By Jim Schmitz
U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team Coach 1980, 1988 & 1992
Author of Olympic-style Weightlifting for Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD
Reps and Sets for Strength and Power
Over the years I’ve tried many schemes of reps and sets in search of the best number and combinations in order to develop the greatest strength and power. I tried them on myself in the beginning, and then later when I became a trainer and coach, on my athletes. There are many different systems and combinations of sets and reps, and they all may work, but I’m going to tell you what I’ve had success with and why.
I’m a big believer in proper technique and form, at least to the best of one’s ability and physical capabilities. Therefore, I’ve found that doing doubles (2’s) with medium to heavy weights is the best way to get strong with good technique. The reason is that the first rep is no problem, but the second rep must be done correctly in order to be successful. If you do doubles, you must make the second rep absolutely as correct as you can or you won’t make it, or if you do, it will be sloppy.
Therefore, you use weights that are around 80–85% of your best single. This is a weight that you know you can do, so you aren’t afraid of it or you don’t have to use your entire psyche on the lift, but can concentrate on your technique, especially on the second rep. Also, you don’t take the first rep lightly, thinking ahead to the second rep, or you will miss it or do it badly and be unable to do the second rep. You must concentrate very much on the first rep and even more so, on the second rep. You want to make the first rep with your best technique and the second rep with identical technique. When you do these doubles, there is no rest between reps, only enough time to get set and go. The first rep you think about before you do it, and the second rep is pure reaction, you just do it.
I think the best number of sets is 3 to 5 with the same weight. This is how you develop consistency and efficiency in technique as well as strength and power. Let’s say you can do a pretty heavy weight for a double—can you do it again and again? Whatever your best weight for a double is, you try to do about 5 kilos less for 3 to 5 sets for doubles. This really requires your best concentration as you not only want to make each and every rep and set, but you must use your best technique, strength, and power to do this. It’s a lot of work, so your muscle endurance will improve as well. This reps and sets system can be used for squats, deadlifts, benches, snatches, clean and jerks, and any other lift that you want to excel in.
Here’s what this reps and sets system might look like in a program for snatches if your best snatch was 125 : 60x3x3, 80x2, 95x2 105x2, 115x3x2 (that’s weight x sets x reps). What you might do is build up to 5x2 before adding weight.
Let’s say after a couple of workouts you can do the 115x5x2; you would now adjust your weights, sets, and reps as follows: 60x3x3, 85x2, 100x2, 110x2, 117.5x3x2. After you’ve mastered the 117.5x5x2, you would adjust your weights, sets, and reps as follows: 60x3x3, 85x2, 100x2, 110x2, 120x3x2. If you are doing 120x5x2, you should be ready for a personal record next time you max out.
This routine should be done once per week, as it might take some time to recover. Also, if you miss a rep, you rest and repeat that set, but you don’t go on endlessly, you only go to a maximum of one or two sets extra in order to do your 3 to 5 sets.
Good luck and remember that whatever you can do for two, you can do for one!
For more information on Olympic-style weightlifting, weight training, lifter profiles, and competition reports, visit our Weightlifting Resource Pages.
Jim Schmitz’s gold-medal articles on weightlifting and weight training are regularly featured in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.
Take advantage of what Jim Schmitz, absolutely one of the best American coaches in the sport, can teach you in his Olympic-style Weightlifting for the Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD.