Dependent on the training goal, there may be a time and place for high-repetition resistance training within an individual’s programme. However, far too often I observe trainees attempting to perform ‘forced’ repetitions with improper technique due to excessive fatigue. Most likely this is due to wanting to ‘feel the burn’ or get an ‘extra pump’ when striving for muscle hypertrophy goals (i.e. muscle building), but at what cost? As soon as technique breaks down, the risk of injury is heightened, which has the potential to be extremely damaging in free weight exercises such as a back squat or deadlift. Our team of Accredited Exercise Physiologists are often visited by individuals who have injured themselves from such training and this is the advice we offer…
Focus on quality over quantity!
Rather than grinding out poor ‘forced’ repetitions towards the end of set, recover sufficiently and perform several lower-repetition sets with solid technique. Not only is this a safer option, but your pursuit of hypertrophy is neither hampered. Without getting too scientific, there are several mechanisms underpinning muscle hypertrophy, including mechanical loading, muscle damage and metabolic stress. Specifically, mechanical stress is believed to be the key driver, and in contrast to a traditional bodybuilding approach where sets are performed until failure, there has been growing interest in the use of cluster sets for optimising mechanical loading.
Briefly, cluster sets describe the inclusion of intra-set rest to promote recovery, thereby allowing greater loads to be lifted and more total work (i.e. mechanical loading) to be performed than traditional high-repetition sets. For example, Figure 1 (A) displays a traditional structure of 3 sets x 12 repetitions, and (B) a cluster set structure whereby every 4th repetition is followed by 30 seconds of rest within a set 1. Therefore, if you feel you could benefit from paying more attention to the quality of your resistance training, then consider exploring the potential of cluster sets in your workouts for an alternate pathway to achieving growth and strength!
Dr Jenny Conlon (BSc, MSc, PhD Sports Science)
1 Tufano JJ, Conlon JA, Nimphius S, Brown LE, Seitz LB, Williamson BD, and Haff GG. Maintenance of Velocity and Power With Cluster Sets During High-Volume Back Squats. International journal of sports physiology and performance 11: 885-892, 2016.