There are numerous ways that you can combine the weight you lift (the ‘load’ – usually expressed as a percentage of one rep maximum i.e. the maximum you could lift only once on an exercise), with the number of sets and repetitions to produce a weight training system.
Most of you will be familiar with simple sets, for example, 3 x 10 reps on an exercise and pyramids – increasing or decreasing repetition sets, combined with increasing or decreasing load sets – so we’ve outlined some of the more advanced weight training systems.
System 1 – German Volume Training (GVT)
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Popularised by the renowned strength training expert Charles Poliquin, but actually an old system used in the ‘60s by European Olympic weight lifters, GVT is designed to increase muscle mass. Simply take 60% of your one repetition maximum (1RM) and perform 10 repetitions.Rest exactly 60 seconds and repeat for 9 more sets.
Yep – 10 sets of 10 reps using 60% of your 1RM resting 60 seconds between sets. Sounds simple but as is often the way this simplicity disguises a deceptively hard workout. GVT is best performed using straight-forward compound (multi-muscle) exercises, such as the squat and the bench press.
System 2 – Drop sets
When you reach the end of a set chances are that although you are fatigued, your muscles will still be able to push out some more reps, at a lighter load than you are using. Drop sets allow you to extend your sets beyond the point of failure by reducing the load as you fatigue.
Here’s what to do:
8 reps with 20kg (can’t manage 9th rep) Reduce weight
6 reps with 17.5kg (can’t manage 7th rep) Reduce weight
5 reps with 15kg (can’t manage 6th rep) Finish
The drop in weight should be done quickly so that you don’t get too much chance to rest.
System 3 – Super-sets
Super-sets involve pairing exercises together – they save you workout time and increase the intensity of your workouts. There are a variety of super-set methods you can choose from:
Agonist super-sets – pairing two exercises that work the same (agonist) muscles, for example, bench press and press-ups, which both work the chest, shoulders and triceps.
Antagonist super-sets – pairing two exercises that work opposing joint (antagonist) muscles, for example, leg extensions and leg curls.
Non-competing super-sets – pairing exercises for dissimilar muscle groups, for example, biceps curl and calf raises.
Pre-exhaust super-sets – preceding a compound (multi-muscle) exercise with an isolation (single muscle) exercise for the same muscle group, for example, dumbbell flyes and chest press
Post-exhaust super-sets – preceding an isolation exercise with a compound exercise for the same muscle group, for example, squats followed by leg extensions.
With all super-sets, you should only rest on completion of the second exercise, keeping transitions as fast as possible, otherwise you’ll lose the benefits of pairing exercises together – see page 51 for our ‘3 way split super-sets workout’.
System 4 – The Matrix System
Sometimes called ‘21s’ and commonly performed for biceps curls, the Matrix system has been around for over 30 years. To perform a Matrix set, you divide your repetition movement into halves. You then perform the ‘outer half’ of the movement for 7 reps, the ‘inner half’ of the movement for 7 reps and then 7 reps using full range of movement to total 21 reps, hence the name 21s.
For example, using barbell biceps curls:
*7 reps from full extension to 90-degrees of elbow flexion (lower arms parallel to the floor)
*7 reps from 90-degrees of elbow flexion to full flexion (from lower arms parallel to the floor to bar by shoulders)
*7 full reps
System 5 – Escalating Density Training (EDT)
“During your PR zone you alternate between two exercises and the aim is to complete as many reps as possible in the allotted time”
EDT, popularised by Charles Staley in the U.S, is an effective and time efficient training system that requires you to divide your workouts into time blocks – called ‘Personal Record’ or PR zones, instead of using regular sets and reps. The time frames are up to you, but the standard is between 10 and 20 minutes.
During your PR zone you alternate between two exercises and the aim is to complete as many reps as possible in the allotted time. Rest when you need to and perform as many reps as you wish, although you should avoid hitting muscular failure too early in the workout – this will mean that you will really struggle to compete a meaningful number of repetitions and sets. The only caveat is that you strive to do more reps from one workout to the next by way of progression.
Example EDT workout
1st 15 minute PR Zone
Press-ups and Pull-ups
2nd 15 minute PR Zone
Leg extensions and Leg curls
3rd 15 minute PR Zone
Biceps curls and Triceps push downs