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Weight Lifting Training Sets, Reps and Time

Dirt Bikes and Sweet Spots
Understanding the relationship between weight, sets and time.

By Pete Sisco
Lifetime Strength

Ever since the publication of Power Factor Training, I have been trying to communicate the concept of finding the right combination of weight on the bar and the number of times you can lift it per unit of time. As with any complex problem, it is challenging to find ways to precisely communicate the concept.

One of the many revelations that has come to me while trail riding in the Idaho wilderness, is the similarity between this concept in weight lifting and the relationship between the RPM of a motorcycle engine and the gear ratio of the transmission as they jointly relate to power output.

Specifically, a motorcycle with a five-speed transmission has five different ways to go 25 miles per hour. You can go 25 MPH in fifth gear, but the engine will be turning over slowly (probably lugging) and the power to the rear wheel will be barely sufficient to generate 25 MPH on level ground. The same is true to a lesser degree in fourth and third gears. In first and second gears, while still going only 25 MPH, the engine will be turning at a much higher RPM and generating enough power to the rear wheel to sustain that speed on level ground, a moderate hill or even up a steep hill. Every motorcycle rider can feel the "sweet spot" that yields the best combination of gear and RPM that provides the most power to the rear wheel.

This motorcycle analogy is very similar to the problem facing a weightlifter looking for the most efficient workout. For example, he can choose to bench press 100, 125, 150, 175 or 200 pounds. The 200 pounds may be a one rep maximum, which means he can only lift it one time in a minute or maybe two times if he takes 50 seconds of rest during that minute. He might be able to lift 175 pounds five times in a minute before reaching failure. But using 150 pounds he might be able to perform 10 reps in a minute. If he drops the weight down to 125 or 100 pounds it will take more than one minute to reach failure so he might complete 15 or 20 reps in one and a half minutes or two minutes. Here it is in chart form, with the corresponding Power Factors:

Weight / Reps Power Factor
200 / 2 400 lbs./min
175 / 5 875 lbs./min.
150 / 10 1500 lbs./min
125 / 15 (90 seconds to failure) 1250 lbs./min
100 / 20 (120 seconds to failure) 1000 lbs./min

See where he gets the highest intensity of lifting? (Lifting 150 lbs yields his highest output per unit of time.) That is his "sweet spot" where he can wring the most work per unit of time from that given muscle group. Remember whenever we are discussing maximum muscular output per unit of time (intensity) we are in the domain of "maximum dosage" of muscle growth stimulation. In other words, you are exploring the upper limits of the muscular growth stimulation that your body can tolerate without going over that invisible line that delineates overtraining.

Train Smart.

Pete Sisco
Lifetime Strength

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