INTENSITY - REPS IN RESERVE (RIR)

Questions that will be answered in this article:

  • What are RIR
  • Why do we use them in the programs
  • How to use them


So what are RIRs and what do they describe?

RIR mean reps in reserve and are used to describe subjective training intensities. Let's explain this with an example. The plan tells you to do 5 weighted dips with 2RIR. This means when you are finished with the set of 5 reps, you should have been able to complete two reps more. So you finished the set with 2 reps in reserve. And that's basically how it works. The number in front of the RIR tells you how much reps you should leave in the tank.


Why should you leave reps in the tank? 

The answer is pretty simple - less fatigue. Training to failure results in a lot of fatigue. Too much fatigue harms your progress in different ways. It can lower your workload in that particular training and it can increase the rest time you need to start your next workout, which also lowers your weekly workload. And as we know, the constant increase in workload (mechanical stress) over time is what keeps our muscles grow and makes strength gains possible. 


Let's make this clear with another example: 

Person A trains to absolute failure. Both persons train for Pull Ups with 32kg. 

Person A trains to absolute failure which could result in: 

SET 1: 10 reps with 32kg 

SET 2: 7 reps with 32kg 

SET 3: 5 reps with 32kgdue to the high fatigue of the first set, the performance of set 2 and 3 drops rapidly. 

Workload in sum: 704kg. 


Person B trains with RIR2. So every set two reps in reserve. 

Set 1: 8 reps with 32kg 

Set 2: 8 reps with 32kg 

Set 3: 7 reps with 32kg 

The performance due to the RIR2 is more constant. 

Workload in sum: 736kg. 


So person B had 32kg more workload. Sounds not very much, you think? Add that up to 1 session per week for a year. This results in 52 x 32kg. This 1664kg more workload. Probably it is even more since Person A collects more fatigue over time and can train less often in the whole year. So guess which person progresses more in that year!


So I think I could make clear why we are using RIR in the programs. You will notice, that the RIR changes. We are controlling fatigue management like this. Shortly before deloads, you will train on a higher intensity than at the beginning of a new block, because if you are going to deload, your body has more time to recover. 


How to use RIR? 

Since you don't know your max reps for every exercise, rep & weight range, the RIR system takes time to be fully implemented in your workouts. Once you do an exercise for the first time, it is nearly impossible to keep the exact RIR that is written in the plan. But the second time you know more. Third time even more. So over time, you will get pretty good in fitting your sets to the given RIR. For the first times using RIR on exercises where you know or can estimate your 1RM, the following table can give you an input of which % 1RM you need to keep the given reps in reserve. (This are just recommendations, depending on your daily conditions this can be accurate or not) 


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