One of the biggest misconceptions about weight training is that it's complicated. Though that's largely due to the surge in fad programs, trendy set-rep schemes, and fancy resistance machines. That and the fact there's so much competing information—from your thick-necked gym friends to the indefinite amount of info online—makes it difficult to piece together a cohesive and effective program.
Is weight training hard? You bet your ass, but it’s also straightforward. Often the biggest obstacle preventing guys from reaching their goals is the complexity of their program. Whether you’re new to lifting and your goal is to establish a solid foundation of 10 to 15 pounds of muscle, or you’ve been in the game awhile and are experiencing plateaus, simplicity is key. Stripping away the excess and focusing on the fundamentals could propel you to where you want to be.
What is the 25-rep rule?
Developed by underground strength coach C.J. Murphy, this simple method can lead to serious gains.
How to do it: Pick a single exercise, preferably a heavy compound lift such as the deadlift, bench press or squat, and complete 25 total repetitions. The 25 repetitions should be divided into several small sets in the range of 3 to 8 (25 is hard to divide evenly, so with some of the set groupings the total will be 24 or 26). A good example would be 5 sets of 5 repetitions, or 4 of 6.
The weight used for these sets should be heavy but manageable, and you should be able to complete each set feeling like you could squeeze out one more rep. Use reasonable rest periods between sets (30 to 90 seconds) and focus on form and explosiveness to get the most out of every rep. This type of breakdown is ideal because it involves both heavy weight and high volume, geared towards simultaneous strength gain and muscle growth. No frills, no gimmicks.
3 ways to vary the 25-rep rule for strength and size
1. Ascending/descending progression. Essentially, you increase the weight while you decrease the number of reps. For example, your first week using the 25-rep rule you might perform 5 sets of 5 reps. The next week, using this ascending/descending progression, you'll increase the weight and perform 6 sets of 4; the next, you'll pick an even higher weight and do 8 sets of 3. This is a dynamic method of loading that maximizes the weight/volume benefits of the 25-rep rule for optimal strength gains.
2. Pyramid technique. This method divides the reps into 5 sets that begin with low reps, work to higher reps in the middle, then drop back down toward the end. This workout would start with a set of 4 reps, increase to 5 in the second, 6 in the third, back down to 5 in the fourth and 4 in the fifth for a total of 24 (4,5,6,5,4). This pattern is another great way of increasing size and strength by systematically loading your muscles.
3. Wave pattern. You can really shock your muscles with this method. You begin with higher reps and lower weight for the first set, increase the weight and decrease reps with the second set, then repeat. For example, begin with 8 reps at a lighter weight for your first set, throw on 10 pounds for a second set of 4, drop back down in weight for a second set of 8 in the third, then back up for a final round of 4 (8,4,8,4). If you can count, you’ve got it.
Follow these variations on the 25-rep rule and you'll quickly see how subtracting from your workout can really add up.