Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations: Part 3

The recent review by James Fisher, James Steele, Stewart Bruce-Low and Dave Smith should be on the “must read” list for everyone with an interest in exercise. In fact, you should download and read it before you read the rest of this post which is the third of several commentaries I will be writing on their review.

Click here to read part 1 on anti-HIT bias, intensity and one rep max testing

Click here to read part 2 on momentary muscular failure

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

In addition to the problems with the designs of studies comparing RPE between different repetition methods and load and repetition combinations, its subjectivity makes RPE a poor choice for measuring intensity. The perception of intensity is relative, and even training to momentary muscular failure (maximum possible intensity) will be perceived differently between those who are and aren’t accustomed to it.

Even if it is a poor measure of intensity I have found RPE to be useful for determining the starting resistance for new trainees. When teaching a new exercise I purposefully set the starting resistance at what I estimate to be low. After going over proper performance and having the subject perform a few repetitions I instruct them to stop and unload or transfer the weight back to me and ask them to rate the difficulty of those reps on a scale of one to ten, with one being so easy it barely requires any effort and ten being so hard it can barely be done with a maximum effort. Depending on their answers I will increase or decrease the weight until they perceive it as being about a “five” or only moderately hard, since when learning a new exercise I want them to focus on doing it correctly rather than doing it intensely.

Since I do not perform or recommend one repetition maximum testing to determine starting resistance and the initial selection doesn’t have to be precise RPE is practical for this purpose.

Load and Repetition Range

Research shows a wide variety of repetition ranges can be used to effectively improve muscular strength, however some individuals may respond better to higher or lower ranges or set durations based on genetic factors such as predominant muscle fiber types. There is no validity to claims like those made by the proponents of periodization and similar training approaches that different set and rep ranges are required to improve different types of muscular strength or strength versus hypertrophy. Rather, as you get stronger all of these things improve proportionally (muscular endurance, speed, size, etc.), in a ratio that is mostly genetically dictated.

Other factors to consider include safety and bone density. If set duration is too short the resistance required may be too high for the subject to use with adequately strict form. If set duration is too long the resistance may be too low to stimulate meaningful improvements in bone density.

Note I wrote “set duration” and not “repetition range”. It is important to distinguish between the two since the duration of a set of a certain number of repetitions can vary considerably depending on the repetition speed. As I mentioned in Thoughts On Relative Volume Of Single And Multi-Set Workouts, “Most exercise research . . . doesn’t specify or standardize repetition cadence, and when it does it is usually not supervised and timed to ensure strict compliance. Instead, subjects are often self-supervised and most people without proper instruction will use relatively poor form, moving in a fast and sloppy manner not representative of what is often recommended for high intensity training.”

Unless a paper states otherwise I assume the reps were performed at typically fast speeds and the resulting sets are of relatively short duration. This is important to consider when extrapolating the results of these studies to prescriptions for exercises performed at the slower cadences typical of high intensity training protocols.

Drew Baye deadlifting with a shrug bar

Higher rep ranges may be prudent for exercises like squats and deadlifts

My personal preference is to use a moderate repetition range with most subjects after the initial learning stage; six to ten repetitions at a 4/4 cadence on compound pushing exercises and five to eight repetitions at a 4/3/4 cadence on compound pulling and simple exercises. This results in set durations of approximately 50 to 90 seconds which seems to be a good, conservative starting point for most people. Higher rep ranges may be prudent for exercises like squats and deadlifts for long term spinal health.

I do not recommend the method Darden uses to determine repetition range based on a fatigue response test mentioned in the paper due to the problems with one repetition maximum testing discussed in part 1. Instead, I prefer to start with a moderate range and adjust it based on individual response. I have observed subjects who tend to respond better to lower repetition ranges have difficulty progressing beyond some range but are able to consistently perform within it with small resistance increases, while subjects who tend to respond better to higher repetition ranges have difficulty staying within a range with small resistance increases unless it is higher.

Coming in Part 4: Muscular Endurance

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45 Responses to Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations: Part 3

  1. Dwayne Wimmer January 29, 2013 at 3:57 pm #


    Another GREAT post. Thanks for continually putting out this information. I will be passing this on to our staff at Vertex.

    Dwayne Wimmer

    • Drew Baye January 29, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Thanks Dwayne,

      I hope they find it useful.

  2. Pete Collins January 29, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Thanks Drew
    Great topic, actually answered some of my earlier posts with respect to finding that TUL/RCT for ones genetic profile.

    Drew, I have purchased two of your ebooks already, how do I get access to a copy of Elements of Form? the tab/link seems to be closed.


