Don't believe me? How many people do you see with skinny arms that can bench press 400 lbs and deadlift 500 lbs? My guess is not too many. People that have impressive maximum lifts did not get there by spending a lot of time doing high reps with light weights. Sure you can get bigger without being strong.
There are tons of bodybuilders that are proof of that. However, why would you want to when you can have it all? Is single rep training the ultimate training protocol for getting bigger and stronger? No it is not the holy grail of training. No training system is for everyone.
Nevertheless, when executed properly single rep training is a very effective way to get stronger and bigger. Lets take a look at some different ways in which single rep training has been applied effectively and get into how to incorporate single rep work into your training regimen.
Rest Pause Training
I learned about the benefits of "Rest Pause Training (RPT)" from Mike Mentzer several years ago. Here is how it works. Take your one rep max on an exercise and do several reps with 10-15 second breaks in between each rep. Once you can no longer lift a weight in proper form, reduce the weight by 10% to continue each rep.
Enter the amount of weight you lifted (Lbs/Kg) and the number of reps you completed. Your One Rep Max (1 RM) will appear at the bottom left, and your various percentages of 1 RM will appear on the right side.
Here is what Mike said about his experimentation with RPT, "I increased every single exercise at least 20 pounds per workout until I finally had improved by 66 percent on each one. My size of course, increased also."
As effective as Mentzer's approach to RPT training is, I have found that you have to break into it gradually, especially if you are not used to low rep heavy weight training. Start by taking your three-rep-max on an exercise and do sets of one with one-minute breaks. Once you can do five singles with one-minute breaks, decrease the breaks to forty-five seconds.
Once you can do five singles with the compressed breaks, decrease it again to thirty seconds. Work your way down to fifteen-second breaks. Once you have gotten down to fifteen-second breaks, increase the weight by 5% and start over with one-minute breaks.
By cycling the intensity you will be able to stay with RPT training for longer periods and avoid over-training. Moreover, you will avoid potential injuries by gradually working into RPT training instead of diving into it.
My friend and strength coach Matt Wiggins wrote an excellent book on the benefits of low rep training called "Singles and Doubles: How The Ordinary Become Extraordinary." Matt goes into more detail regarding how he modified RPT training for a variety of sport specific benefits. Learn more about Matt Wiggins here.
If you are trying to blast through a plateau on an exercise such as the deadlift, try doing deadlifts RPT style three times a week. Take a day off in between each workout and do five singles per workouts. If you would like to train the entire body using RPT format, then hit each major muscle group two times per week.
Charles Poliquin refers to "Cluster Training" as one of the most effective methods for increasing strength. He learned about if from Carl Miller's weightlifting textbook. It is basically a higher volume version of RPT training. Here is how it works.
Select a weight that is 90% of your 1RM and do five singles with 10-15 second breaks between each rep. Upon completion of the five singles, rest for three to five minutes and then do a another five singles in the same fashion. Repeat for three more sets for a total of five sets.
This is a brutal form of RPT that cannot be done frequently. Many athletes will need to take a minimum of two days off between each workout and most will probably not be able to do this regimen more than once every five days. I recommend that you try the RPT protocol outlined above before giving cluster training a shot. I also recommend that you break into "Cluster Training" gradually.
Start with your three-rep max and take one-minute breaks in between each set. Once you can do five sets of five rest pause reps with one-minute breaks, decrease the rest periods to 45 seconds. Gradually work your way down to 15 seconds and then increase the weight by 5%. For more information on Charles Poliquin, click here.
The "Dinosaur Training" Approach To Singles
One of my favorite strength-training writers is Brooks Kubik. Brooks acquired a vast amount of knowledge regarding training in the school of "hard knocks." In other words, he read a great deal, experimented with a lot of programs, talked to a lot of other lifters, and discovered what worked best for him. This is something that all trainees should apply.
Here is what Brooks said about heavy single rep training, "... heavy singles made me bigger and stronger than any other combination of sets and reps I ever tried. I know that they allowed my good friend Greg Pickett, to push his upper arms to 18" of rock-hard muscle at a height of 5"6."
Go over to www.brookskubik.com and take a look at Brooks' photos. The guy is a super strong natural lifter that does not take any supplements.
