Realistic Reps and The Rule of Ten

This is the seventh of a set of excerpts from the Intervention DVD.

The most important thing that I can tell you about programming is reps—repetitions. I’ve got three rules that I want to share with you. This is called Realistic Reps. The first is called The Rule of Ten. This is for certain exercises. I would say almost universally the deadlift. I would say almost universally the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.

Now wait a second. Let me raise your hand. You know? So-and-so of Bulgaria. He does more than 10 snatches in a workout. Really, does he? Ten at 95%? Well, no he doesn’t. So these are the big body movements. The snatch, the clean-and-jerk…I even include…I walk over here sometimes and I include this list over here too. Now on the long press…if you only use, say to 20, you can certainly do more but on the push jerk…you know…doing an honest workout of 5 sets of two on the push jerk, it’s demanding and damaging. I would include these movements on the rule of 10.


If your athlete…if your example…needs strength work, the rule of 10 applies. What is the rule of 10? It’s these workouts—5 sets of 2. That’s one of my favorite workouts. Two sets of 5…that’s the…I just gave you Pavel’s book, “Power to the People”—two sets of 5. We will go in depth on this in a few minutes. Three sets of 3. Are you following the number system here?

This workout, one of my favorite hidden workouts—5, 3, 2. Brilliant workout. I invented it right after I invented oxygen. It was a long weekend. So the rule of 10 is one of the first…it means that you have probably 10 good repetitions in you. It’s interesting because I discovered that you probably have 6 singles in an exercise like the deadlift—heavy singles—or heavy clean-and-jerks. Pavel then told me one time, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly’…it’s funny because the Soviets came up with the same number in one of their studies that you probably have 6 quality clean-and-jerks in a workout. Now certainly you can do more and I know that – but 6.

The next one is that…what I call the half body movement…By the way, you actually know all of this?’ And that’s 15 to 25. You think about it—bench press, press, row, squat, front squat, the half body movements? Think about the most classic workouts there. I mean, 5 sets of 5 adds up to how many repetitions? Thirty? Sorry, slow group.
Five sets of 3—one of those classic workouts…you know…3 sets of 5…you know…that magical workout. Most of your classic workout numbers which are usually half-body exercises tend to total around 15 to 25 repetitions. And then I’ve got this area that I call…and it’s kind of a newer one…it’s the explosive whole body movements.

You know, Tim Ferriss does a real good job in 4-Hour Body. He talks about the minimal effective dose and there’s a great chapter on swings in there and this one woman who got all of her body composition goals by doing three days a week 75 swings. Is that a lot of swings? No, no. For those who swing a lot, no. If you swing badly, it could be a lot but if you swing well….We know that for swings…I can do this…I could probably do 50 to 100 swings a day for how long? Probably a year, right?

This rule of thumb…the realistic repetition thing is this…can you come back and do that workout again and again and again and again? Now, it’s true. I did one time on a bet. I front squatted 100 singles with 255 pounds. I had just broken my wrist…yeah, it was my first wrist surgery…so I had the big cast on there and I did them like this. The reason that I did 100 singles was because my friend was concerned that I was getting down because of my surgeries and issues so he challenged me to it. I was stupid enough to do it. How many times in my career am I going to do 100 singles with 255 in the front squat? Once. Once. Once. It’s not repeatable.

How often could I do 100 swings a day? 365 days in a row. How often could I do reasonably moderate deadlifts for two sets of 5? According to Pavel, if you have the courage to do it here, you can do it for the rest of your career. Could I do 15 Goblet Squats—15 to 25 Goblet Squats every day? Sure. You’ll notice that…what’s interesting about this list is that it’s realistic. It’s a good way to push an elite athlete harder but it’s also a reasonable thing that if I’m working with somebody in their mid-50s who is really trying to get themselves healthy and happy, you know, to the next level, I can give the same number of realistic repetitions.

So realistic repetitions is the first tool I am giving you that is actually getting us into the sets and reps of the weight room. Did you follow that? This is the first time today that we’ve stopped and now we’re starting to talk about sets and reps. Here is the idea for me and this is the most important thing to hear today. Everybody in the world—everybody—can get you on a program that works for three weeks. Everybody can get you on a program that works for six weeks. There are people who promise 90 days to success. I want you to think about success over six decades. It’s great that I make you a better high school athlete. That’s great. It’s great that I make you a Division I athlete. That’s great. But when you are at my age, I still want you to be healthy, wealthy and wise. So we look at intervention here and then we apply the numbers finally to the weight workout.

So the next tool from here, right, is.. and I call this simply realistic reps…and the funny thing is that when I tell people realistic reps…what I’m trying to get across is, ‘Is it a repeatable workout?’ ‘Is your training repeatable?’

I have this theory that one workout in five is terrible. One workout in five is pretty good. Three out of five are…you are just showing up. And 100 workouts – 20 pretty good workouts – of those 20, it kind of works out that about three of them are pretty darn good. The mistake people make is that they look at those 3 out of 100 workouts and then they blow it out to that’s what a career is like. That’s not what a career is like. It’s those 60 out of 100 workouts that I argue is what it is all about. I call them punch-the-clock workouts. You show up. You get it done. Yeah, you are going to have those 3 workouts in 100 that you are going to write online and brag to the world about how wonderful you are. Thank you. I can tell you about the three great weight-lifting meets in my life—the three great Highland Games. I am not going to tell you about the 97 that weren’t that great, am I? Don’t forget that online I am young and good looking.

So, what a realistic rep then does for you is that it ties the math, the math of our field into the patterning of our field. If you have somebody that’s simply here, really…I mean…the half-body movement here would be the only place that you are actually counting. As you slide over to slow strength, that’s the rule of half body. Yeah, that’s a half-body thing. Now that can be one of two things. If you’re doing a deadlift workout for the hinge, that’s the rule of 10. If you’re doing swings, that’s a little bit higher. On squats…I mean, honestly…I know people do 10 sets of 10 in the squat…I know that…they just don’t survive very long. The Farmer Walks—the walking and the loaded carries—I always do within reason. I don’t mind you having a tough day or two doing your Farmer Walks but if I want you to come back and continue to do waiter walks and things like that, we’re looking only currently at the movement loaded in coming back. We’re not trying to kill you. We’ve not done a Farmer Walk to death, have we in Coyote Point? No. I want you to come back and do them again in two days.

So this would easily be the rule of 10. These would be the rules of 10. Litvinovs—probably the rule of 10—probably you want to go lesser than more. I always love it online when somebody says that they did…you know…’I did 10 sets of, you know, 700 pound front squats followed by pushing a Humvee up Mount Everest.’ Yeah, right. Yeah. Just because you can type it doesn’t mean you can do it. So that’s our next step.

Now, I want to break out into two very important different ways but the first thing I want to do as intervention…here’s the problem that we have with everybody. I think that every person needs to do correctives.

Click here to see some of the preview clips from Intervention.