When you walk into a gym, or when you begin lifting for the first time, the most common training method you see or use is the Repetition Method (also known as the Repeated Effort method). You may not recognize it by name, but it’s so common, it’s what comes to mind for most people when they think of lifting.
What is the Repetition Method? The Repetition Method is repeating a lift or exercise for many reps in order to induce a hypertrophic response in the muscle. By performing an exercise for reps to failure or near-failure, the lifter builds new muscle. The Repetition Method is used along with the Dynamic Effort and Max Effort method by powerlifters.
But just because you’ve heard of it or seen it done commonly doesn’t mean you are doing right or getting the most out of your repetition work. Here’s our full breakdown of the Repetition method and why you should give it better attention.
Important Note: The Repetition Effort Method is used as part of a whole training system, which includes the Dynamic Effort Method and Max Effort Method. I’ve written separate articles for each of these concepts, which I encourage you to read. You must understand all of them if you’re going to understand how they all fit together into a well-designed training program.
How Is The Repetition Effort Used In Training?
The Repetition Method, aka the Repeated Effort Method (RE), is used to build new muscle and improve muscle endurance. But just because its purpose is clear and simple doesn’t mean it’s less important than your Dynamic Effort (DE) or Max Effort work (ME).
While your DE and ME work trains the muscle you already have to be stronger and move faster, properly incorporating RE work will keep you building new muscle so that week after week, month after month, you have more muscle to train to get stronger.
Your DE and ME sets do not typically provide enough volume (reps x load) to trigger muscle growth, so RE work fills that gap and lets us add in the volume work we need.
The part that many lifters misunderstand is when to incorporate the RE work into their program. When talking about block periodization, or phases of training, there is certainly a time at the beginning of a training block that makes sense to dedicate to higher reps and hypertrophy to build more muscle. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only time for hypertrophy and RE work.
A second mistake is thinking that RE work must be its own workout. While that is certainly a viable option, RE work can be included in your ME and DE days, or broken off on its own.
Repeated Effort work should (almost) always be incorporated into a balanced powerlifter’s program. As you’ll see in our example program below, the RE work is added to each workout after the ME and DE work, and as its own workout.
Really, the only time to remove it significantly is while tapering for a max out or competition when it’s best to focus your time and energy on heavy attempts.
On the flip side, if a lifter only focuses on RE work and doesn’t properly include DE or ME work, they won’t reach the strength outcomes they have in mind as their muscle growth stagnates.
Read my article on Do Powerlifters Do High Reps to understand more of the benefits of higher rep training for strength athletes.
5 Benefits Of The Repetition Effort Method
Here are the five biggest benefits of the Repetition Effort Method:
- It builds new muscle
- It increases endurance
- It adds variety
- It burns calories
- It Aaddress weakness
1. Builds new muscle
The Repetitive Effort method builds new muscle.
For powerlifters focused on lifting as much weight as you can, having as much muscle to call upon to move that weight is paramount.
By properly including RE work into your program (along with eating enough calories every day), you can keep your body building new muscle all the time as you progress your strength training.
If you’re a bodybuilder and want to switch to powerlifting, read my article on How To Switch From Bodybuilding To Powerlifting (9 Steps).
2. Increases endurance
The Repetitive Effort method trains a lifter to build greater muscle endurance.
The big 3 powerlifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) are fun, but they only last a few seconds at a time, and speed reps with DE are even shorter (of course).
RE work is a great opportunity to keep your muscles under load without killing your CNS and without risking injury the way you would by trying to do it with a heavy load.
By performing an exercise over and over again in a set of reps, you can keep that muscle under tension, as well as train your mind to keep pushing through the acute muscle pain, or “the pump” that comes from performing reps.
A lifter with greater endurance (both muscular and mental) will be able to train more effectively, and a lifter who can train more effectively will compete more effectively.
3. Adds variety
The RE method keeps things fresh for your program.
While the world of powerlifting can get a little mundane revolving around just three lifts, the RE method allows lifters to keep working toward their goals in a different way.
If you’re feeling like you’re getting burned out from all the work with your squat, bench press, or deadlift, you can always throw in more RE work to change things up without taking a break from training entirely.
Read my article on Do Powerlifters Do Isolation Exercises?
4. Burns calories
Rep work is a great way to keep exercising in a format you enjoy while burning extra calories to work toward your weight loss goals.
If you’re a lifter like me, you don’t get any satisfaction out of cardio (like running). But when we are cutting weight for a meet or just trying to slim down, it’s important to add an extra activity or reduce our caloric intake to make that happen.