Here is how Brooks recommends that you implement heavy single rep training. Start each lift with a light single rep and progressively add weight to each successive set. Do five total sets in which the first three are basically warm up sets. The forth set should be difficult and the fifth set should be extremely difficult. In other words, the final rep should be a maximum lift.
Brooks cautions trainees that they need to break into heavy single rep work gradually. He recommends doing a 5 x 5 (five sets of five protocol for three months and then a 5/4/3/2/1 protocol for three months before doing multiple sets of heavy singles.
Here is how I recommend that you apply Brooks' single rep protocol. Do five singles in a progressive manner and instead of doing a max lift on the last set, take your three-rep max and do one rep. The following week, take your two-rep max and do one rep, and on the third week go for your one rep max. For the next three weeks, keep pushing for a new one-rep max and then cycle back down and work your way up to a new maximum rep again.
The Rock Iron Steel Approach To Singles
Steve Justa, author of "Rock Iron Steel: The Book Of Strength" has a great approach to single rep training. Similar to Brooks Kubik, Steve accumulated his vast amount of strength training knowledge from his own experience and other people's experience.
Incidentally, this is how most successful people acquire knowledge. Steve's feats of strength are amazing and I recommend highly that you pick up his excellent book. You will be inspired to say the least.
Regarding single rep work, here is how Steve recommends that you break into it. Take your 70% max on an exercise and lift everyday. That's right seven days a week my friend. Take one-minute breaks in between each set. On the first day, do three reps.
On day two, do five reps, on day three, do seven reps and so forth. Keep adding two reps each day until you finish off with fifteen reps on day seven. In week two start the entire cycle again with five to ten additional pounds of resistance.
Steve recommends that you test your one rep max once a month and stay in the 70% range. If you cannot or simply do not want to lift every day, Steve recommends doing thirty singles at 70% of your one rep max every other day. Increase the weight by five pounds after every workout that you complete thirty reps at. Test your max every two weeks and stay in the 70% range.
I think Steve's approach is great but again I would change a few things. Instead of doing single reps everyday, I would do single reps five days a week. Increase the amount of singles by one rep, instead of two reps at each workout. Thus, on day one do three single, on day two do four, and on day three do five.
By day five you will be doing seven reps. Take the weekend off and then start with eight singles on Monday. Work up to twelve singles by that Friday. At that point, increase the weight by five pounds and start over again the following Monday at three reps.
If you want to do multiple exercises per workout such as the three power lifts, Steve recommends that you do four singles for each exercise every day or a whopping twenty-five singles for each exercise every other day. Again stay at 70% of your one-rep max.
For everyday workouts, I think four singles per exercise is fine. However, I recommend that you take two days off for every five for a mental break. Regarding every other day workouts, I think that twenty-five reps are way too much to start off with.
Start with ten singles per exercise and add five singles every week until you work up to twenty-five single reps over the course of several weeks. At that point test drive your one rep max and start with ten single reps again with 70% of your new one-rep max.
Well, there you have it! Four very effective protocols for applying single rep training. At this point you are probably wondering which one you should go with. For the answer, please send me a check for $39.95. Just kidding. I think that Steve Justa's approach is the best one to start off with. By using only 70% of your one rep max you can hit the weights more frequently and apply a high level of volume.
I like the fact that Steve's approach treats each workout as a practice rather than an all out effort. I think that RPT done Mike Mentzer style is also effective, but it is to easy to burnout on his protocol. Thus, I would not recommend it for an introduction to single rep work. However, I do think that it is a program that experienced lifters should try for 4-6 weeks at some point in their training regimens.
The "cluster training" protocol is even more brutal than RPT, so hold off on that one until you have several months of experience with heavy singles. I like Brooks' Kubik's program as well, but I would use that as a primer for your one rep max.
In other words, do Steve Justa's protocol for several months. Then switch to Brooks' protocol and follow it in the manner that I outlined in this article. Once you have applied Brooks' program for several weeks, switch back to Steve's program.
Regardless, of which single rep program that you go with, focus on compound exercises. Design your program around exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck. Cut out all isolation work or at least minimize it.
Rather than give you some sample programs, I prefer that you come up with your own programs based on the information in this article, your training knowledge, and your personal goals. I will be happy to review your programs at no charge and provide some feedback. Just email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The Author
Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. For more information on Mike click here.