Are you working out hard enough to get results?

Do you know how hard you need to train to get results? We do! Keep reading if you want to learn to kick your training up a notch!

By now you’ve learned how to perform the foundational movements, dedicated a few days a week to strength training, and figured out your resistance training program. The next step is learning how hard you should be training in order to ensure you are continually gaining strength and muscle mass in the gym.

My favorite method is the Repetitions in Reserve or RIR model. Put simply, this means finishing a set and asking yourself “how many more reps could I have done with good technique/execution prior to failure?” Science has shown that leaving anywhere from 0-4 reps in reserve is an effective training intensity to gain muscle mass and improve strength.

The most frequently asked question I get is, “How do I determine whether I have 1 or 3 reps left in the tank?” First off, it is important to remember that determining RIR is based on your best estimate. You don’t need to be extremely accurate, however, you should try and be as consistent as possible when using the RIR method. The first step to learning the RIR method is determining what 3-4 RIR looks like and the rest will come naturally.

First, find your groove in the set. That means finding a repetition cadence (or tempo) that feels natural to you. The following are good indications of 3-4 RIR:

  • The first “pause” you feel in the set where you need to take an extra breath prior to performing a subsequent repetition
  • The first rep where muscle burn becomes quite noticeable
  • The first rep where you need to work quite a bit harder to maintain your regular repetition speed

From there, take it rep by rep, with your primary focus on maintaining technique. Trust me, this is harder than it sounds, especially towards the tail end of a set where fatigue is high; the muscle burn becomes readily apparent and your respiratory rate increases. Technique-wise, your last rep should, by in large, resemble your first rep with the key difference being speed. If you’re performing all of your reps with the same execution, your rep speed should slow down as you approach failure.

Now how does this fit into a workout program? The simplest method of progression is starting from 3-4 RIR and working your way down towards 0-1 RIR from week-to-week. For example, a 5-week hypertrophy program might look like:

  • Week 1: 3-4 RIR
  • Week 2: 2-3 RIR
  • Week 3: 1-2 RIR
  • Week 4: 1-2 RIR
  • Week 5: 0-1 RIR
  • Week 6: Deload, back to 3-4 RIR


Making small incremental increases in weight week-to-week or aiming for more reps than the prior week is a great way to ensure you’re moving down the RIR scale and training harder than you did in the previous week. A quick real life example might look like:

  • Week 1: 100lbs deadlift for 10 reps @ 3-4 RIR
  • Week 2: 100lbs deadlift for 12 reps @ 2-3 RIR
  • Week 3: 110lbs deadlift for 10 reps @ 1-2 RIR
  • Week 4: 120lbs deadlift for 10 reps @ 1-2 RIR
  • Week 5: 120lbs deadlift for 12 reps @ 0-1 RIR
  • Deload: 100lbs deadlift for 10 reps @ 3-4 RIR

One caveat regarding RIR for compound movements is that it’s always safest to train these movements with 1 RIR to avoid injury. Leave 0 RIR for isolation or more machine based movements.

Congratulations! You have now learned to properly apply the principles of progressive overload to your training program! This will help you gain strength and add muscle mass.

Schedule a consult with a LEVO trainer today to find out how to properly incorporate RIR into your training programming!