Calculating the Training Load – Weight, Sets, Reps – And Why It’s Essential

Goal setting
Optimal training load is goal-specific and individual. So, the first question to answer is the goal of training. For one person, it can be improving their endurance and being able to go on 15-km (9-mi) hikes every weekend, while another might want to get better definition on their muscles. Yet another person might be going into training in parallel with a weight loss program, and their goal will be to lose 10 kg (~20 lb) of weight while also gaining some muscle. There are many possibilities, but specific goal-setting must be the starting point of any good training program.

The concept of training load
When a client comes to you for training (or when you start training yourself), the main goal is to make sure that training becomes a continuous process. In order to do that, you have to set up a training program that is both challenging and doable. The person in training should feel and see their progress, but the process must be controlled and careful to avoid exhaustion, overtraining, and simply injuring oneself. To achieve this goal, the start of training should be devoted to selecting the right training load.

A “training load” is a broad term describing total frequency, volume, intensity, and type of physical activity an athlete undertakes. Simply said, training load describes how much stress is placed on an individual in a single or multiple training session(s). If the training load is too low (no stress) or too high (excessive stress) there will be no progress and performance might even decrease (picture above). The coach’s goal is to find an optimal training load for each client to ensure continuous progress and goal achievement.
The following parameters have to be taken into account when choosing the right training load:
  • Medical history and contraindications;
  • Available time for training;
  • Frequency of training sessions;
  • Training volume;
  • Training intensity;
  • Number of sets;
  • Number of repetitions;
  • Training weight.
Those parameters have to be regularly adjusted to constantly “stress” the body in order to promote progress, improve performance, and keep the trainee engaged. The adjustments might come from increased training volume (number of exercises, sets, and repetitions or shortened rest intervals), intensity (speed of movement, number of reps per fixed time) or the level of exercise complexity (adding working weights or new exercises). If no changes are made to the training programme and the athlete keeps doing the same workouts, at some point performance improvement will plateau and even decrease (picture below).
Graph showing the correlation between training load and performance improvement to find the optimal training goal

A real-life example
Strength training
Let’s see how a training load evaluation might take place for a person who wants to lose weight in a set period of time. Meet Kindzuro and his personal trainer Alex.
The norms of healthy weight loss stipulate that it should not exceed 1 kg (~ 2 lb) a week, which means that each month Kindzuro should lose no more than 3-4 kg (6-9 lb), making it 9-12 kg (20-26 lb) over a three-month period. With his job and family, Kindzuro is a busy man, so he and Alex decide that he will train 3 times a week and workouts will be no more than 1 hour long. Since Kindzuro has no prior exercise experience, Alex decides that initial workouts will be based on the basic exercises that involve the major joints and muscle groups, such as squats, push-ups, deadlifts, pull-ups, and abs exercises. Unfortunately, Alex forgets to check Kindzuro’s medical history and creates the training program with total disregard for possible contraindications, which is bound to disrupt the training further down the line.
Now Alex has to determine how many sets and reps Kinzuro needs to do for weight loss and estimate the training weight for Kindzuro. From his studies as a gym instructor, Alex knows that to activate the fat-burning process, the exercises should be done in sets of 15 or more repetitions with a working weight of 50-60% of the maximum.

There are other training methods and protocols that activate the fat-burning process, but their introduction should be postponed until at least two weeks into the training process to allow for Kindzuro’s adaptation.
The final task of setting the initial training load is to determine the maximum weight of equipment that Kindzuro will use in his training. During the first workout, Alex asks him to do squats, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups for the maximum number of repetitions. The results of Kindzuro are presented in the table below.

Kindzuro shows good results for a man with no previous exercise history , but he can do no pull-ups at the moment. Alex, once again, uses his previous experience in calculating the loads to figure out that Kindzuro can use a 20kg (44lb) bar for squats and a 15kg (33 lb) bar for the bench press, and that he needs to use a rubber band for pull-ups. An example of training session is presented in the table below.

Now, every time Kindzuro comes for a workout, Alex needs to adjust the training load: increase the intensity (increasing the number of exercises and repetitions and shortening the rest intervals) and the level of the exercises’ complexity (adding working weight or new exercises), based on the results of the last workout and the current physical condition of Kindzuro Yamamoto. If Alex won’t do it, one of two things will happen. Either Kindzuro will continue training with the initial training load that Alex established for him and soon will lose interest because there will be no progress. Or Alex might move Kindzuro along some pre-set training programme that doesn’t take into account all of his parameters, and it might become straining or even injure Kindzuro. Only the constant update of the training program can keep the process smooth, challenging, and enjoyable at the same time.
Another way to find the perfect number of sets and reps is to use Abe Health for personal trainers. Alex will need to have a trial session to run Kindzuro through the basic exercises and get his results:

And Abe Health will find the right way to train Kindzuro:

After each session, information about Kindzuro will be updated and his training plan adjusted based on his results, motivation, and other indicators.

This is just an example of how to define the optimal training load in the event of strength training. To do the same for endurance training, the coach will use a slightly different algorithm, and combining strength training and endurance training is a topic for another article.

Help from ABE
Abe Health is all about helping each of its clients create the most achievable healthiest lifestyle, and AI planning helps to avoid health risks and injuries. Unlike Alex, who forgot to ask Kindzuro about previous medical issues, Abe Health requests this information at the start of client registration and builds a personalised training program so as to exclude any exercises that might exacerbate the previous problem and offer exercises that might help to relieve it.

Keeping all the information and formulas in your head is difficult, whether you are a personal trainer with several clients or a novice gym-goer. And this is where Abe can help. Abe Health is an AI-powered platform that suggests possible training methods and offers a database of appropriate exercises.

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