set-rep bible: Chad Waterbury

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set-rep bible: Chad Waterbury

Daniel Patrisso
The Set/Rep Bible
How to use the "24-50 principle" to achieve your goals!
by Chad Waterbury

This Internet is a dichotomous sumbitch. On one hand, Internet information sharing has enabled us to read loads of articles pertaining to training and muscle growth. On the other hand, less credible advice accumulates into a sea of confusion. It even confuses me, and this is my profession!

The problem is, how do you know what info is credible? Specifically, what models are used to determine a prescribed set/rep range for any given goal? Scads of parameter variations have been prescribed over the years. Most trainees blindly accept these parameters based solely on creative writing skills and underhanded marketing schemes.

To address this issue, I’m here to provide some useful, simple guidelines to design your own program. As such, it’s time to quantify certain parameters that I’ve found most efficacious.

The 24-50 Principle

The 24-50 Principle was born when I figured out that certain minimal and maximal set/rep volumes are necessary for various structural and neural effects. Indeed, based on the intended goal, I’ve devised certain key set/rep volume ranges during each microcycle.

Even though "assisted" individuals can withstand more volume and intensity (more of the former than the latter), it’s not always necessary or desirable. As such, both natural and assisted trainees can reap the benefits of this information. With the simple application of the 24-50 Principle you’ll be able to:

1) Determine which set/rep range is ideal for your goals.

2) Ascertain why a certain program isn’t inducing the intended effect.

3) Possess an unlimited amount of variables to constantly manipulate your program design.

We’ve all heard the blind notions that certain parameters are best for strength, hypertrophy (size gains), and fat loss. While it’s certainly true that specific parameters are well-suited to an intended goal, it must be understood that these parameters are often pulled out of thin air. I get inundated with questions from confused trainees and coaches regarding specific parameters for maximal strength, hypertrophy, and fat loss programs. But I don’t condemn any of them for their confusion since parameters can vary immensely from expert to expert.

I’ve found that a sufficient set/rep volume will determine whether an athlete: increases maximal strength with hypertrophy, increases hypertrophy without a regard for maximal strength, or provides a sufficient stimulus to maintain muscle mass during fat loss. I’ve outlined three primary goals that most trainees seek in accordance with the parameters that I’ve found most effective for the intended effect.

1. Maximal Strength with Hypertrophy

The dogma of maximal strength training assumes that heavy-load, low-rep training will cause minimal, if any, muscle growth. This notion has occurred since those who greatly increase their loading oftentimes greatly reduce their volume. In other words, they perform low reps with heavy weights. Why? I blame traditional Western linear periodization schemes that mandate lower volumes with higher loads.

Anyone who's been around the iron game for an appreciable amount of time knows that linear periodization has turned out to be a lesson in futility. So let’s assume that such reasoning is insufficient. Therefore, if we simply "think outside the box" and manipulate maximal strength parameters, we can up the volume.

Why increase volume? Because once you reach a certain set/rep volume threshold, hypertrophy will occur. If you seek maximal strength and hypertrophy, follow these guidelines:

Table 1

The 24-50 Principle as it Applies to Maximal Strength with Hypertrophy


Set/Rep Volume


Rest Between Sets

Sessions per Week per Muscle Group

Maximal Strength w/Hypertrophy


80-90% of 1RM

70-180 seconds


Table 1 depicts the parameters I’ve found to be necessary and sufficient to induce maximal strength gains with hypertrophy. Oftentimes, trainees will only perform 3 x 3 or 5 x 3 during periods of maximal strength training. Obviously such parameters fall short of the minimal threshold required for hypertrophy.

Arnold was big and strong!

Simply increasing your 3 x 3 to 8 x 3 will provide an immediate hypertrophy effect. A minimal load of 80% of 1RM is required to recruit high-threshold motor units, while 90% of 1RM appears to push the upper end of possible loading. Why? Because loads greater than 90% of 1RM often prove to be too taxing when striving for a set/rep volume of at least 24.

Parameters such as 8 x 3, 10 x 3, 12 x 3, 7 x 4, 8 x 4, 9 x 4, etc. all work extremely well to increase maximal strength and hypertrophy.

