Q: I’m having trouble with decline bench press (midrange position for chest). I get 10 reps on my first work set and eight on the second. I’ve tried to do X-Rep partials at the end of the second set, pulsing below the midpoint, but I was too weak. I didn’t have any strength left to do X Reps. Is there something I’m doing wrong? Why am I weak at that point? Also, on some exercises, I fail at 10 reps on the first set and then can barely do six reps on the second. Is that normal?
A: X Reps are difficult for different people on different exercises. It depends on individual neuromuscular efficiency in each specific target muscle. You may have that type of weakness in your pecs or one of the synergist muscles (triceps or front delts on press moves) if you struggle with decline bench press…
If you can’t pulse with X Reps, do a single static hold at the X Spot for as long as possible—six to 10 seconds. That’s the next best thing.
Is a significant rep differential on set 2 normal? It can be. Once again, it depends on the neuromuscular efficiency and fiber makeup of the particular muscle or muscles you’re training. On some exercises, your reps may go 10, 6; on others they may go 10, 9. And some people get more reps on their second set than the first.
For example, Jonathan’s reps will go 8, 10 on some exercises—probably because his fast-twitch-fiber-oriented muscles need that first work set as additional warmup and nervous system priming to fire properly. When that happens, he usually does a third work set for growth-fiber-activation insurance.
Just do as many reps as you can on each work set. If the decrease on the second set is too severe, you may want to reduce the weight to stay in the hypertrophic zone—9 to 12—although if you can do enough X Reps on the second lower-rep set, you can extend the tension time enough to reach that hypertrophic-time zone—more than 25 seconds.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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