Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Training intensity is simply one of the biggest indicators in fitness of how quickly you will see changes to your physique. It is defined as the amount of effort you are putting in to the given exercise that you are doing.
When I first started my strength training journey several years ago, I would just look up a program online and follow what was written on the paper. These programs are good in the sense that they give you a high level outline of how to structure your workouts, but they always leave something missing. How much weight should I use, and even deeper should every set be to failure, or should I leave something in the tank so I can safely and efficiently finish the rest of the workout.
I started to do my research on those questions and found a method called RIR that has definitively worked for me and my clients. This Reps In Reserve (RIR) method is based around feeling how many more reps you could have performed with the same technique before failure.
This is a great method to use if you are not a complete beginner when it comes to exercise and are proficient at performing a given movement. On the path to movement proficiency you should have developed an innate awareness or feeling that you are working or putting sufficient stress on the targeted muscle. RIR is seeped in the heart of auto-regulation, and has been shown in research studies to be a great way to track your intensity over a given training program.
How To Use Reps In Reserve In Your Next Training Block
Reps in Reserve can truly be integrated into any type of workout, whether you’re performing Strength Training, Bodybuilding, HIIT, CrossFit, Group Classes, etc.
For all of these exercise modalities, I recommend that you use the range of 5 to 0 RIR. This ensures sets are hard enough and everything above an RIR of 5 is hard to estimate anyway.
If your goal is to build muscle and strength, you generally want to be in the lower RIR range (e.g., 0 – 3) for most of your workout. It depends on your current exercise program and the phase of your current exercise plan. I would recommend the following guidelines:
Step 1: Evaluate your last training program that, and try to make an assessment of the RIR after each set, to become familiar with your bodies reps in reserve. (This is why I highly recommend using a workout logbook to track your progress)
Step 2: Plan a new workout cycle and decide on the weight you want to use. It should be based off of weights that you used in your last plan.
Step 3: Decide on the Reps in Reserve you want to start with. I’d recommend around 3 – 5 for the first weeks.
Step 4: Start your Week 1 and increase weights from week to week while staying within the same reps in reserve range. Throughout the workout cycle, you can lower your reps in reserve to increase intensity. In week 3 you can lower to 2 RIR. (This goes back to developing a feel for knowing when your body can push it and when sometimes you just feel like you don't have it today, which happens to all of us)
Here is an example 4 week RIR log book entry for someone wanting to increase their strength in the barbell squat.
RIR are a great way to measure intensity in a group class. In a group class workout if the trainer gives you sets of 12 reps of KB Deadlifts and you feel like you could have easily done 20 reps then you should probably ask your trainer if he or she can provide you with some heavier weight to make it more of a challenge.
Same goes for if the trainer gives you a set of 10 Leg Raises and you don't even feel like you worked your abs that set then raise your hand and asked to be progressed to a more advanced movement or double up on the reps.
When it boils down to it Reps In Reserve are not that complicated and can easily be incorporated in your workout.
By setting limits of how close you are to failure, you move enough weight to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains, while also minimizing your risk of injury.
Reps in Reserve can truly take your training efficiency to the next level.
It may seem a bit hard at first, but as with all things the more you do it, the more aware you will become. Trust me, you need to get used to reps in reserve at first, but after a while, you will be measuring every set this way. Be intentional and listen to your body every time you step foot in the gym and sustainable great gains will be yours in the near future!