2. Hypertrophy Without an Emphasis on Maximal Strength

Sometimes we just want to get big and we don’t give a horse’s ass how strong we are. If that's you, then this section has you covered!

But remember, merely seeking hypertrophy in a given phase of training can also benefit those who seek maximal strength. Indeed, increasing hypertrophy can help with maximal strength efforts since an accumulation of myosin and actin proteins will allow for greater force production in subsequent cycles.

Hypertrophy targeted training parameters probably vary more than any other intended goal. HIT trainees merely perform one set to failure that usually consist of 12 reps or so. Therefore, a 1 x 12 volume would equate to a limp-wristed, pansy-assed set/rep volume of 12 — that’s anything but sufficient for hypertrophy.

On the other hand, 10 x 10 schemes are often employed in pursuit of greater hypertrophy. This would equate to a set/rep volume of 100. The problem? Other than the fact that the set/rep volume is out of my ideal range, the necessary loading wouldn't be ideal for hypertrophy.

In order to successfully perform such a high volume, a load of ~60% of 1RM must be employed. I’ve found such a load to be inefficacious for hypertrophy training due to the fact that smaller motor units that possess suboptimal growth potential are primarily taxed.

So, if you seek hypertrophy, aim for the following:

Table 2

The 24-50 Principle as it Applies to Hypertrophy


Set/Rep Volume


Rest Between Sets

Sessions per Week per Muscle Group



70-80% of 1RM

60-120 seconds


All of the variables in Table 2 go together like soft breasts and hard asses. If you seek hypertrophy, the stimulus for growth must be sufficient without overindulgence. A minimum set/rep volume of 36 is required for hypertrophy, but such volume must be concurrently matched with proper load selection.

Larry Scott knew a thing or two about hypertrophy.

As you approach a load of 80% of 1RM, I’ve found that a volume of 36 is close to ideal for most trainees. Also, as loads are decreased, volume must be increased to induce hypertrophy. But any volume greater than 50 won't allow you to utilize a load of at least 70% of 1RM without inducing excessive structural and neural stress.

Parameters such as 6 x 6, 4 x 12, 5 x 10, etc. provide a powerful hypertrophy effect with the prescribed loads.

3. Fat Loss

Trainees who seek fat loss must provide a delicate balance of intensity and volume. If the intensity is too low, muscle mass won't be maintained (or possibly even increased). If the volume is too high, excessive structural damage will often occur and recovery will take longer than an obese geriatric running the Boston marathon.

In addition, if you seek fat loss then you must follow an eating plan that forces your body into a deficit energy state. Such a state is stressful in itself, so weight-training parameters must adequately address this shortcoming. As such, the following parameters have proven ideal for those who seek to maintain muscle mass without inducing excessive structural, neural, and hormonal stress:

Table 3

The 24-50 Principle as it Applies to Fat Loss


Set/Rep Volume


Rest Between Sets

Sessions per Week per Muscle Group

Fat Loss


70-80% of 1RM

60-90 seconds


The parameters in Table 3 are ideal to provide a sufficient stimulus when you seek fat loss. These guidelines are tightly regulated since it’s very difficult to maintain a volume greater than 24-36 with 70-80% of 1RM during fat loss phases.

Frank Columbu shredded.

Whenever they try to push the envelope of volume or intensity above these numbers, trainees quickly become unmotivated (a sign of CNS stress) and overly sore (a sign of excessive structural stress). As such, both volume and intensity must be tightly maintained while the rest periods are decreased a little in order to provide a slightly larger cardiovascular stimulus.

Parameters such as 4 x 6, 4 x 8, 5 x 5, 5 x 6, etc. all work well to maintain (or increase) mass during hypocaloric eating phases.

The Physique You Desire

Study and re-study these parameters when you devise your next training phase. Whether your goal is strength and size, just size, or fat loss, all of the info is provided for you.

Be sure to constantly rotate your parameters throughout the week. In other words, don’t perform the same parameters for two consecutive workouts. Don’t be afraid to get creative, but stick to the recommended ranges. If you do, you’ll be well on your way to the physique you desire.

As a bonus, you’ll be able to spend more time on the beach instead of searching through the Internet black hole of misinformation!

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PUBLISHED 06-06-05 09:36