I've been wondering about the approach I take to my high rep dumbbell workout. I would be interested in what other people think about it.
The bulk of my high repetition program is based on doing one arm Clean & Presses and one arm swings for 50-60 reps 3-4 times per week. My original plan was to start with more sets of less repetitions and then increase the reps and cut the sets (i.e. 5 x 10, 4 x 15, 3 x 20). These are done non-stop until all reps are completed for each movement but I alternate the arm work. My plan was to get to 50 continuous reps on each arm and then increase the weight.
I'm wondering if this is the correct approach. It seems there are real advantages to keeping to a lower rep/higher sets scheme. Some of the points are:
1. More flexibility.
Sticking to alternating sets of 10 allows you to better decide when you take a break because of endurance limitations. It also allows you to push a bit further. For example, you do three sets of 10 and start to feel the need for a breather. You can push for another set on each arm since this is not too great a time to push for. If you were doing 50 reps on each arm, you might start to need a breather in the middle of your second arm, and have to stop before completing the goal number of repetitions. The higher the rep range, the greater the possibility this will happen.
2. More strength and speed.
Lower repetition sets allow you to use more weight and also to go faster since you are not fatiguing the arm as quickly. With high rep sets you fatigue the arm more and it's harder to recover for the next set. I did 40 reps on each arm in the one arm swing today (followed by another set of 20 each non-stop). I got the sense that as I approached higher reps I was slowing down. There is also a mental element to higher reps where you might tend to go easier because you know you have more reps to do and don't want to burn out.
3. More total volume.
Because you're not limited by muscular fatigue with low rep sets you can do more reps. If I do 40 reps per arm, then 20, I will probably only be able to do a third set of 10. If I do lower reps I could probably knock out 10 sets of 10 for 100 reps total. Perhaps instead of shooting for 50 continuous reps before adding weight, I should shoot for 100 total reps before adding weight. Instead of progressing from five sets of 10 to one set of 50, I should progress from five sets of 10 to 10 sets of 10.
There are other considerations: Do higher reps give something (muscular endurance) that low rep sets don't? Is this something that is necessary? Is there an ideal rep scheme that will allow for incraeses in muscular endurance, strength and maintain speed? I'm thinking that if sets of 10 allow for more speed and weight, that may sacrifice muscular endurance. Sets of 50 will give more muscular endurance but sacrifice weight and perhaps, speed. Would sets of 15, 20 or 25 give a perfect combination of all three elements?