‘Reps in Reserve’ Strategy 
Written by TJ O’Brien

Percentage work can be great for more seasoned athletes, those who have an established 1 rep max (1RM), and for athletes with max lift goals. For newer athletes who might not yet have established a 1RM, haven’t the need to establish one, and for those athletes who are less comfortable with percentage work or see it as slightly intimidating, try using this “Reps in Reserve” strategy to judge how much weight to add instead. 

What Does ‘Reps in Reserve’ Mean?

Reps in reserve is a way to measure how many more reps of a movement you perceive you could have done in a given set. 

How to Use the ‘Reps in Reserve’ Strategy

Reps in Reserve (RIR) is a strategy you can use in your workouts if percentages are prescribed and you don’t have a good number to work from. Or, if you’d prefer to approach your workout by feel rather than strictly as the percentages prescribed. 

At the end of your first working set, ask yourself how many more you think you could have done. If the answer is more than 2-3 then add more weight! 

A Caveat to Consider…

I have heard this caveat regarding RIR, but did a quick google search to confirm: studies have shown that lifters are not very good at predicting their max reps.

According to the abstract, you do get better over time, but just a consideration if you’re a novice and trying this method. Programs centered around using RIR as gauge usually test or retest max reps so can occasionally check in with what’s possible. 

How to Tell When You’re Close to Your Max Number of Reps

One way you can tell you’re getting close to the end of the set is to feel for an involuntary slow in speed. As in, “I’m trying with full effort to move this barbell or dumbbell as fast as my first rep, but I’m involuntarily slowing down.” If this never occurs in your strength sets, you’re probably not very close to your max. 

Be sure to get in a good warm-up first before starting your ‘working sets’. This will help you prepare by stimulating joint lubrication, greasing the groove of the movement pattern, and to increase blood flow. 

And, remember that jumps in weight don’t have to be huge and should be based on your level, the lift you are doing, and the intent of your programming for the day. So if you’re unsure of how much to put on your bar, try out the RIR strategy for your next session!

Invictus Strength Program

It’s now time to start building towards your strength goals. The Invictus Strength Program will get you where you need to be! Spend dedicated time on building your base lifts – the squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift.

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