    • Drew Baye January 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm #


      I was not happy with the general tone and organization of it and am rewriting most of it in a way I think is better structured and easier to read.

      • Pete Collins January 30, 2013 at 12:37 am #

        That makes sense, cheers for the feedback

        • Craig January 31, 2013 at 9:51 am #

          So those of us who had already preordered will eventually get the finished product?

          • Drew Baye January 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm #


            Yes, still working on it. I’ve probably written and deleted enough to fill another two dozen books but I don’t want to put something out I’m not happy with.

            • Craig January 31, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

              Thanks! It has been awhile since the book was first promoted, and I’ve been wondering what was happening with that project. However, I do appreciate that writing a book can be quite time consuming, and I’d rather have it be good, than be delivered by an arbitrary date.

  3. niles January 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    I have used Arthurs training principles for over 38 years wirh much success. I had the perlivage to train in Lake Helen Fl. alongside Casey and learn from the man himself. Over the years I have discovered the best was is to vary weight and reps every workout. On occassion doing a drop set. The ultimate muscle confusion. The body never knows what to expect. I also vary times between workouts from 2 days to 1 week. Depending on recovery time needed. Sometime it just takes longer to recover for numerbous reasons. Ay 65 I’m still going strong. Considering competing in Grand Masters again…God bless

    • Drew Baye January 29, 2013 at 5:56 pm #


      There is no physical need or benefit to arbitrarily varying load and repetition ranges. I’ll be discussing this in a later post on the periodization section of the paper, and have also explained it in The Ultimate Routine.

      • Niles Wheeler January 29, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

        Not certain of the need, but as you stated everyone needs to find what works best for them. This works for me. At 65 I weigh 198 with 12% body fat. At my gym young men half my age have attempted to do my workout with less resistance and failed, losing their stomach. I train non stop moving from exercise to exercise as quickly as possible. As my old Daddy use to say “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”….God bless

        • Drew Baye January 30, 2013 at 11:53 am #


          To paraphrase Arthur Jones, the fact that a particular method has produced some result is not proof the same or better results could not have been achieved more quickly and efficiently by other means. As long as you are training hard and progressively and not exceeding a volume and frequency your body can recover from and adapt to you can get results by constantly varying load and repetitions, but there is no good reason to, and plenty of reasons not to. While a variety of repetition ranges can be effective individuals will tend to have better results within a particular range due to genetic factors and it makes more sense to determine and use that range than to arbitrarily vary it. A consistent repetition range also makes record keeping and progress evaluation more efficient and objective.

          • Craig January 31, 2013 at 9:49 am #

            As far as I can tell, muscle growth for strength adaptation is trigger by a wide variety of stresses. So why wouldn’t it be useful to use exercises that provide some variety of stimulation, as opposed to sticking with one scheme, and pushing that out to the point of diminishing adaptation?

            • Drew Baye January 31, 2013 at 1:53 pm #


              All of the stresses involved in stimulating improvements in muscular strength and size are a part of working the muscles against meaningful resistance. Rather than varying repetition methods, loads, and durations to attempt focus on these separately (periodization) it is more efficient to determine and stick with the balance of these that works best for an individual.

              This is also covered in the paper and will be discussed in an upcoming post in this series.

  4. Pete January 29, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Great post Drew! A pleasure as always!

    Got caught on Perceived Exertion and this just spurred up in my mind;

    Was performing my bicep curls today and a cascade of experiences stacked up somehow; I skipped my metronome and cadence was what it was, strictly it’s 4-2-4 in a slightly leaned position with a single dumbbell, felt my right bicep not getting enough intensity although pushed to failure and further by helping until negative repetitions lost control. I was right, I could do without much delay 3 more repetitions.

    Now, I’ve just learned how it feels when the intensity is great enough to exert the muscles in such a fashion that no other set is possible, but how would you approach it with a client that’s say 5-6 weeks into HIT? I mean is it even possible to teach autonomy in such an individual matter as feeling the set was done to result a true failure?

    I highly focus on how the fact how muscle failure is perceived so although this doesn’t fully tie in with this post I’d love to hear Your take on this.

    • Drew Baye February 4, 2013 at 1:54 pm #


      Like most things, it varies between individuals. Some people learn to work this hard quickly, others take a very long time. I focus on teaching and instructing people to perform the exercises correctly and gradually encourage them to train harder as their skill improves.

  5. Simone January 30, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    Hy Drewe ,
    I found myself many things you wrote.
    AS usual, you are very precise and i love your scientific approache.