The stimulus you send your muscles from lifting tells your body to hang on to the muscle mass, while the effort of doing so burns calories you don’t want hanging around. It’s a win-win.
A lot of lifters getting into powerlifting are concerned they will get fat. Read my article Will Powerlifting Get You Fat on why that’s not the case
5. Address weakness
The RE method allows lifters to focus on weak muscles that are holding their big lifts back.
Think about a bench press that fails at the top. Your pecs and shoulders are strong and do a great job getting the bar off your chest and almost all the way up to the rack, but your triceps just aren’t strong enough to lock it out.
Instead of killing yourself with a bunch of bench press reps (or doing so anyway and running out of energy), RE work allows you to hop over on a cable machine and perform rope pull-downs, or pick up a dumbbell and perform tricep kickbacks (Check out: 16 Tricep Exercises To Increase Your Bench Press Strength).
You can keep working the muscle that needs attention and growth so that it’s more capable over the next few weeks and months as you keep training your bench press.
The same goes for any muscle or muscle group that shows it needs a little more love for your compound lifts to reach the next level.
3 Cons Of The Repetition Effort Method
The 3 cons of the Repetition Effort Method are:
- Limited Strength Results
- Technique Mistakes
- Rep Range/Load Mistakes
1. Limited Strength Results
The RE method will only provide limited results to your strength.
This is the most common mistake of lifters trying to get strong – they rely on the RE method only.
Day after day, week after week, they show up in the gym and perform 10 reps of each lift for a few sets. Maybe they change it up and do sets of 5 or 12 and see some results at first. But eventually, this method will reach a limit in how much strength it will produce for a lifter.
If you only focus on the RE method, or focus on it too much, you won’t see the strength gains that many powerlifters are training for.
If size and appearance is all you care about. RE work will be the bulk of your training, as it is with bodybuilders.
If strength is your goal, it must be incorporated with Maximal Effort and Dynamic Effort work.
2. Technique Mistakes
If your technique is bad, the RE method will reinforce bad technique.
This can go for the way you are performing the movement, as well as your tempos.
If you are carelessly flailing the weights around, you won’t see any of the benefits of the RE method. If your range of motion lacks and you aren’t getting full stretch or full contraction from your muscles, you won’t make much progress.
Keep your technique sharp if you want the positive outcomes of the RE method.
3. Rep Range/Load Mistakes
Selecting the wrong rep ranges or load will limit your results with the RE method.
There is nothing magical about a rep range if it isn’t triggering a stimulus in your muscles.
What I mean by that is just because your favorite fitness personality looks great and swears by bicep curls or hip thrusts for 4 sets of 10, doesn’t mean it will work for you if you do the same number of reps of you do it with a weight that is way below what you should be doing to get the stimulus.
If you aren’t balancing the right load for the rep range, you won’t get the gains. Your muscles respond to the amount of fatigue and stress they are put under, not to the magical number of reps.
Push yourself and make sure those reps are somewhat hard to complete to get the outcomes you are looking for.
6 Tips To Using The Repetition Effort Method
With everything we’ve shared about the RE method so far, I want to highlight a few of the most important tips I can to make sure your RE work is a success.
Here are my top six recommendations when using the Repetition Effort Method:
- Don’t neglect it
- Lift selection/Carryover effect
- Incorporate It Regularly
- Act like a Bodybuilder
- Scale your Volume
- Be Cognitive
1. Don’t Neglect It
Treat your RE work with the same focus and respect as your ME and DE work.
Although your absolute strength is truly developed by your DE and ME work, the lifter who skips or neglects their RE work suffers the most.
We can’t say enough how important it is to a lifter’s ongoing development to keep working the small muscles, keep addressing the specific areas of weakness, to keep pushing your muscles to acclimate to new stress. The RE work in your program is designed to accomplish all of this.
It’s easy to get tired after your top sets or feel like these reps don’t matter. Don’t fall into that trap.
2. Lift Selection/Carryover Effect
Pick RE exercises that build your squat, bench press, and deadlift.
There are tons and tons of exercises you can do for reps, but as a powerlifter, your focus should be on exercises that eventually make your big three lifts stronger.
A good way to select exercises is to look at the ranges of motion where you’re the weakest in the powerlifting movements, and then train those muscles directly using isolation work.
Whatever you choose, be smart about what exercises you choose to do for RE work and know why it’s important to your program to do it.
I wrote another article on the 10 Special Exercises To Increase Your Powerlifting Movements. Check it out for more ideas.
3. Incorporate It Regularly
You should always do some elements of RE work, even if it’s not a main priority in the training cycle.
