How Much Should The Average 12 Year Old Female Weight The Default Rep Range

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The Default Rep Range

I had an hour-long conversation with Pavel Tsatsouline on Sunday, and as usual his probing questions brought up some things that I had forgotten. One thing he asked was, “Over the years, was there a single repeat area that you preferred?” What was “normal” for me? Put another way, what single rep range did I use most often in my weight training and why? Without hesitation I said 5-rep sets. I surprised myself with the quick response, but upon reflection I thought it might be worth sharing the whys and wherefores.

As a teenager, I wanted usable athletic strength—with an emphasis on explosive power. I was isolated and took my cues from John McCallum’s articles. Mac was the first expert to make the case that high reps built muscle tissue and super low reps peaked power, so finding a rep range that split the difference would provide the balance between high rep muscle size and low rep pure torque. Since 10 reps and above were ‘normal’ and 1 to 3 reps were ‘low reps’, 4 to 9 reps would be the mid range. Split the difference and 5-6 reps seemed the solution. Bill Pearl, another mentor, used 6 to 8 reps to build his incredible mass, and Mac suggested Fives. I started using five reps especially on my squats, overhead presses and power cleans. Being determined and ambitious and having all the training time I needed, I eventually developed the ability to take a triple and turn it into a five through sheer willpower and courage.

In retrospect, this was physiologically correct, and to this day, when a person has passed the beginner stages and wants to take their physique to the next level, 5-rep sets are my ongoing prescription. Later, when I started powerlifting and fell under Cassidy’s tutelage, I found it ironic that he also used 5’s as his ‘standard’ rep range. By default, I mean that unless the trainee was peaking for a strength competition or sporting event of some type (where it was appropriate to use low reps) or in the deep ‘off season’ and was looking to add some size (where it was appropriate to use high reps) in normal training times the idea would be to drive the 5-rep threshold up, always up, in all the big lifts.

When I started working with Ed Coan and Doug Furnas, I found it more than coincidental that they both used 5-rep sets more than any other rep series. Doug came up under the famous Dennis Wright, who was a big 5 man. Doug eventually squatted 900×5 in old George Zanga’s super suit. I passed on my love of 5s to Karwoski and they became the backbone of his training regimen. Typically, in preparation for an event, an athlete will take 12 weeks to whip themselves into top form. The first 2-3 weeks are used for ‘conditioning’ and across the board the athlete will use 8-12 rep sets. For the large middle part of the preparatory cycle, 5s are used. In the last 3-4 weeks low rep sets are used to achieve maximum power and strength. It is no coincidence that each of the men I mention developed incredible muscle mass and functional strength. Furnas could do a standing back flip with a weight of 280 and still run a 4.7 forty.

Does any of this ‘inside baseball’ exotica have any bearing on the training of normal people? Absolutely: In my experience, the average trainee is fixated on 10-rep sets (or higher) for a number of lame reasons: “Low reps are dangerous,” and my favorite, “I don’t want to build big muscles.” (As if it was that freaking easy – like within a few weeks of doing 5’s they’d build more mass than Arnold in 1975) — This last excuse is universally used by women and defies rational thinking and basic biology. We lift weights to build muscle and strength. Period. No other reason. We coordinate cardio and diet to oxidize body fat. The three elements are intertwined to deliver the complete package, ie. increased muscle size and function combined with low body fat. No matter who you are (assuming you’re past the graded beginner stages), a dose of 5-rep sets can blast you out of the training rut you’re in. Forty-three years down the progressive resistance highway, I still believe that 5- rep possesses magical properties. Maybe you should consider giving them a test drive.

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