  6. James Fisher January 30, 2013 at 6:34 am #


    Another great BLOG post, I think it really helps disseminate information from our article to the masses. I also love the applied and anecdotal evidence and experiences that you combine with the science and theory. Without question, this gives the readers all the information they need.

    Nice job


    • Drew Baye January 30, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      Thanks James,

      I think it’s an important paper and a lot of people would save themselves a lot of wasted time in the gym by reading and applying the information.

      • Wade Gwin February 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

        James and Drew,

        What an incredible review! So thorough! The humility of the presentation is what does it for me. Keep writing– it serves as encouragement.

        I have been training every friday at my old high school, and most days the weightlifting coach and “personal wellness” instructor are there. BOTH of them will be given a copy of the PDF the next time I’m in. Something tells me it wont be well received… 😉

        • Drew Baye February 9, 2013 at 11:53 am #


          Hopefully they read and consider it objectively. You can always point them here if they have questions about it.

  7. AC January 30, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Do you use cadence as a teaching tool for new clients?

    Is it the main method you use to illustrate to a new client the correct speed of motion? Do you ever have a trainee count the cadence themselves or do you give them a set of verbal guidelines to adhere to for rep performance such as “take 3 seconds to move the first inch”, or “turnarounds very gently and smoothly” ?

    I only ask as I recently read a comment on the Body By Science site that said moving at a predetermined cadence may have some use as a teaching tool in the learning process with new trainees, but past that, it was of limited use and focused on the wrong things.

    This resonated with me as I remember being borderline obsessed with cadence when I first started HIT. I was caught up in all the various numbers when really the key thing to focus on was the principles behind the idea i.e. improved muscular loading, safety and the other benefits that go hand in hand with those two things including the ability to focus on intense muscular contraction.

    I have always agreed with your stance on why slower reps are better and that if in doubt one should move slower not faster.

    I can see why when training someone via phone or email in a consultation role you may recommend a 10/10 cadence because the reality of it is that the client will end up moving at 3/3 as you’re not there to supervise them. But what about when you’re introducing someone to HIT for the first time and you’re actually training them in person? What’s your take on cadence as part of the learning process in that scenario?

    • Drew Baye February 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm #


      Cadence is part of the exercise prescription, counting cadence is a teaching tool for helping clients learn to move at the proper speed to match the prescribed cadence.

      Any speed of movement can be effective and any reasonably slow speed of movement can also be safe, but unless you use a relatively consistent cadence you can not objectively compare performance between workouts for progress evaluation. When prescribing exercise it is also necessary because “move slowly” isn’t specific enough and different people will have a different idea of what a slow repetition is.

      Rather than get too far off track here I will address this in a separate post, or better yet you can ask in the HIT forums.

  8. Craig January 31, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    I’m curious as to why the difference in cadence for compound pushing versus compound pulling. I assume it’s because it is productive to hold a pull in a contracted position, whereas with a push, the contracted position is close to lock out, and thus not very productive???

    Regarding rep ranges and weight: I’ve seen a study cited which supposedly showed that low rep/higher weight training favored hypertrophy in fast twitch fibers whereas high rep/lower weight favored hypertrophy of slow twitch fiber. If that were true, wouldn’t that suggest that the low rep/high weight approach does produce adaptions for maximim strength that go beyond skill and neurological improvements?

    • Drew Baye January 31, 2013 at 1:44 pm #


      The squeeze technique is beneficial during compound pulling and simple exercises because when performed properly there is meaningful resistance at the end point. During compound pushing exercises you should immediately but smoothly turnaround at the end point since the target muscles encounter little resistance there (there are exceptions to this on certain pieces of equipment).

      I can’t comment on the specific study you mention without knowing what it is, but provided you train to momentary muscular failure and do not use an excessively short or long time under load you will have both recruited and effectively stimulated improvement in all of the motor units in the target muscles including the slow, intermediate, and fast twitch. Read the section on muscular endurance in the study, which will be discussed in the next post in this series.

  9. Steven Turner January 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I think Arthur wrote that article some 30 or so years ago, in his article …”quote to genetic factors”.
    In an article on genetics and genomics a study conducted by Peter K. Davidsen in 2010 states…”Like hawley’s study, their performances at the end of the programme varied: some added 1 kg of lean muscle, and others added up to 5kg. The question why? “If that’s what’s happening with the same training program, and external stimulus is the same and the diet is the same, what the heck is going on? saus Hawley. …”So there’s no question in my mind that the genetics provide the base and ultimately how high the celing is, but then training, nutrtion, sport science support and soci-economic factors come inot play, ” says Hawley.
    I am not sure about the studey and the results of 1kg and 5kg in a 3 months period?