Yes, there are periods of your training block where hypertrophy is way more prominent, and there are periods right before maxing out where you’ll do almost none of it. However, RE work should be done 95% of the time throughout your training seasons.
Keep it consistent and you’ll get the best results.
4. Act Like A Bodybuilder
Treat your RE work like it’s the most important part of your program, just like bodybuilders do.
For example, if you’re working on a small muscle, keep your form immaculate so that you don’t start breaking form and recruiting other muscles into the movement and take away from training the target muscle.
Introduce time under tension (TUT) reps, supersets, and burnouts. Learn from what those guys do to get the most out of your RE work.
5. Scale Your Volume
Adjust your volume with the stage of your program.
While we established you should almost always have RE work, pay attention to when and why you are adjusting it.
During the start of a training block, when you are fully focused on hypertrophy, throw in a few extra exercises and a few extra sets, since that’s your emphasis at the moment.
When you are close to maxing out or competing, maybe only have one or two exercises with RE work at a very light load just to cool down after your top sets and cut the rest. There’s no need to waste the energy when you’re that close to testing your max or competing.
However you adjust it, know the reason you are adjusting it and do it with purpose.
6. Be Cognitive
Above all, think about why you are doing the RE work and act with intent.
There’s little benefit to doing anything if you don’t know why you are doing it.
So when you decide you want to add more bicep curls to your program, ask yourself why, decide if it’s a logical reason, then act accordingly.
The next time you want to reduce the number of exercises you do with RE work, ask yourself why, decide if it makes sense for your goals, and act accordingly.
The lifter that acts with intent and knows why they do what they do will go far.
Should Powerlifters Use The Repetition Effort Method?
Yes, powerlifters should absolutely incorporate RE work into their program. It’s probably already part of your program if you’re training in any kind of strength program!
There’s a reason RE work is so common and a starting point for just about everyone who starts lifting weights – it’s the foundation of strength.
Once you build that foundation and can progress to building strength in those muscles and improving your force output, it’s important to keep that foundation growing to sustain all that strength we are pushing for with the DE and ME work.
Just because it’s the starting point doesn’t mean it’s not worth continuing after you’re up and running in your strength career.
The Repetition Effort Method goes well with many training splits, including a 6-day powerlifting split. You can learn more about training 6 days per week in my other article.
Program Example: Repetition Effort Method
Here are three examples of how Repeated Effort work is incorporated into a program. The first example is RE work in an ME workout, the second is RE work in a DE workout, and the third is a workout dedicated to RE work. The exercises incorporating the RE method are highlighted.
Workout #1: Repetition Method On A Max Effort Day
- Warm Up
- Block Pull Deadlift – 5 sets of 1 rep at 90% of 1RM, off 3” blocks.
- Good Mornings – 3 sets of 3-5 at 85% of 1RM
- Bent over barbell rows – 3 sets of 5
- Seated Cable Rows – 4×10
- Single Arm DB Row – 4×10
Only the last three exercises are considered the Repetition Method.
Workout #2: Repetition Method On A Dynamic Effort Day
- Warm up
- Squat with chains – 10 sets of 2 reps @ 60% plus 15% in chains
- Deadlift against bands – 10 sets of 1 reps @ 60% plus mini bands
- Box Jumps – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Leg Press – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Seated Leg Extension – 4 sets of 10 reps
Only the last three exercises are considered the Repetition Method.
Workout #3: Dedicated Repetition Method Day
- Barbell Curls – 4 sets of 10 reps
- DB Hammer Curl – 4 sets of 12 reps
- Negative Tempo DB Curl – 3 sets of 6 reps, 5-second negative tempo
- Barbell Upright Rows -4 sets of 10
- Seated DB Military Press – 4 sets of 10
- Seated DB Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 6, 5-second negative tempo
- Skull Crushers – 4 sets of 12
- Rope Pull Down – 4 sets of 12
All of these exercises are considered the Repetition Method.
The Repetition Method or Repeated Effort method may be the simplest of the three main training methods to understand, but it’s also the most foundational, and the most constant to a strength program.
While the Max Effort and Dynamic Effort elements are only incorporated into a program a few times a week, Repeated Effort work is almost always a part of every single workout for the strength athlete.
While its application is simple, and the principles behind it are not complicated, its impact on a lifter’s progress is always felt.
Blending these three training methods will allow strength athletes to reach their potential, by training in differing ways to address different needs, while also allowing the body to recover from the more demanding workouts.
Effectively including RE work in your program will never cease to contribute to your progress as a lifter.