The way that reps, sets, recovery periods, resistance used and lilting speeds are combined will determine the training system that’s used. Think of a training system as a recipe that binds all the training ingredients together.

Weight training systems (weight training techniques) have different outcomes – for example, they may be better suited to developing one or a combination of the different strength types. This means that when specifically chosen and combined in a periodized training plan you’ll have the best opportunity to get the result you want from your training.

Resistance training systems described in this post are used in many training programs available out there. In fact, you’ll not be able to find not even one weight training system that is not described here. It’s therefore a good idea to familiarize yourself with these now. We hope that after digesting this article you’ll be very confident when it comes to designing your own training program and working out what systems and exercises work best for you (and ultimately understand and use ones that are not contained in the program).

Training progression requires consistency and variation. This may sound contradictory – you do need to repeat workouts but at the same time you don’t want to let your mind and muscles get so used to them that they fail to respond and make positive physical changes.

Here are all the resistance training strategies you’ll ever need!

Simple sets (SS)

Description

Combines the same number of reps, e.g. 20 with a designated number of sets. Example: 4 x 20 at 50% 1RM.

Effects

Depends on the reps and percentage of 1 RM used. For example, 4 x 20 reps at 50% of 1RM, with 30 sec between sets, would develop strength endurance, while 4 x 3 reps at 85% 1RM would develop maximum strength.

Comments

Despite their name, simple sets are a very effective way to resistance train – they ore suitable for all levels of fitness.

You can vary the weight lifted, the number of reps and recovery to create different training outcomes.

Drop sets (DS)

Description

This intense method of training begins with a heavy load on the bar (for example, 75% plus 1 RM). As many reps are completed as possible. Weight is then taken off the bar and as many reps as possible are completed again. This process continues for a designated number of sets or until there is no weight left on the bar! This is the essence of drop sets.

Can also be done with dumbbells.

Effects

This system will have a serious anabolic (growth) effect and significantly overload muscles (all fiber types). As such, it is a good option for increasing lean muscle mass and, potentially, size.

Comments

This is an advanced system and should only be used very selectively by the suitably experienced. At least 48 hours’ recovery must be taken after such workouts. Protein should be consumed immediately afterwards to help rebuild muscles.

Supersets (SuS)

Description

Supersets contain pairings of exercises (or more – although these are usually called “Giant sets”, see below). The pairs can target the same muscle/muscle group – for example, the bench press and chest flys for the pectorals. They can also work opposing muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps with biceps curls and triceps curls respectively. There are numerous other types of supersets. However, there is consistency with the way they are performed: one set is performed of one of the exercises in the pair, then the other immediately afterwards. A recovery is then taken between each pair before the next superset is performed.

A type of superset can also be performed with a mix of weight training and plyometric (jumping) exercises that work the same muscle groups – for example, the squat and squat jump. This is also known as “complex training”. Such training is great for boosting sports performance as it targets fast twitch muscle fibers.

Effects

Supersets are great at hitting muscle fiber and stimulating growth, particularly if they target the same muscle group and medium to heavy weights are used.

The pairings can be designed to balance strength development across muscle groups and actions, and build metabolically active lean muscle.

Comments

Suitable for all intermediate and advanced weight trainers.

Complex training will benefit your sport’s performance if you play tennis, football, netball or similar.

Giant sets (GS)

Description

Giant sets are similar to supersets – they involve any number of sets of exercises performed one after the other with recovery between each giant set.

Effects

Giant sets can, for example, focus on a specific body part/area or use exercises that utilize different muscular actions or they can just be a random grouping of exercises.

Comments

An intermediate/advanced option. Due to their intensity, giant sets can be very useful for building lean muscle as they can create a very positive hormonal response. To do this, it is best to use a medium/ medium to heavy weight.

Pyramids (P)

Description

Pyramids can increase or decrease in terms of the percentage of 1RM used on each set – that is, each set can use more or less weight and more or less reps, depending on whether the pyramid is an escalating or descending one.

Effects

Most pyramids enable you to tackle heavier and heavier weights with a staggered approach (the increasing pyramid). For example:
1 x 8 at 75% 1RM
1 x 6 at 85% 1RM
2 x 4 at 90% 1RM

Comments

An intermediate/advanced option.