    Drew is the rest of the exercise scientific world catching up to Arthur Jones. I think if many had of the so-called experts had of listened to Arthur we might now be further advanced.

    • Drew Baye January 31, 2013 at 8:27 pm #


      A very small minority of insightful and objective researchers are continuing to advance our understanding of exercise while the majority of them continue to muddy the waters, asking the wrong questions, conducting flawed studies to answer them, then coming to uninformed and/or biased conclusions which their peers (meaning equally ignorant people) approve them for publication. I agree with Arthur’s opinion of the majority of exercise scientists and the value of their research.

  10. Pete Collins January 31, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    If you get an opportunity to purchase Body by Science Question & Answer book, Doug & John address in part some of these finer points, it is well worth a read if you have read BBS

    Doug & John are not sponsoring or paying commission for my referral 🙂

  11. Thomas February 1, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    Hey Drew
    Great block and great article. I´m new to the “Baye Way” 🙂 And because I’m from Denmark the way you recommend is not at all that common. I think i am the only one in a 2000 people gym doing this.

    If you could comment on this workout it would be greatly appreciated.

    I´m doing this once a week with the listed cadence:
    Shoulder press 4/4
    Row 4/3/4
    Squat 4/4
    Chest press 4/4
    Pull up (palms up) 4/3/4
    Shrugs 4/3/4
    Dip 4/4
    Calves 4/3/4
    Forearms 4/3/4

    Thank you for the great work.

    • Drew Baye February 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm #


      I recommend either dropping the shrugs and dips or alternating the shrugs with the shoulder press and the dips with the chest press, and occasionally alternating isometric neck extension and flexion with the forearm exercises.

  12. John W February 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    I read your article with great interest. As you state there is no evidence for or against different rep ranges. However, I have not seen many studies comparing rep ranges in trained subjects over a prolonged period of time. The vast majority are short term (typically 8-12 weeks)and in the untrained. I have no personal anecdotal evidence but many experienced coaches insist that lower rep ranges produce greater strength increases over the long term.
    I would be interested in your thoughts and in particular any long term studies you could point me in the direction of.

    • Drew Baye February 2, 2013 at 11:43 am #


      Unfortunately none of the studies I’m aware of comparing the effect of repetition range on strength are very long. However, based on what we know about the relationship between muscular strength and local muscular endurance as long as the rep ranges aren’t extremely high (requiring more than a few minutes to complete a single set) I doubt there would be much difference. I’ve had no problems consistently getting people stronger using set durations which would would be considered high compared to typical high rep sets (six to ten reps at a 4/4 cadence takes longer to complete than 30 or 40 reps the way most people do them).

      • John W February 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

        Thanks for taking the time to reply Drew.

  13. David February 2, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Drew.

    I have read posts on this blog and watched your instructional video on youtube “super charged with Drew B” with great interest.

    After reading the Arthur Jones Bulletin collection you uploaded I have a question regarding the “pre exhaustion principle.” For example doing pullovers right before chinups to pre exhaust the lats before chinning because the arms usually fail before the lats in chinning. Do you apply that technique when training clients? Doesn’t it make more sense to “post exhaust?” so you can get full benefit from the first compound excercise?

    Best regards, David.

    • Drew Baye February 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm #


      I only use pre-exhaust in a few routines, as I think it is easy to overdo and I don’t think the arm and leg muscles are as much of a limiting factor as Arthur did. Many of the supposed limitations of compound exercises are overstated or based on assumptions about the need for so-called full range exercise.

  14. Jake February 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Great post Drew! Speaking of evidence i just purchased Pete Siscos static training book. He claims that it is the ultimate high intensity program and is all you need to build strength and muscle. Do you think 5 second static training is superior to full ROM training? He claims you can stimulate more muscle fibers with the static holds because of the amount of wieght used. He claims that the group he tested with static training, over 10 weeks, improved there full ROM by 27 percent! Thats pretty incredible since the guys he tested it with were already trained lifters. Any feed back would be great.

    P.S. the down fall i see with static training is the amount of plates you load on the bar. I did a 455 tricep bench press. So the exercise takes 5 secs but changing the equipment for each exercise takes 5minutes ;). I think the High intensity is picking all those plates up for my power rack!

    • Drew Baye February 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm #


      Isometric training can be very effective when done properly and there is evidence that it transfers to full range strength increases. While anecdotal, my experiences with timed static contractions and full range strength have been positive.

