I’ve churned through over 150,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments in the last 6 years.
And that means I’ve fielded a ton of questions.
As you can imagine, some questions pop up more often than others, and I thought it might be helpful to take a little time every month to choose a few and record and share my answers.
So, in this round, I answer the following question:
- Should you do very high-rep, “finisher” sets in your workouts?
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, leave a comment below or if you want a faster response, send an email to [email protected]
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4:01 – Why do some people recommend including very high-rep sets in your training?
6:08 – What do I think about very high-rep training?
7:17 – Why do I not recommend high-rep training?
9:36 – Are very high-rep sets effective for gaining muscle?
11:53 – Does getting a pump matter? Do very high-rep sets give you a better pump?
13:50 – Who should do very high-rep training?
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Guten Tag my friend! I’m Mike Matthews. This is Muscle For Life. Thank you for joining me today. Now, quickly before we tear into today’s topic, please take a moment and subscribe to the show in whatever app you are listening to this in, because it’ll help you not miss new episodes, and it will help me boost the rankings of the show in the various charts.
Okay, so what is today’s topic? Very high rep training or finisher sets as they are often called. Should you be doing them? Are they worth including in your regimen? A good question. Something I’ve been asked many times over the years, and I think this is the first piece of content I have created explicitly.
Answering that question, addressing this topic. So I’m excited to get into it. And if you have questions for me you can reach out to me on social media, Instagram at Muscle Life Fitness. You can DM me or you can email me mike muscle for life.com, o r life.com. And if you do reach out, please be patient.
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Okay, so let’s talk about high rep or very high rep training finisher sets. So these are sets usually of 20, 30 or even more reps and how they are usually promoted is something to do at the end of your workouts, after your heavier. Training usually with isolation exercises. So you might start with some heavy compound lifting and then work your way into isolation or accessory exercises, and those will be higher reps.
Let’s say you’re doing fours or six or eights or even tens on the compound lifts. And then when you move into your isolations, you might do some tens, twelves, fifteens, and then at the very end of your workouts, you might do some twenties or 20 fives or thirties, or one dude in. In the gym where I train you may do sets of 100.
Now, why should you do this? Why should you at least consider doing this? The advocates of it, the advocates of very high rep training of finisher sets will say that those sets will help you build muscle faster by including some very high rep. Work in your routine, you will make better gains, period, and sometimes they will reference research on periodization that shows that training in a variety of rep ranges, particularly in intermediates and advanced weightlifters.
That’s where the effect is noticeable. Not so much with newbies, but with people who are more experienced. There is research that shows that training in different rep ranges is superior to training in just one rep range. And so then people will sometimes say that training in two different rep ranges if you’re an experienced weightlifter, is better than training in just one.
And training in three or four, even five different rep ranges is better than training in just two different rep ranges. Now if you accept that premise as true, and then you start programming, if you are going to work in four different rep ranges, then of course you are going to have to do some very high rep work because you could do some real heavy stuff with your compounds.
You could do fours, you could do sixes, you could even do some twos, and then maybe. The second compound exercise in a workout, maybe you get up to eights or tens, and then with your isolation exercises, maybe 12 to 15 or even 15 to 20, and then finally at the end of your workout, 20 fives, 30 fives or more.
And one other thing that people who promote very higher up training will often talk about is the pump. That you get a really big pump from those sets. And that is fun for anyone who lifts weights. And also they say that alone, that getting a really big pump. Will help you build muscle faster. And so I think that’s a fair overview of the primary arguments made in favor of very high up training.
And so now I’m gonna give my position. Which is that I don’t think it is productive for most people. I don’t recommend it in any of my programs. I don’t do it myself. I have done it in the past. I’ve done a lot of it in the past, way more than I should have been doing really? Probably it’s at one point.
Many years ago, I would guess about 50% of my weekly volume was very high rep training. Usually combined with different types of training techniques, super sets, drop sets, giant sets, and so on. So with this topic, I’m coming from a place of my understanding of what is in the scientific literature. I’m coming from a place of my own firsthand experience of many discussions I’ve had with people.
