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Massive Iron’s Rep Goal System

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The Rep Goal System is about maximizing every set, and as a result, every workout.

It’s about efficiency, and getting the most out of your training. It’s about pushing your body to grow, and about building strength rapidly while focusing on one extra rep at a time.

This approach has been around for ages, and my take on it is surely not revolutionary. With that said, I believe the Rep Goal System to be efficient, and one of the best ways to reach your muscle and strength building goals.

The Problem with “Magazine” Workouts

Magazine workouts have been pushing lifters off course for decades. Instead of focusing you on progressive overload, which is the primary mechanism that drives gains, magazine workouts tend to ignore progression completely.

How many times have you seen something like this:

  • Bench Press – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3-4 sets x 8-12 reps
  • Pec Dec – 3-4 sets x 12-15 reps

This isn’t a training approach, it’s a “to do” list. It doesn’t tell you how or when to add weight, nor how hard to push each set. While some lifter’s instinctively gravitate towards maximizing progression, the 90% that don’t will wonder why this workout isn’t panning out for them.

We’ve all seem these types of forum posts: “I’m running Program X and not seeing any gains. What’s going on? Do I need a new program?” Responses usually range from “try Program B instead, it’s much better” to “body part splits don’t work for naturals, and this is proof! Go use a full body workout.”

While some of these responses may carry with them a kernel of validity, they often miss the bigger picture:

A major reason why Lifter X isn’t making optimal gains is because he isn’t maximizing progressive overload and his workouts.

In fact, I would wager that very few average gym rats have mastered the art of pushing every set for as many reps as possible. So, with that said, let’s take a deeper look at the Rep Goal System.

Rep Goal System

The Rep Goal System is simple. Here are the basics:

  • Weight – Use the same weight for each set of a given exercise.
  • Effort – Push yourself for as many reps as possible on each set, stopping that set you feel like you might fail on the next rep, or if your form starts to slip.
  • Rep Goal – Each group of sets has a ‘rep goal”, or a total number of reps you are after. You you reach, or exceed that goal, you add weight the next time you perform that exercise.

Do NOT train to failure. It’s not needed. Focus on maximizing every set – that is the real magic.

Let’s look at some examples.

Bench Press – 3 Sets, Rep Goal of 20

For this example you will be performing 3 sets of bench presses. The goal is to reach 20 total reps. Understand, this is not 20 reps per set, but 20 total reps. If you do reach this goal, you will add weight the next time in the gym.

Perhaps you are starting with 185 pounds. Your first workout goes something like this:

  • Set 1 – 185 pounds x 9 reps
  • Set 2 – 185 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set 3 – 185 pounds x 5 reps

Adding up 9, 7 and 5 reps you get a total of 21 reps. This exceeds your Rep Goal of 20, so you will move up to 190 pounds the next time you bench press.

Leg Press – 5 Sets, Rep Goal of 50

Time to build some big quads. For this example, you are chasing 50 total reps. Let’s say you start with 400 pounds on the leg press:

  • Set 1 – 400 pounds x 15 reps
  • Set 2 – 400 pounds x 12 reps
  • Set 3 – 400 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set 4 – 400 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set 5 – 400 pounds x 7 reps

This is a total of 52 reps. because you were able to reach your Rep Goal of 50, you will add weight to this exercise the next time in the gym.

Rep Goal Questions?

Questions about the rep goal system? Please leave them below.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the founder of Muscle and Brawn, and a powerlifter with 30+ years of experience. Steve's recorded a 600lb squat, 672lb deadlift and a 382lb bench press.
Steve Shaw
  • Jaakko Feb 3,2015 at 12:54 pm

    Must reps to do maximal weight each training times (decreasing reps amount towards goal)? ‘


  • Thomas Sandford Jun 13,2014 at 8:16 pm

    So how do you decide on what rep goal to set. Like if I do an exercise that you haven’t mentioned how do I know how many reps to aim for

    • Will Jul 4,2014 at 6:24 am

      Um i’d say you would do the exercise once, see what you get then use that as a guide to work from.
      E.g. Military press, 3 sets:
      For me i know if I put about 90lbs on a barbell that will get me in the muscle building rep range. You should be able to guess a ballpark figure from ur previous experience.
      So i throw 90lbs on and i push out a 12, then a 9, then a 6
      That’s a total of 27 reps. So with that figure i can say ok i’ll set my Rep Goal at 30
      So next week i push out a 13, then a 10, then a 7. Adds up to 30
      Boom i hit my goal! Up the weight….