      It is not necessary to use extremely heavy loads to do this, however. As long as you perform an exercise to momentary muscular failure within a reasonable amount of time you will have recruited and effectively stimulated improvements in all the motor units in the target muscles. Also, the main reason such heavy loads can be used in Sisco’s protocol is they are held in a position where the target muscles are working against a very small lever, significantly reducing the resistance the load provides.

      It’s not about the amount of weight you hold or lift, but the resistance your muscles contract against, which is the product of weight and lever as well as other factors.

  15. Daniël Niks February 3, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    For a while now I have clients do 20 repetitions with a 5/5 cadence on exercises. When doing a program of 5 exercises, I’ll have them increase weight only when being able to do 20 repetitions on all 5 exercises. If they’ll, for example, fail to do so on the 3rd exercise, they’ll use no more weights and do no more than 20 repetitions on exercises 1,2, 4 and 5 in the next training. This way, they’ll preserve energy to improve on the 3rd exercise.

    • Drew Baye February 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm #


      I don’t recommend having people stop at a predetermined number of repetitions, and there is no reason to have them train less intensely on other exercises which would reduce the overall effectiveness of the workout. It is also important to consider the performance of each exercise in the context of the workout as a whole, keeping in mind every exercise results in both local and systemic fatigue which affects the ability to perform subsequent exercises.

      Read Q&A: Exercise Order And Performance

  16. Steven Turner February 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I have also found that when training different clients there can be a difference in set durations. I have found that clients that are typically endurance based clients respond to higher set durations and clients who would be typical fast twitch fibres to lower set durations. Some clients who may have not exercised for a number of years and were endurance athletes respond best to higher set duration.

    I also think the order of the exercise has a lot to do with set durations, mostly I work from larger muscle groups to smaller muscle groups. When exercising in this order I find by the set duration of the smaller muscles groups is less. When I reverse the order working from smaller muscle groups to larger the set duration of the smaller muscle groups is a lot longer and the set duration of larger muscle groups is less.

    • Drew Baye February 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm #


      This is another reason for keeping workouts brief. Every exercise affects your ability to perform subsequent exercises and the more you do the less you get out of them.

  17. Steven Turner February 9, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Thanks for the reply on “the more you do the less you get out of them”. I observed a “pump class” which typically goes for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. To the untrained eye most people would beleive that with all the various exercise movements that people would be getting a lot of benefits from the program. But the closer you observe the exercise movements you notice a lot of exercise time is spent in “dead zones” or “zero moment arm”.

    On the topic of evidence-based training programs. I know that Arthur Jones mentioned this in many of his writings word to the effect we should chuck everything out on exercises research and start all over again”. I mentioned on BBS a report just released in Australia called interim report “Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport – (people can down load the report if they wish). Whilst the report is comprehensive and mentions many ofour national Sporting teams and the sports scientist/strength and conditioning staff attached to sporting teams. The magnitude of the drugs in sport not only in Australia but also internationally must bring into question many research-based evidence programs. What are the results based on “chemical” or training program.

    The interim report does not surprise, I would like to say where are the fitness PEAK BODIES from all reports I recieve gyms/fitness centres are rife with steroids. The stance that many of the sporting codes are taking is a zero tolerance to illegal drugs. Fitness peak bodies stand up and be counted if any fitness centre or people who visit that fitness centre are caught selling steroids ban them from the peak bodies.

    About 12 months ago I wrote to a fitness peak body in relation to “Muscle Dysmorphia” saying that they should be putting out more information out on steroids and taking more action against suppliers. The response I got was words to the effect, we can only undertake one project at a time.

    • Drew Baye February 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm #


      I don’t use steroids, but I don’t care if other people do. It’s their body and it should be their choice. However, I do care that many of them lie about their steroid use which has given many drug-free trainees unrealistic ideas of what to expect from exercise and an unfair standard against which to judge themselves.

      I don’t think we should take any action against users or suppliers. Instead, we should legalize them so people who are interested in using them can do so under the supervision of a medical professional and can be honest about their use without fear of legal persecution. While this might influence some people to use steroids who might otherwise not have, it might also reduce a lot of the frustration people experience as a result of their perceived failure due to the unrealistic standards presented by the bodybuilding and professional sports media.

  18. Steven Turner February 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Interesting position you take on “steroid use” many of the points you raise I had not thought of. The “underground supply” of steroids can mean that a lot of people wouldn’t know what they are putting into their bodies, in many cases causing long term health issues. If legalistion of steroids improves the current situation than that would be great.

    • Drew Baye February 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm #


      I believe legalizing it would solve a lot of problems. In addition to making it safer and more affordable for people who choose to use them decriminalizing them would reduce costs to taxpayers related to law enforcement, courts, and prisons.

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