I originally sent this question to Brian himself but he insisted I ask it on here to see what everyone else thinks.
I am going to be building an RPE based program and just had a question in regards to the Sets/Reps and how they correlate to the designated RPEs for that workout. I know this is very very late in the game on asking this but Brian had said that I added something that wasn’t typical of this question. For example, when it says 5×5@7RPE, would that mean in 5 working sets, build up to an RPE7 or would that mean an RPE 7 for 5 sets of 5 reps? I feel like if it was just working up to an RPE 7 that the lifter would possibly be missing out on valuable volume to build up not only strength but work capacity as well. Or with the accessory movements and programming in back down sets, would that in turn build up the volume for the athlete? I hope that isn’t worded in a confusing way. haha
So, your question is essentially – how much volume is the right amount?
Well, my answer will and always will be start with the minimum (1 top set), see how you respond and increase from there. I wrote about this in my article – Training Algebra. Taper up and find the right amount of volume that works for you and your recovery abilities.
That being said, just because it is one top set at RPE 7, doesn’t mean the other 4 sets are useless and wasted reps. On a normal day, a set of 5 at RPE 7 would be around 70-75% of 1RM. If you start your working sets around 60% and make small incremental jumps of around 2.5%, at the end of your top set you will have done 25 reps within the 60-70% rep range. This is directly in line with prelpin’s chart, which is a research based prescription for volume calculations. The off-season is a time for technique refinement and building weak points. That type of work does not warrant a ton of heavy work.
That is the long answer. The short answer is that “it depends” on you, your previous training, strength levels, fitness/ conditioning levels, and goals for that particular off-season.
Here is a great question that I wanted to have a few of use take turns giving some thoughts. “I feel like if it was just working up to an RPE 7 that the lifter would possibly be missing out on valuable volume to build up not only strength but work capacity as well.”
The lifter in particular could possibly stand to benefit from more sets but just as likely stand to gain nothing, or regress. There are far too many variables to initially and blindly prescribe on the higher end of volume, which when compared to lower end of volume, high volume is much more likely to injury you and fatigue/regress. I’m not saying you don’t want to do this ever but one thing at a time. establish a baseline.
The key is to do as little as possible to get the most progress – be efficient. If 1 works and you’re progressing, why would you need 5. When it no longer works, then reevaluate.
Like everything else in the book, this component of suggested offseason is a part of a philosophy and not a template by any means. I state this over and over in the book. 10/20/life is not a set of rules, but more a set of guidelines to navigate your programming.
I’ve always worked up to a to a top set of X RPE. If you hit RPE 7 on your first set and you have five more, you’ll be well past RPE 7 by the time you get done. Just like Paul said, make incremental changes, add 5lbs to each side each set, that means you won’t be very far from your ending weight when you start anyways. Those sets are for priming the CNS and working form and feeling your muscles. A 5×5 on bench should still give you a pretty sweet pump (in bodybuilder terms) and you should walk away feeling pretty swole and like you got some work in.
Keep in mind you don’t have to swing for the outfield every workout. The moderate days are just as important as the heavy days, and whenever you’re getting under the bar, you’re getting better.