Mostly on this podcast, or at least a lot of those discussions on this podcast with people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do, actual exercise scientists as well as my experiences, my interactions with many people like you, just everyday gym goers, looking to get fitter and leaner and stronger over the years and who have shared with me their experiences with very high rep.
Okay, so as I said, I don’t recommend very high rep training, and now let’s talk about why so many people, they think that lower rep ranges, higher weights, anything probably from one rep to maybe six reps is great for gaining strength, but not so great for gaining muscle that if you train with a lot of heavy weights, You are mostly going to gain strength and not muscle, and they usually think that reps between maybe six to 12, that’s optimal for hypertrophy, for building muscle.
That is the hypertrophy rep range. You’ve probably heard that eight to 10, 10 to 12, sometimes six to eight, and then the model that these people are operating on would say that above 12, 15 plus certainly. 20 plus reps per set is great for improving muscle endurance, but not for gaining strength or gaining muscle, and I once accepted that model as probably true.
Based on the research that was available at the time. However, you can gain muscle using a wide variety of rep ranges. Anything from three to 35 reps has been looked at, per set has been looked at in research. So long as you take those sets. Close to muscular failure. You don’t have to go to failure, but you have to go close, maybe one to two reps away from it, for example, And so long as you do the same amount of volume, and there are different ways of looking at volume, but for the purpose of this discussion, think of it as number of hard sets.
So long as you are. Doing those sets close to failure and you’re doing the same amount of sets. Sets of five are great for building muscle. Sets of 10 are great for building muscles sets of 15, 20, 25. Those can all be great for building muscle, not necessarily the same ineffectiveness when you look at it.
In the context of programming and the practicalities of training, but it is not true that doing sets of threes or fours or fives is only good for gaining strength and not good for gaining muscle or even that. It’s mostly good for gaining strength and mostly not good for gaining muscle. And so with very high rep sets, can those be an effective muscle building stimulus, an effective training stimulus?
Yes, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that you need to do them or that you should do them. And my primary. Problems with very high rep sets, with finisher sets are one, they suck. They’re never fun, they’re never enjoyable, and especially if you are doing them for larger muscle groups, and that is a reason to not do things in the gym.
By the way, if you really don’t like an exercise or a certain type of training, it would be. To find something that you do that is still effective and maybe, I’ve met a couple of people over the years who genuinely liked doing sets of 30 to 35, basically to absolute failure. Most people, I’m trying to think of the many people I’ve usually bodybuilders I’ve run into who do that kind of stuff.
Most people do not like it. They just do it because they. Think that it is making their training more effective. And so chances are you are not going to enjoy it. You’re not going to look forward to it, that’s for sure. So that’s one reason to not do it. And another reason is it’s very time consuming. You can get around that with some super setting, but if you just take your normal workouts and you start including several very high rep sets in each session, it is going to add time.
And that may or may not be a problem for you, but for many people I have worked with over the years and I interact. have three to five hours a week to get in the gym, and they want to use that time most effectively. And here’s the real kicker with the very high rep training is okay, it’s not enjoyable.
It takes more time, but it also doesn’t offer any special. Advantages. You are not going to build muscle faster by replacing, let’s say the final three or four sets in your workout that are normally sets of eight or 10 or 12 with sets of 25 or 30. There’s no research to show that those. Finisher sets are more effective as a muscle building stimulus or a training stimulus.
And even if we look at the pump factor, there are two things to consider. One, do those very high rep sets actually give you a much bigger pump than let’s say a set of 10 or 12 or maybe 15 and two, if that is true. Does that. Does getting a bigger pump mean more muscle growth? And to the first point, you are not gonna notice much of a difference in the pump that you get between a set of 10, 12, or 15 and a set of 20 or 25 or 30.