Split routine (SR)

Description

Specific body parts, such as the legs, chest and shoulders, are exercised in separate workouts over a training period (usually a week). This enables maximum effort to be put into training a specific body part on each day, e.g. legs on Monday, chest on Wednesday, shoulders on Friday, etc.

Effects

Great for those looking for increased muscle size and lean mass development – maximum mental and physical effort can be put into training each body part and the system allows for relatively long periods of muscle-growing recovery between workouts that target the same muscles.

Comments

Suitable for intermediate and advanced trainers and those looking to increase muscle size.

Negative (eccentric) lifts (NL)

Description

These workouts emphasize the lowering (eccentric muscular action) phase of the lift by lowering the weight to a slow 5-10 count. Note: super-maximum weights (100-120% plus of 1RM) achieve the best results. You will need a training partner and/or specifically adapted weight training/Smith machine training equipment to perform these workouts. This is the essence of negative (eccentric) lifts.

Effects

Great for increased size, power and strength. Due to their capacity to target fast twitch muscle fibers, negatives are often used by power athletes (sprinters, footballers) in a training program designed to develop maximum (and useable) strength that will benefit sports performance.

The inclusion of negatives in a training program can have a positive effect on increasing concentric strength.

Comments

Suitable for advanced trainers.

Forced reps (FR)

Description

With the aid of a training partner, you “force” out 1 or 2 additional reps when you would not normally be able to do so at the end of your set/sets. These are commonly referred to as the “growth reps”.

Effects

This training system pushes your muscles into unknown territory, optimizing the conditions for muscle growth.

Comments

Advanced training option that requires considerable mental input. It should be used sparingly. Ensure sufficient recovery after these workouts.

Forced reps are a tough system suited to intermediate and advanced trainers. Suitable for all body types.

Escalating density training (EDT)

Description

A less-used training program – you complete as many reps as you can of an exercise in a set time span – for example, as many press-ups as you can perform in 15min – and then try to beat that during subsequent workouts.

Effects

Local muscular endurance predominately, with high metabolic cost.

Comments

Pace judgement and mental toughness are key. You must select an appropriate weight (where relevant) and perform reps in a distributed way that will enable you to keep going for the time span. Not suited to beginners or those new to resistance training.

German volume training (GVT)

Description

This system uses a specific protocol, usually 10 x 10 reps, with a resistance of around 70% 1RM and very short recoveries – for example, 1min.

Effects

Used by those wanting to increase lean muscle, a result of the high level of muscle-building hormones released as a response to the workout.

Comments

An advanced method, requiring considerable mental effort. This system will likely produce muscular soreness and should be used sparingly in a training program.

Circuit training (CT)

Description

Uses body weight exercises such as sit-ups and squats. High numbers of reps and sets and recoveries are normally short.

Effects

Great for developing local muscular endurance and base condition.

Comments

Great starting point for anyone commencing a resistance/sports or specific resistance training program.

Circuit resistance training (CRT)

Description

Similar to CT, but uses moderate-weight resistance exercises. Could also include suspension trainer and plyometric exercises.

Effects

As above. but will also develop increased power. Mainly targets slow twitch muscle fiber and can improve cardiovascular fitness too.

Comments

As above, good base for a resistance training program.

As many reps as possible (AMRAP)

Description

The idea is simply to complete as many reps as possible of a given exercise (usually using a low to medium weight) in a set period of time.

Effects

Another method primarily for developing muscular endurance.

Comments

Requires mental toughness – suitable for advanced trainers.

Closing thoughts about different weight training systems (strategies)

In little more than a decade, considerable scientific advances have led to a better understanding of the effects of different weight training systems on muscle hypertrophy. However, so far, we have lacked material that would synthesize this information in a clear manner in order to facilitate access of the general public that is passionate about weight training. Not anymore! This article provides information about basic and advanced weight training systems (techniques), exploring the types of execution and analyzing specifically their effects on muscle hypertrophy (and related factors). The objective is to permit more productive use of the different training techniques. Good luck!

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