Single rep training (also called alactic training) is one of those really old strength training techniques. Not many people use it these days, but it was practiced a lot during the early 20th century by old time strongmen to build strength.
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The idea is simple. Instead of doing sets of tons of reps, each set uses one repetition at a really heavy weight. This takes intense concentration and focus, and is only for advanced lifters.
Single rep training is sometimes referred to as alactic training because it doesn't release lactic acid in your muscle (a-lactic). You don't 'feel the burn', you just lift a ludicrously heavy weight a few times.
Singles can build a lot of muscle and strength, not to mention strong connective tissues. However, they are dangerous for that very reason - they put a lot of strain on your muscles and connective tissue.
Additionally, it allows advanced guys and gals to train with heavier weights without an excess training volume at teach workout. So advanced people can work right up to their limits.
These are all reasons singles are good for advanced people, but NOT for beginners and intermediates.
You need to focus on using perfect form and having intense concentration. And the knowledge of your body to know what you're doing. Don't jump into them too quickly.
Single reps aren't for everybody, especially not beginners. Choose what works for you, what you enjoy, and what's safe for your level.
And now that the scaring you is out of the way, here's how to start your single rep training routine!
If you're doing a regular workout program, say 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps, gradually taper down the number of repetitions you work with for your later sets - and increase the weight. This gives you a nice, gradual transition into single rep training over the course of about a month of workouts.
You might also try a plan of 3 warm-up sets with 5 repetitions, using fairly light weights but getting heavier. Then you'll do 3 more single reps, 1 at 70% or your one rep max weight for that exercise, 1 at 80%, and the last at 90% of your one rep max.
Don't try to make a new high one rep max each time you go to the gym. You'll probably hurt yourself.
Switch to a pan with 5 sets of 1 rep each. Start with a relatively light weight (say, 50-70% of your one rep max) and over the course of several workouts gradually increase the weight 'till each repetition is your single rep max.
Single reps aren't something to be tried lightly. For most people, a well balanced beginner weight training program will bring you much better results and be much safer.
Also, it has to suit you. I've tried some single rep weight training, and I don't find it particularly productive or interesting. I might when I'm more advanced, but for now I stick with more usual workout routines.
Further, aside from the personal guidelines that Kubic and De Vany give that I've summarized above, I haven't been able to dig up any studies on the effects of single rep training. None!
There are comparisons of the number of sets done of a given exercise vs. how much results they produce, and variations of sets and reps, but I wasn't able to find anything about single rep training. So for the moment, really see how it works for you. And if you find any studies on single rep weight training, send them my way - I'd really appreciate it!
Oh, and be sure to sign up for the e-zine Starting Strong to get monthly strength training, exercise, and diet tips e-mailed to you - and access to the free e-book Train Smart, Eat Smart: Exercise Nutrition Hacks!
1. Kubik, Brooks D. 2006. Dinosaur Training: Lost Secrets of Strength and Development. Louisville, KY: Brooks D. Kubik. Pp. 85.
2. De Vany, Arthur. 2011. The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness, And Aging. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale. Pp. 104.
3. Kubik, Brooks D. 2010. Strength, Muscle and Power. Louisville: Brooks Kubik Enterprises. Pp. 56.
4. De Vany, pp. 104.
5. Kubik, Dinosaur Training, pp. 84.
6. Kubik, Strength, Muscle and Power, pp. 55 - 56.
7. Ibid., pp. 54.
8. Ibid., pp. 57.
9. Kubik, Dinosaur Training, pp. 87.
10. Ibid., pp. 88.
11. De Vany. Pp. 104.
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