WHY I THINK ‘RIR’ TRAINING SUCKS…

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I am sure more than a few of you are already worked up after reading the title, and you can not wait to get to the comment section. Slow down, take a deep breath, and try to read the entire article before you get yourself bothered. Then, you can let me have it.

I will state the obvious and go on record by saying that I do not believe stopping a set before you can get as many reps as possible is the best approach if maximum hypertrophy is your goal. That being said, there are a couple of exceptions, and I will get to those in a few minutes. Right now, I need to back up my opinion by expounding.


Reps in Reserve

If you do not know what RIR training is, it is leaving “reps in reserve” or stopping a set before you have reached the maximum number of reps you could get if you went to failure or to the point where you know you could not possibly have gotten one more rep. Most people believe they go to failure or are very close, but I have been a coach in the bodybuilding industry for over 20 years and trained for 40 years. I can tell you that a very small percentage of people in the vast majority of gyms train to failure. In short, most people do not train nearly as hard as they think they do. Even more need to train harder to grow optimally and consistently.

The main reason I am not a fan of RIR training is because measuring reps in reserve is a huge grey area. If I have trained for 40 years and do not know how many more reps I can get before failing, I have no idea how a newbie could figure this out. I have gotten three more reps than I thought I would (with great form because I am a form guy), and I have failed four or more reps before I thought I would. I go into working sets with the mindset that I will get as many reps as I can with good form, and the set stops when I either fail or there is no possible way to get another rep because I barely was able to finish the last rep.

The Only Exceptions

Training to failure is pretty cut-and-dried; you either do the set until you can not get another rep, or you quit early and hope that was enough of a stimulus to grow. I do not know about you, but the people I see growing the most in the gym are training their asses off. Leaving reps in reserve is not training your ass off.

I mentioned earlier that there are exceptions. I can only think of two solid reasons why RIR could be beneficial.

1. Warm-up Sets

Warm-up sets could be considered RIR sets because they obviously should not be performed to failure. I would be fine with calling warm-up sets RIR sets, but we already have a name for them; they are called WARM-UP SETS. If something has already been labeled, and that label is understood by almost everyone who has lifted a weight, there is no good reason to rebrand that label by calling it something else. This would be akin to calling a shopping cart a trolley in the US. It is a SHOPPING CART, and everyone knows what a shopping cart is. None of my UK friends are going to convince me otherwise. You know who you are.

2. Training While on a Deload/Cruise Week

A deload or cruise week is a week where you train less than 100 percent effort so that your body can recover from the blasting weeks that came before and help to keep you from overtraining. Training to failure is demanding, and the body needs rest from those demands. Taking a week, every six to nine weeks of training to failure, is a good idea.

Because training to failure taxes the system so much, leaving “reps in reserve” will allow increased recovery due to not making demands on the system to continue to grow and progress for that week. We usually call this a cruise or deload week, and it is understood that you should not train to failure. Apparently, someone thought that name was silly and it needed to change.

I treat my deload/cruise weeks the same way—not training to failure. However, I can not pretend to know how many more reps I could do when I stop the set. As I said before—even with my experience in the gym—I can not know how many more reps I have in the tank. I usually stop at what I “guess” is three to four reps before failure, but it is a guess, at best. I am not a guessing guy because I do not like grey areas.

Smack Me If…

Anyone who uses RIR is guessing, meaning we are consciously asking our brain how much it can handle. For this reason, most people have no idea what they can do if they are not training to failure. Many people are selling themselves short on potential progress. I would much rather find out what I can handle during that set and for every working set I do in the gym. Outside of a deload/cruise week, I will not go into the gym and not train each working set at 100 percent. I am in the gym to provide a stimulus for growth. If I ever stop a set because I said, “Welp, that is enough work for this set; I think I will just quit now,” please smack the shit out of me.

Here is the caveat that should—but likely won’t—settle some of you down:

I only care how you train if you are my training partner or a client of mine. You can do all of the RIR training you want to. Your progress, or lack thereof, does not impact me in any way. If you feel it works for you, keep doing it. If you prefer to avoid training hard all the time and like it only occasionally, do your thing. Just be honest with yourself when you are assessing your progress. Ask yourself if you are challenging your physique to grow at an optimal pace by doing more of your sets at less than 100 percent or if you might be missing out on more gains by not training hard enough.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If you fancy yourself a studies guy, please do not waste your time on me. I am not a huge guy; I am only slightly better than an average bodybuilder. However, in my 40 years of training, I  rarely argue with someone bigger than me. 99.9 percent of the time, those arguments are from people who are not very big, have not spent even a fraction of the time I have in the gym, and still want to argue that they are right. If you feel you are right, put in the time and put everything you are reading into practice. Get big, get jacked, and THEN come back at me and say, “I told you so.” Before you do that, though, ask yourself how many times this has happened to me in the last 40 years.

Hint: It has not happened even once.

If you want to maximize your physique and optimize your training, train your ass off. Do not bother counting reps you could have done but decided you did not want to. Warm up well, hit your working sets to failure, and adjust your volume up or down with the understanding that your intensity will drive your progress. Leave the RIR for deload/cruise weeks and warm-up sets. Now, get your ass in the comment section, and let’s bang. 

Just sayin’.

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