Maximize Muscle Gains with Rep Optimization

MUTANT with Dumbbell

Repetitions are the very essence of anyone’s beastly physique. The quality, quantity, and frequency of reps are directly related to how much muscle you gain throughout weightlifting. But with the various ways to grit through your reps, what is worth your time and worth leaving on the cutting room floor? Here are the different types of reps and sets – compound, straight, drop, and rest-pause sets – you can include in your training plan to build crazy muscle and master your aesthetics.

Straight Sets

The most straightforward setup is to do straight sets. This is where you perform an exercise for a specific amount of repetitions straight through. For example, you can do bench press for three sets of 10 reps; each set is 10 reps with zero alterations. These reps are flowing in nature, giving a natural feel to the movement as you lift the dumbbells or barbell. Straight sets are terrific for beginning a new exercise or for pure strength goals. 

Drop Sets

What is a drop set? These are straight sets on metaphorical steroids. You do a straight set, lower the weight, and continue with even more reps while sticking with the same set. You can go all the way down to the lightest weight possible if you want to. For example, you can do cable triceps pushdowns at 50 pounds for 10 reps. Then you go down to 40 pounds and bust out five more reps, then 30 pounds for five more reps, and so on. 
Implementing half reps, where you use a shorter range of motion, is perfect here. This gets your muscles to absolute failure with a singular set. You can do this with your final set or a single set with heavy weight and bring it down to five or 10 pounds. 

Drop Set Exercises

As for drop-set exercises? Upper body and arm movements are especially worth a drop set or two. Any cable work is perfect for drop sets because you can easily drop the weight with the plates. Such exercises as cable curls, pushdowns, chest flies, and rows can make for very efficient drop sets.


Compound Sets

These sets combine two exercises connected by the same muscle group before rest. For example, performing bent-over barbell rows and then doing chin-ups to focus on the posterior muscles (lats, traps, and biceps). It’s a bit different from a superset, which works opposing muscle groups, for example, doing biceps curls and then triceps extension. Compound sets can save you much time while utilizing your “rest time” for even more muscle stimulation. Like a drop set, a compound set with the same muscle group will help fatigue the muscle.

What Is a Rest-Pause Set? 

Rest-pause sets are similar to drop sets in that you milk as much out of each set as possible. For these, you do a straight set of X reps, followed by a 10- to 15-second rest and then another three to five reps. You repeat this two or three times. This fatigues the muscles by getting the maximum reps at your working load. An example would be doing seated calf raises at 90 pounds for 15 reps, taking a brief – and brief – rest period, then doing five more reps, doing this cycle three times. Rest-pause sets are wonderful for the end of your workouts or your final working set of any exercise, as they allow you to go beyond what you think is your threshold and set massive PRs.

How to Optimize Reps for Next-Level Strength

Combining all of these set and rep structures could provide ample muscle stimuli. Here is a sample workout structure:
  • Bench Press + Lat Pulldowns – 4 sets each of 10 reps (final set is rest-pause for both)
  • Traditional Deadlift + Jump Squats – 3 sets each of 8 reps (straight sets throughout)
  • Bent-over Row + Chin-ups – 3 sets each of 8 reps (final set is rest-pause for both)
  • Leg Press + Leg Curls – 2 sets of 12 reps (final set is drop set for both)
  • Cable Flies + Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions + Cable Curls – 1 drop set for each (15 reps at top weight, then 5 reps for each 10-pound decrease)

If you follow something like this and use progressive overload (add weight, sets, reps, or some other type of volume), you will become an impressive specimen in no time.
Article by Terry Ramos