The Most Flexible Set/Repetition Scheme Ever

Why Not Lee Haney?In one comment to my previous article I promised to write a post on the most flexible set/repetition scheme ever. So I decided not to put it away too far and to create another epic piece. Will it really be epic finally or like other Rough Strength articles? I don’t know. All I can say that it will be flexi-flexi-flexible.

What Is Flexible Set/Rep Scheme?

The most flexible set/rep scheme [FSRS] is an unconventional way to organize your workout. Instead of boring 5 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 10, or 8 sets of 3, or 4 sets of 4, or 3 sets of 3, or 4 sets of 12, or 3 sets of 6, or any other X sets of Y you count only total number or reps (number of sets doesn’t really matter as long as you meet your volume requirement (your total)). Just look at traditional templates. Every one of them has its predetermined amount of volume. Multiply sets and reps. 5 x 5 is 25 repetitions in total, 4 x 6 is 24, 3 x 10 is 30 etc. But what if you don’t really need to organize that volume in set in stone 5 x 5 or 6 x 4? Who said that you need to perform precisely 5 sets of 5 reps to get results? What if you are lifting such heavy weight (or performing such hard exercise) that you can’t finish 5 reps on all the 5 sets for a whole month (or several months) of regular attempts? Well, FSRS is definitely solution to these problems.

How Does It Work?

You choose the exercise, abandon all your dreams and expectations of using conventional set/rep template and pick the desired amount of repetitions. How to choose it? Generally, the less reps you choose the more it will be strength-targeted work, the more volume – the more hypertrophy-oriented work. I’d say that 9-25 would be “strength”, while 25-50 would be “muscle” with 25 as a “sweet spot”. Are <9 and >50 totals useless? No. They have their own place in training world but they should be used only if you clearly understand what you are doing. For example, with advanced calisthenics stuff you might not be able to finish 9 reps total but you won’t have any other option as it is the progression step you need to master and there is no way around. That is when <9 total is appropriate. Regarding going over 50, it is endurance work. Use that amount of reps only if your goal is to be able to perform given exercise for longer periods of time.

So you’ve picked the total volume, what’s next? Now you need to decide what this exercise is for. If it is main strength move then your intensity should be higher. If it is hypertrophy/assistance exercise then intensity should be lower. How to measure intensity? It will be determined by the amount of reps you can perform on the first set. In other words, we will use repetition maximum concept. If your goal is strength, intensity shouldn’t exceed 6-8 repetition maximum [RM]. It means that you should pick such weight (exercise) that you won’t be able to complete 9 reps with (in). If you can then it is hypertrophy/assistance work.

So let’s assume you’ve picked Planche Push-Ups. You want to do 25 reps total. It is strength work and you can’t do more than 7 reps in first set. It is your 7RM. Your workout can look like this:

Set 1 – 6 reps (one rep in the tank)

Set 2 – 6 reps (you are pretty strong)

Set 3 – 5 reps (fatigue kicks in)

Set 4 – 3 reps

Set 5 – 3 reps

Set 6 – 2 reps (finally finished)

Total: 25 reps

Let’s have another example. Now it will be muscle building work. Let’s say it is Double Kettlebell Military Press. You need to perform 30 reps total. And 32 kg is your 10RM. Your workout may look like this:

Set 1 – 9 reps (still in the tank, baby)

Set 2 – 8 reps

Set 3 – 7 reps

Set 4 – 6 reps (done)

Total: 30 reps

As you can see there is nothing hard with this FSRS thing. But we get to another question…

How to Progress with FSRS?

Easier than you think. There are several way to move forward in it:

  • Weight/intensity progression. It is the most obvious way. If you use, let’s say, 6RM weight/exercise and progressed to 7-8 reps in first set then it is time to move on and add resistance. NOTICE: this may not be true for purely advanced calisthenics work. You may need to wait and get stronger to move forward.
  • Rep progression. Let’s take previous 6RM example. Assuming you are performing 20 rep total your workout can look like this: 5, 4, 4, 3, 2, 2. Instead of trying to perform more reps in first set (it can be impossible sometimes) you can add reps to the next ones. The following workout can be something along the lines of 5, 5, 4, 4, 2.
  • Set progression. As you can see in the example above second workout was performed in less sets than the first one. This is set progression of FSRS.
  • Rest progression. Use shorter rest period between sets. It is that simple.

I may forget something but this will keep you busy for some time.

What’s with Static Holds?

Everything is absolutely the same. But instead of reps you have seconds. That “sweet spot” of 25 total repetitions is around 60 seconds. Some people tend to increase this number, some – decrease. My math is following (it is only my experience, it can vary for different people): 15 seconds hold equals roughly 6 repetitions according to feeling and fatigue. 24 = 6 reps x 4 sets. 15 sec x 4 sets = 60 sec. It is not science by all means.

How to Alternate Sets Properly with FSRS?

With FSRS you can face a little problem. I’ll show you an example. Let’s assume that you want to use FSRS with two exercises. Also, you want to alternate between them to compress your workout and have more time to hang out with friends, drink alcohol and get the worst hangover the next morning. While performing sets you find out with terror that you’ve hit your total in exercise #1 while exercise #2 requires another set. What to do? Rest and do the damn set.

How Did I Find Out About It?

Minute of history. Of course, this template is far from new (as almost everything in strength training nowadays). I was introduced to this concept by Chad Waterbury. I don’t know whether he was the first one but after his article lots of trainers started implementing FSRS with success. I, personally, use it a lot if not in every exercise. It became so essential for my training that I can’t imagine it without FSRS. The problem with conventional set/rep templates is that they are too fixed. People in weight training world are always have this problem of inability to finish the given amount of reps in every set. Just like this: you do 5, 5, 5 with happy thought that you’ll finally crush it this week, but then do something like 3, 3. What the fuck? You are not alone. Most of the trainees have the same problem. That is why such schemes like 12-10-8-6 and FSRS were born. In addition, so set-in-stone template like 3 x 10 or 4 x 8 (I intentionally used high reps) almost never work for calisthenics. With bodyweight training you have to be creative. You have to find ways out because of decent jumps in intensity. You just can’t do 5 x 5 and add 2.5 kg (well, you can but that is not pure bodyweight training).

