Timed Sets: The Key to Your Next Strength Breakthrough

Learn how training with timed sets can help you become faster and more powerful on the field.

Timed Sets

According to Ben Peterson, exercise scientist at the University of Minnesota, the key to your next breakthrough is to lift like you play—literally.

"Everything in sport has a time limit," Peterson says, so you should train to be as fast and powerful as possible during that time period. How? By performing as many reps as possible (with perfect form, of course) in an amount of time that simulates the demands of your sport—so a football player would work furiously for about five seconds, then rest for 40 seconds, just like he would on the field.

"If you increase the number of Back Squats you can do in seven seconds from five to eight, you've improved the amount of work you can do by more than 60 percent," explains Peterson.

Make the transition to timed sets three to six weeks before your season starts. By the time you step on the field, you'll know you're prepared to give your all during every second of every play.

How To

Set Times

Training should match your sport as closely as possible. Choose three time intervals that reflect the duration of a short, average and long play. Examples:

  • Football lineman – 3, 5 and 7 seconds
  • Football wide receiver – 5, 7 and 10 seconds
  • Swimmer – 15, 25 and 30 seconds

Number of Sets

If your set time is five seconds or less, do four to six sets. If your set duration is seven seconds or longer, decrease the number of sets to two to four.

Choose Weights

Lift between 35 and 60 percent of your one-rep max on a timed set. Lift more weight for shorter sets, less weight for longer ones. Don't get discouraged if you slow down during a set—this is normal.

Recover Right

Rest time between sets should reflect the recovery time you get between plays on the field. Football players can take up to 40 seconds of rest. Hockey players may need as much as two minutes. When you start, use two to three times that total, then reduce your rest interval by 15 to 20 seconds each week until you reach your goal.

Pick Exercises 

Alternate Workout Days

It's best to follow a three-day-per-week schedule.

  • Day 1 – Middle length time
  • Day 2 – Shortest time
  • Day 3 – Longest time

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