You will notice a difference between a set of, let’s say three, four, or five and 25, or. 30, but so long as you are training close to failure, you are not going to notice a much bigger pump. Certainly not double the pump by doubling the reps from let’s say, 10 to 20 and two. This is something that I have spoken about previously and I’ve written about [email protected]
But while getting a pump does feel great, Arnold did have a point. Unfortunately, the research shows that there doesn’t seem to be a strong relationship or any relationship at all between getting a pump and building. Muscle. That is just not a driving factor. It is more of just a consequence of training properly, of doing the things that do drive muscle growth, like generating high levels of mechanical tension in your muscles, doing enough volume, enough hard sets or enough total reps.
You could look at volume that way and achieving progressive overload. If you do those things, you. Build muscle, you’ll continue to build muscle and you’ll get a nice pump from your training as a byproduct. Now, if you were to switch those things around, and if you were to focus on just getting a really big pump in your training, if that was the spotlight of your training and the other factors were allowed to fall where they may, then you will get a lot of big pumps, but you will also get stuck in a.
So who is very high rep training for? One, it’s for people who just like it. If you are one of those masochistic people who enjoy it, then it’s okay to include some of it in your training. I would recommend doing it at the end of your workouts after your heavier work with isolation exercises. I would say probably no more than 20 to.
30% of your total weekly volume should be very high rep. And so if you like it, go ahead and do it. This type of training can also be helpful if you have an injury, especially repetitive stress injury, something that is just nagging you and it allows you to still train the muscle and still give it a. A good stimulus.
Maybe you’re not gonna be able to build the muscle while you are working through this injury, but you can certainly maintain a lot of its size and a lot of its strength, or at least its potential for strength with very high rep training. And that, by the way, is the theory. Behind blood flow restriction training, BFR training and research shows that BFR can be great for this purpose.
If you have an injury and it is on a limb that you can actually do BFR with, then it’s a very effective way to use lighter weights and do more reps and still generate a powerful. Stimulus for your muscle. And if you wanna learn more about that, I have recorded a podcast on it some time ago. So you can find that by just searching restriction.
It’ll come up. And if you would rather read, just go over to legion athletics.com and search for bfr or restriction, and an article will come up as well. And one other quick note regarding using very high up training to work around an injury is you can do this with compound exercises as well, so long as you can do the exercises without pain or problems.
So for example, if you’re working through a lower body problem, you might be able to do high up sets on the leg press and not have it bother your knee, for example. Whereas on the squat, your knee does get pissed off and especially if you try to load it heavy. And If I were facing that scenario, and I actually have faced that scenario in the past, what I would do is I would get off of the barbell.
I would get away from the exercise that is pissing off my knee. First. I would probably try on the barbell squat lower weight, higher reps. But if that was still causing too much pain, then I would go find something I can do. Causes maybe a slight amount of pain, a slight amount of discomfort, but nothing more than maybe a one or two or maybe three if I’m feeling frisky out of 10.
And that could be, for example, a leg press with lighter weights. And what I would not do is I would not continue to grind through the squat. The painful knee, and then on my isolation exercises, give it a break, for example, and then go and do sets of 20 or 30 on the leg extension or the leg press after already aggravating my knee with the squat.
And so that’s all I have to say, really about very high rep training. For now, at least. If new research contradicts anything I’ve shared here, then I’m happy to speak to that in the future and explain why I’ve changed my mind and why I am now doing finisher sets regularly. But if you want to start doing them to work around an injury, or maybe you’ve just never done it before and you want to give it a go, or if you are currently doing very.
UP training because you like it or some other reason that makes sense to you. Then again, I would just recommend saving those sets for the end of your workouts and doing no more than 20 to 30% of your total volume your total hard sets for each muscle group that you train in that very high rep range.
Let’s say anything over 20 reps would qualify as very high rep. You could probably even say anything. Over 15 reps is where you are, at least now, beginning to enter the spectrum of very high rep training, and then of course, 30 and 40 and beyond is very high rep. I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.
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