. Show them, don’t just tell them.

Be an Active Listener

Listening is an underappreciated aspect of communication. In our world, sometimes our best information will come from your athletes…if you take the time to listen to what they have to say. There is a huge difference between hearing what they have to say and understanding what they have to say. Actively listen and understand what they are say…you’ll learn as much from them as they do you.

Be Approachable

Of all the points on this list, this may be the most important of them all. In order to have effective communication with your athletes you need to be approachable at all times. Establish open lines of communication at all times. Ask questions regarding injuries, recovery and other things that they may be dealing with.