Posted by Derek Charlebois on

Muscle hypertrophy and increased strength are adaptations to overload beyond what the body is accustomed to with weight training serving as the stimulus. If the training stimulus never increases and you simply do what your body is accustomed to, there is no reason for your muscles to get bigger or stronger. This is the principle of progressive overload.

Principle of Progressive Overload = lifting heavier weights and/or completing more reps with a given weight over time.

I believe that getting stronger in all rep ranges is the best way to stimulate long-term progress and should be the focal point of all strength-training programs.

Research shows that all rep ranges (up to 20-30 reps) can stimulate hypertrophy. When volume (sets*reps*weight) is equal, training with low reps (1-6 reps) stimulates the same amount of hypertrophy as high reps (6-12 reps). Higher reps allow you to accumulate volume more efficiently than lower reps and are less stressful on your joints/connective tissue. But when it comes to gaining strength, training with lower rep ranges leads to greater strength gains than training with higher rep ranges. The combination of low-rep, “strength-focused” training and higher-rep, “hypertrophy-focused” training optimizes the training stimulus for both gaining muscle and strength.

With this in mind, I have created THE PR-BUILDING PROGRAM!

Repetitions in Reserve (RIR)

RIR = the number of repetitions shy of failure.

  • 0 = 0 repetitions shy of failure; concentric failure hit.
  • 1 = 1 repetition shy of failure; could complete 1 more repetition.
  • 2 = 2 repetitions shy of failure; could complete 2 more repetitions.

Key Notes

  • The RIR listed is for your first work set.
  • The goal is to use the same weight for all of the sets listed.
  • Only the last set is taken to failure
  • Failure = cannot complete another rep on your own


If an exercise is to be performed for 3 sets of 12 reps with a RIR of 2, for your first working set, you should use a weight that allows you to complete 12 reps with 2 reps left in the tank (2 reps shy of failure). Theoretically, this would lead to failure being hit on rep 12 of the third set (that may or may not always be the case). In order to maximize performance (i.e. the number of reps you can complete of all the sets), we are only trying to take the LAST set for each exercise to failure. Therefore, if you can perform more than the target number of reps on your final set, you can complete more reps to take that set to failure.

Continuing with the above example, if you complete 12 reps in set 1 and could have completed more than 2 more reps, the weight was too light, and the set does not count towards your work sets. You should increase the weight. If you complete 12 reps and the set was taken to failure, the set does indeed count towards your work sets, but you should decrease the weight for the next set to ensure you can complete 12 reps.

Note if you estimate your RIR incorrectly and complete more/less than your target reps on a specific set, that isn’t too big of a deal. An example would be if you completed 12 reps in set #1 and thought you could have completed 2 more reps but on set #2 you were only able complete 10 reps with the same weight. You are still training intensely so all is good. The target reps and RIR are there to give you structure and progression, but don’t stress on hitting these parameters PERFECTLY.


Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) 

RPE is similar to RIR but based more on how you FEEL than the actual number of repetitions you can perform. RPE is a rating system based on the subjective measure of your strength/performance at a given time (i.e. specific set/workout). You decide how hard a set feels and assign it a rating on a scale of 1-10; the higher the number, the higher the perceived exertion. Using the RPE scale allows you to auto-regulate your training intensity (weight lifted) based on your immediate performance.



  • 10 = AN ALL-OUT MAX ATTEMPT! Could not lift any heavier and could not complete any more reps.
  • 9.5 = Close to an all-out max attempt/set but could probably lift a little heavier.
  • 9 = Close to an all-out max attempt/set but could lift a little heavier and/or complete another rep.
  • 8 = a relatively challenging weight/set but could definitely lift heavier and/or complete more reps with the weight.
  • 7 = sufficiently heavy, but not overly challenging.


Workout Structure 

Each workout begins with a “strength-focus” exercise. These four exercises will utilize lower reps to stimulate strength gains (while still contributing to muscle hypertrophy). The load (weight lifted) for these exercises will be determined by RPE. After warming up, your first work set is 6 reps (for week 1) at 7 RPE. You will then increase the weight for the second set, aiming for an 8 RPE. For the third set, you will increase the weight again, aiming for a 9 RPE.


Example for Bench Press:


Bar X 10

95 X 8

135 X 6

185 X 4


(Work Sets)

Set 1 @ 7 RPE = 225 X 6

Set 2 @ 8 RPE = 245 X 6

Set 3 @ 9 RPE = 265 X 6


After completing the “strength-focus” exercise, you will move on to the higher rep, “hypertrophy-focus” exercises which utilize RIR. The goal is these exercises is to accumulate training volume. You should aim to use the same weight for all 3 sets.


Example for Pendlay Row:

Bar X 10

95 X 8

135 X 6


(Work Sets)

Set 1 = 185 X 12 (2 reps shy of failure)

Set 2 = 185 X 12 (1 rep shy of failure)

Set 3 = 185 X 12 (failure hit on 12 rep)


Rest Periods: rest as long as needed until you feel ready to performance the next set. Our goal is to maximize performance.  


Weekly Schedule

Monday: Upper Body (Bench Press Focus)

Tuesday: OFF

Wednesday: Lower Body (Deadlift Focus)

Thursday: OFF

Friday: Upper Body (Vertical Press Focus)

Saturday: Lower Body (Squat Focus)

Sunday: OFF

***Training Tues/Thurs/Sat/Sun would work just as well.


The deadlift workout is typically the most taxing of the 4 workouts. Scheduling a rest day before and after the deadlift workout decreases the chance of your performance suffering due to fatigue or soreness.


Repeating the Program

This program can be repeated as many times as desired. When repeating the program, your goal is to lift 5-10 lbs heavier than you did the previous time. For example, if you were able to hit the following on bench press during week 1:

Set 1 @ 7 RPE = 225 X 6

Set 2 @ 8 RPE = 245 X 6

Set 3 @ 9 RPE = 265 X 6


Your goal for week 1 (round 2) could be:

Set 1 @ 7 RPE = 235 X 6

Set 2 @ 8 RPE = 255 X 6

Set 3 @ 9 RPE = 275 X 6


Apply this concept to all exercises where possible. Consistent, gradual increases in weight lifted and reps completed leads to long-term progress and gains.

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