Athlete performing a heavy back squat with his coach and teammate watching.

Repetitions in Reserve and Hypertrophy 
Written by Fritz Nugent

At Invictus, we spend about half of our time in CrossFit programming focusing on strength. Therefore, it stands to reason that getting more detailed in how you approach strength training can have a massive impact on your performance and results! 

What does Repetitions in Reserve mean?

Have you ever heard of RIR? This is an acronym which stands for Repetitions In Reserve, which refers to the amount of repetitions that you could have completed in your set if you went to mechanical failure. For example, if I have a max of 10 strict pull-ups, and I choose to stop my set on a given day at 6 reps, I’ve left 4 repetitions in reserve.

Why Use Repetitions in Reserve?

Exploring RIR is worthwhile because many years of strength training research points to a consensus of keeping your RIR between 0-5 repetitions for maximizing hypertrophy (muscular size growth).

How do you use Repetitions in Reserve strategy?

At Invictus, implementing this strategy is relatively easy with the way we structure our training. Take a normal day of Performance and Fitness programming. If the Performance track is performing snatches, the Fitness track is most likely performing snatch grip Romanian deadlift, a pull like a single-arm dumbbell row, and perhaps an isometric core movement like a dead bug, Paloff press, or a plank variation. If you are interested in hypertrophy, the fitness track is your best friend today.

If the workout suggests an 8-10 rep range at a tempo of 3011, then steadily work to load your barbell up heavy enough to put you within that 0-5 RIR range. The more time you spend within this range, the more hypertrophy you will stimulate!

How to approach your sets for Repetitions in Reserve strategy

In the Fitness track, you usually only get 2-4 sets of work, so make them worthwhile. If you take the first few sets to build/warm-up to your working weight, then you may only get one good set at the end within that 0-5 RIR range. A better approach here is to spend time warming up to a good working weight that is at the edge of that 0-5 RIR range, and making that your first working set! This provides your body 2-4 full sets of optimal hypertrophy stimulus.

I’m sure you have heard us coaches suggest that if we give you an 8–10 rep range for a task, if you can complete 10 reps of that task at the specified tempo, then you should go up in weight. This is an indirect way to push you towards that 0–5 RIR range. We have been suggesting and pushing you towards that 0-5 RIR range for years, so now you know why it’s important!

Stimulating Hypertrophy through Muscular Failure 

Another suggestion that may help you stimulate hypertrophy is taking medium weight sets of various tasks to muscular failure. This does not mean technique breakdown, but rather pushing your muscles to a place at which you can no longer contract enough to move the weight through your full range of motion at the specified tempo. When you have this information, now you can very easily stay within the hypertrophy range. And the longer you train with Invictus, the more robust your knowledge will become about what tasks you can complete, for how many reps, at what weight, and how the tempo affects all of this.

After many years of consistent training, you’ll be able to approach your training more “by feel”, meaning that on any given day, you can push yourself within that hypertrophy range earlier on in the training session so that you can accumulate more sets of quality volume.

Happy training! Grow those muscles.

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