      For muscle building you should be, i think, aiming for a Rep Goal that averages at around 10 reps per set
      So a 5 set exercise you might want to set ur rep goal at 50. 3 set exercise set ur rep goal at 30. 4 set exercise set the rep goal at 40 – see what im saying? then just experiment until u have a weight that has u falling slightly short of this goal. Keep lifting that weight until u hit the goal then up the weight.

      Note: Obviously the “average of 10 reps per set” depends on the muscle ur training because different muscles respond better to different rep ranges. Also depends on ur goals (build muscle, build strength, tone-up, etc.)

  • Tron Feb 21,2014 at 1:47 pm

    How long would you recommend resting in-between sets? Given an example of 3 sets with a goal of 25 reps would 1 minute rest in-between be optimal?

  • Michael Stuart Feb 13,2014 at 7:40 am

    I’ve started training like this about 6 weeks, best method I’ve ever used, I’ve seen great gains and increase in strength, really works!

  • Dan Dec 22,2013 at 6:28 pm

    How much time do I have to recover between reps?

    • Mick Madden Dec 22,2013 at 7:04 pm

      As much as you need. Just play it by ear and don’t rush.

  • Brodie Oct 22,2013 at 3:43 am

    If I have trouble hitting the rep goal after increasing weight, should I finish the missing reps with the previous weight? Or just just walk away and try to add reps the next time I do the exercise?

    • Mick Madden Oct 22,2013 at 9:33 am

      Walk away and try to improve next time.

  • Terrence Sep 5,2013 at 12:02 pm

    Can I use this workout as my pyramid workout but instead of changing weights I can change number of Reps? Or do you recmommed I do not use a prymid type format.

    • Mick Madden Sep 5,2013 at 1:50 pm

      This style of training is set up to use the same weight for each set. If you use pyramind you could simply set an upper rep goal for each weight/set.

  • Nathan Aug 27,2013 at 6:42 pm

    Okay, I really liked this article. I liked the thought process behind it the KISS aspect and goal setting. Some of my questions may come across as smart ass but that’s now how they’re meant–I’m just trying to grasp the approach fully.

    Now I have seen a “good hypertrophy range is 25-30 total reps per body part” meaning the sets used were immaterial i.e. 10×3 = just as good as 3 x 10, etc. But why did you choose 20 for chest but 50 reps for legs and would this mean you’d only choose 10 for arms?

    Second if your goal is “to get the rep count” then why limit the sets? (this is the part where I sound like a slide rule smart ass but it’s honestly not how I meant it). I could almost hit my rep count every time if I a) increased my rest periods while b) added sets–thus I could throw weight on the bar every time.

    Example: Bench Workout 1 = Set 1 x 9
    Set 2 x 5, Set 3 x 2 all =16 I missed! So I wait 3-5 minutes and do set #4 for 2 reps then sets 5-6 for 1 rep each. I’ve made all 20 reps and no one’s ever said or proven 6 sets are inferior than 3.

    See my confusion? Again–loved the article these questions are just me getting my mind straight.

    • Mick Madden Aug 27,2013 at 7:39 pm

      The rep goals are merely arbitrary examples. They can be whatever you’d like. They are not presented as rules.

      As to your second question, you can certainly train that way if you’d like. Either way it won’t matter. This is merely one system that encourages lifters to maximize each set.

      A system needs some regulator. If you limit sets than a rep goal is needed. If you go for a rep total, then you need to set a goal to reach it in a certain number of sets. I prefer not to add sets. Most people would prefer not to spend extra time in the gym if it wasn’t needed.

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