Other Interesting Set/Rep Schemes

There are lots of other cool unconventional set/rep templates out there. For example, ladders. But I will write about them another time. That’s the cliffhanger!

Closing Thoughts

In the conclusion I’d like to say just one thing. If you are tired of those traditional set/rep schemes or you have unstoppable urge to use something ultra-flexible then I encourage you to try FSRS. It is simple and incredible. Do you really need something more? As always thanks for reading.

Do you have that fitness-obsessed friend who claims that you must have set in stone amount of sets and reps to get results? Share this article with him and watch how he cries like a little girl.

Do you consider this stuff not epic? Do you think that I need to learn to write first before using word “epic”? Let’s chat in comments.

Play rough!

Alex “Flexi-Flexi” Zinchenko

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30 thoughts on “The Most Flexible Set/Repetition Scheme Ever

  1. Gabri


    Epic article! I loved it! The FSRS makes training easier.

    In my case, I like to focus on doing more reps on my first set, and then I just do as many sets as I need to attain the number of total reps for the day.

    Other times I follow programs like 5×5, but to progress faster, I add weight the next session if I manage to do 5 reps on the first set, and on the other sets, I allow myself to make a little pause between reps whenever I want/need to, like paused sets. This allows me to do more reps with more weight and faster than doing sets across. If you try this, be ready for some serious soreness…

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Yes, Gabri,

      It sounds like Rest-Pause Training. I’ve used it with success in the past. Soreness is pretty serious.

      I’m glad you liked the article.

      – Alex

  2. m6k3

    great addon to previous article that helped me a lot in programing my new workout :) thanks !

  3. Jim

    Alex, I stumbled across your blog the other day and I really enjoy it! I am absolutly with you about rep/set schemes being “set in stone”. It’s ridiculous the body doesnt always follw the rules and we are all different. I couldnt tell you how many times over the years I have failed to hit my “5×5” or “3×10” training sessions. Thank you for the articles sir =)

  4. RJ

    Um, because if you can lift a weight for 9 reps on your first set, it probably isn’t enought weight…just my 2 cents

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  7. Bryan smith

    I like this method, been doing it off and on for years. I usually go for 50 reps, when I manage all 50 in 5 sets or less I throw another 10 lbs on the bar and start again. If it takes more than 7 sets I drop the weight 10 lbs. nothing wrong with throwing 2 or 3 more reps in on your last set if you can manage it.

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  11. Daniel Owens

    With this rep scheme would you be able to progress by increasing total reps. Ie move from 25total to 50total. Then add weight and start again. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

      1. Gabri

        Hi Alex!

        How do you know in a workout when you can add total reps? I mean, you just keep doing more reps until you cannot do any single?

        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          Gabri, with this set/rep scheme, you can add at least one rep to a total amount every workout. I would not go to total muscle failure. If your goal is to add volume and you did 20 reps in the previous session, go for 21. As simple as that. You might be able to do even 22-23. If you feel like it, do them too. However, do not exhaust yourself too much.

          – Alex

  12. Mohamad

    So…It really doesn’t matter how many sets I do?All that matters is the total volume?

  13. Kasper

    Hi Alex
    Great article! Good thoughts for a “Fixed rep & set” guy like myself, and have now implemented it with success.
    A few questioned regarding the sweet spot I can’t find the answer to anywhere.
    1. Is the sweet spot pr. week or session?
    2. Is the sweet spot for a movement or exercise?
    (Fx. pushing movement: both push-up and HSPU together for a total of 25 rep … OR 25 reps each exercise: 25 for push-ups and 25 for HSPU)
    3. In unilateral exercises like OAPU and OAC is the sweet spot pr. arm (25 reps both left and right) or in total (12-13 pr. arm)?
    Thanks for all the useful tips! Are now doing assisted OAC with only 3,5 kilogram support for the assisting arm because of that.
    Br. Kasper

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  15. Stephan

    Thanks a lot for this article. I had seen this flexible scheme before, but as n00b as I am I didn’t see it’s worth. I am happy you pointed that out well. Yesterday I did that 5×5 with pull ups and wondered if I shouldn’t have tried to build it differently. Now I know :-)

    While I’m at it, I want to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying your website! There’s much to learn and you’re giving me a good place to start from. Thanks!

  16. Timothy You

    Another great informative article, it took me a while to understand why hypertrophic workouts and strength training were so different. I’m still trying to educate myself more in this. May i ask if the two have to be such different paths? Isn’t it possible to build muscle (aesthetically) while still buidling functional strength and performance or are you talking about where you reach a point to where you must focus on one?

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author


      Usually you can’t have all at once. If you want to be a bodybuilder, training like powerlifter is not the best idea. Of course, you can do both, but you have to prepare to sacrifice something.

      – Alex

  17. Timothy You

    I have a question regarding fundamental movements of calisthenics (i.e. pull ups, dips, etc.). Should my total number of reps reflect an endurance type training if I am trying to increase my max rep or should I focus more on a strength conditioning? My current RM for non-weighted pull ups is around 12, but if I want to get that to say 20, is it just a matter of pumping out more reps?

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      >My current RM for non-weighted pull ups is around 12, but if I want to get that to say 20, is it just a matter of pumping out more reps?

      Basically, yes.

      – Alex


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