The Total Rep Protocol

When I write a program I tend to categorize exercises into four main groups. In general I will work off three main categories:

  • Main Lifts
  • Supplementary Lifts
  • Accessory Lifts
  • Jumps, Throws, and Sprints (I can’t think of a great name for this one)

Depending on the person, and the specific outcome we are looking to produce through training, I may put different exercises into these categories. To be clear, if we went into even more depth, I would also add or remove categories for some types of programs as well. As an example, if someone is looking to improve the big three lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift) the exercises in each category, and the categories, will differ quite a bit from the categorization of exercises for an athlete, playing a specific sport.


In either sense, the objective of most accessory work is often to add muscle to the frame of said person undergoing the training. Therefore, when I program accessory movements I am looking to steadily add an overload both in terms of total work done (volume) and total work done in a single set (pseudo intensity).

One of the best ways I have gone about doing this is using a “total rep protocol.”

Here’s how it works.

We can pick virtually any exercise that I would categorize as “accessory” work. For the sake of an example, let’s use the DB bench press.


We will first assign a total number of reps: 30-35

From there we will program 30-35 reps on the DB bench press over four different training sessions.

Session 1: 4×8 (32 reps)

Session 2: 2×15 (30 reps)

Session 3: 5×6 (30 reps)

Session 4: 3×10 (30 reps)

Here’s the mind-set I would instruct them to take in choosing weights over the four sessions:

In session one I want them to work steadily up to a set of 8 where they feel there is still 5 or so reps left in the tank each set. As an example let’s say it looked like 50lbs, 55lbs, 60lbs, 60lbs.

The next week, I want them to take as close to their best weight from week one, and do it for 2 sets of 15. These should be near failure type efforts. So if they did it well, they would take 60lbs for two sets of 15.


The third week, we would start at 60lbs, or just above that, and steadily increase the load over 5 sets, making sure that the top set still leaves them feeling like there are 5 or so reps left in the tank.

In week four, you guessed it, we are going to take as close to that top end weight from week three and perform three sets of 10 at that load.

By doing so we should have effectively hit our goal of either doing more total work over the sets, more total work in a single set, or both.

This is a solid approach for the organization of smaller movements. You can experiment with different total rep numbers, and therein different weekly set/rep schemes. Just make sure to adhere to the principal of having higher set lower rep sessions preceding lower set higher rep sessions.

Give it a try!


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