3 Sets of 10 Repetitions – The What, The When, The How

No doubt you have already tried to begin a weight training program and sought the advice of someone you hoped had a real good idea how to do it.  Most likely you were told to do 3 sets of 10 reps of a basic set of exercises.  30 years ago, this method of programming was the backbone of the traditional resistance program. 


It was actually first created over 60 years ago, back in 1948 by U.S. Army medical doctor’s, Dr. Thomas L. DeLorme and Dr. Arthur L. Watkins. They were the very first guy’s responsible for creating a progressive resistance exercise model. Prior to them, there wasn’t a sound approach to physical training.


Dr. DeLorme & Dr. Watkins created the famous 3 sets of 10 repetitions model that is still so powerful today. Their findings were revolutionary for that time and have more than survived since the 1940’s. 


As time passes and things naturally progress/evolve for the better, so should the progression of fitness innovations. We have all greatly benefited from the Dr’s work, but it is now time to move away from the old and bring in the new. 


You might be surprised, but I receive emails all the time, as early as yesterday, from people who have been led to believe that 3 sets of 10 is the universal workout scheme that should be used for all of their workouts!


Let’s begin with the beginner. In a nut-shell, 3 sets of 10 repetitions will be most effective for the beginner. You see, when you first begin lifting weights, your neurological system will go through a bit of a shock. Lifting weights is a laborious act. Everyone will respond differently, but for the most part, the beginner’s system may trigger alarm throughout the neurological system. Your muscles, bones, connective tissue and overall pain and even pleasure receptors will soon begin sending messages to your brain.


This will trigger a response from your neurological system and so begins the process of adapting to the stress. Sooner or later, your body will recover and you’ll then want to further challenge your system by lifting heavier weights, by lifting for more or less sets and repetitions, by changing up the exercises, the rest between sets, etc. This is the essence of resistance training and it’s what quickly dismisses that universal idea of only performing 3 sets of 10.


As I’ve always said, “The greatest workout is the one you’re not currently on!”. All this means, is that you should consistently challenge your muscles by switching up at least some of your training variables. It could be the exercises, the sequence of exercises, the amount of weight, the number of sets and repetitions, the amount of rest between sets, the tempo AKA speed by which you raise and lower the weight, the amount of time under tension, the duration of each workout and even the frequency of workouts per week.


There’s a whole lot to change up and a whole lot to gain by doing so. Unfortunately, most people decide to do the same ole thing each workout and what happens? They hit a training plateau and see no results, at all. In fact, they may even lose some of the gains that they already made.


So again, 3 sets of 10 is great as you ease your way into a weight training system, as it allows the body to adapt to the new stressors AKA neuromuscular adaptation.   


Let’s take it a step further. For all intents and purposes, you have large and smaller skeletal muscles located throughout your body. The larger muscles like your legs and back will require a higher volume of training compared to a smaller muscle like your biceps. If you were to only use 3 sets of 10, you should recognize how those larger muscles would be in a volume deficit. When you begin thinking along these lines, things really begin to make sense.


So how did 3 sets of 10 manage to survive over these many years? Over the last decade or so, the world of lifting of weights has gone the route of most everything else in North America – look for the shortcut. The industry is surrounded with new-found gimmicks purporting tremendous gains.  An entire industry of self-proclaimed experts now dictates what we should do to achieve that health and fitness goal.


Yet most of these advocates have never amounted to anything more then a rep counter. Further more, when was the last time a certified trainer actually looked at you, listened to your wants, and developed a plan? More likely, he or she pulled a few drills and exercises from a book and implemented them in to your training program.


        Stop looking for shortcuts and begin getting smart about training. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “Work Smarter, Not Harder”. This doesn’t only apply to career. When you switch up those training variables, not only will you challenge your body and avoid hitting a training plateau, but you’ll surely be more motivated and fired up about your workouts. This will lead to your greatest workout results yet!


Keep Going!

James Villepigue CSCS

www.AlphaMaleChallenge.com  Save up to 50% Off on Labrada Nutrition's Online Store

One Response for 3 Sets of 10 Repetitions – The What, The When, The How

  1. Adam K


    September 13, 2009 12:52 pm

    I had followed that general theory for a number of years. Recently, I moved to Lee’s push-pull system (so chest, shoulders, tri’s on day one, and back, bi’s on day 2), but I radically changed my approach by limiting the number of sets — excluding warm-ups, doing 3-4 diff exercises, but only one set excellent form, as heavy as I can do to failure (7-10 reps). My gains in size & strength have now skyrocketed and this told me that I was overtraining for quite some time and this routine gives me the added recovery I needed. I highly recommend this.