As a certified strength and conditioning specialist, I’ve seen firsthand the profound impact that innovative training methods can have on athletic performance. One such method gaining traction is the concept of Repetitions in Reserve (RIR). This training theory has revolutionized how we approach strength training, offering a more nuanced and individualized way to optimize performance and recovery. In this article, we’ll dive deep into what RIR is, how it works, and its benefits for athletes.

What is Repetitions in Reserve (RIR)?

Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) is a measure used in strength training to gauge how many more repetitions an athlete can perform before reaching muscle failure. It’s a subjective method that allows athletes to self-assess and adjust their training intensity based on their perceived exertion during a set. Instead of focusing solely on the number of repetitions or the amount of weight lifted, RIR emphasizes the athlete’s proximity to failure.

For instance, if an athlete completes a set of squats and feels they could have done three more reps before failing, their RIR for that set is 3. This method provides a more flexible and personalized approach to training, as it accounts for daily fluctuations in strength, energy levels, and overall readiness.

How to Use RIR in Training

Implementing RIR in a training program involves several steps:

1. Educate Athletes: Athletes need to understand the concept of RIR and how to accurately judge their exertion levels. This might require some initial guidance and practice.

2. Set Goals: Determine the desired RIR for different phases of the training cycle. For example, during a hypertrophy phase, you might aim for an RIR of 2-3, while in a strength phase, an RIR of 1-2 might be more appropriate.

3. Adjust Training Loads: Use RIR to adjust the weights and repetitions based on how the athlete feels each day. If an athlete is more fatigued than usual, they might reduce the weight or reps to maintain the target RIR.

4. Track Progress: Keep detailed records of RIR, weights, and reps to monitor progress and make informed adjustments to the training program.

Benefits of RIR for Athletes

The RIR method offers several significant benefits that can enhance an athlete’s training and performance:

1. Personalization and Flexibility

One of the most compelling advantages of RIR is its ability to personalize training intensity. Traditional programs often prescribe fixed weights and repetitions, which can lead to overtraining or undertraining if an athlete’s daily condition isn’t optimal. RIR allows for day-to-day adjustments based on how the athlete feels, ensuring that each session is appropriately challenging without being excessively taxing.

2. Enhanced Recover

By monitoring and adjusting RIR, athletes can avoid pushing themselves to failure too frequently, which can be detrimental to recovery and lead to overtraining. RIR helps strike a balance between sufficient training stimulus and adequate recovery, reducing the risk of injury and promoting long-term progress.

3. Improved Mental Engagement

RIR encourages athletes to be more mindful and engaged during their workouts. By constantly assessing how many reps they have in reserve, athletes become more attuned to their bodies and can make smarter training decisions. This heightened awareness can translate to better technique and safer lifting practices.

4. Greater Adaptability

The RIR method is highly adaptable to various training goals and phases. Whether an athlete is focusing on hypertrophy, strength, or endurance, RIR can be adjusted to fit the specific demands of each phase. This adaptability makes it a versatile tool for strength and conditioning programs.

Practical Examples of RIR in Action

To illustrate how RIR can be implemented in a training program, let’s look at a few practical examples:

Hypertrophy Training

In a hypertrophy phase, the goal is to build muscle size. This typically involves higher volumes of work with moderate weights. A common approach might be to aim for an RIR of 2-3 on most sets.

Example Workout:

  – Squats: 4 sets of 8-12 reps with an RIR of 2-3.

  – Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-12 reps with an RIR of 2-3.

  – Rows: 4 sets of 8-12 reps with an RIR of 2-3.

In this scenario, the athlete performs each set until they feel they could do 2-3 more reps before failure. If they reach the end of the set and feel they could do significantly more than 3 reps, the weight might be increased for the next set. Conversely, if they feel they are too close to failure, the weight might be decreased.

Strength Training

During a strength phase, the focus is on lifting heavier weights with lower repetitions. An RIR of 1-2 is often targeted to ensure the athlete is lifting near their maximum capacity without going to failure every time.

Example Workout:

  – Deadlift: 5 sets of 3-5 reps with an RIR of 1-2.

  – Overhead Press: 5 sets of 3-5 reps with an RIR of 1-2.

  – Pull-Ups: 5 sets of 3-5 reps with an RIR of 1-2.

Here, the athlete lifts heavier weights and stops each set when they feel they could do 1-2 more reps. This ensures the intensity is high enough to build strength without leading to excessive fatigue.

Endurance Training

For endurance-focused training, the goal is to perform a high number of repetitions with lighter weights. An RIR of 3-4 might be appropriate, ensuring the athlete maintains good form and avoids excessive fatigue.

Example Workout:

  – Lunges: 3 sets of 15-20 reps with an RIR of 3-4.

  – Push-Ups: 3 sets of 15-20 reps with an RIR of 3-4.

  – Plank: 3 sets of 30-60 seconds with an RIR of 3-4.

In this context, the athlete performs each set until they feel they could do 3-4 more reps or hold the plank for an additional 30-60 seconds. This helps build muscular endurance without compromising form or leading to early burnout.

Implementing RIR in a Comprehensive Training Program

Incorporating RIR into a comprehensive training program requires careful planning and monitoring. Here are some key considerations:

1. Education and Communication

Athletes need to be educated about the concept of RIR and how to accurately gauge their exertion levels. This might involve initial coaching and regular feedback to ensure they understand and can implement RIR effectively.

2. Periodization

RIR should be integrated into the periodization of the training program. Different phases (e.g., hypertrophy, strength, endurance) will have different RIR targets. Planning these phases with appropriate RIR goals ensures a balanced approach to training and recovery.

3. Monitoring and Adjustments

Regular monitoring of training progress and RIR logs is essential. Coaches should review these logs to identify patterns and make necessary adjustments. This might involve increasing or decreasing the prescribed RIR based on the athlete’s performance and recovery status.

4. Combining RIR with Other Methods

RIR can be effectively combined with other training methods, such as autoregulation and velocity-based training. This multi-faceted approach can provide a more comprehensive picture of an athlete’s performance and readiness, leading to more informed training decisions.

Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) is a powerful tool in the arsenal of strength and conditioning specialists. By focusing on how many reps an athlete has left in reserve, RIR provides a flexible and individualized approach to training. It enhances personalization, improves recovery, fosters mental engagement, and offers greater adaptability to different training goals.


As a certified strength and conditioning specialist, I have seen the transformative impact of RIR on athletes’ training programs. By incorporating RIR, athletes can achieve a more balanced and effective training regimen, leading to improved performance, reduced risk of injury, and long-term progress. Whether you’re an athlete or a coach, embracing the concept of RIR can unlock new levels of potential and success in your training endeavors.