The 30 Rep Workout
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch watching television. (I don’t usually sit on the couch and watch television. Typically, I sit on the couch and either read a book or write in one of my notebooks—or if I have enough free time, I spend it in meditation, prayer, or a bit of lectio divina. But my workout partner, Jason, was about to show up for a workout, and so I wanted something trivial to pass the time.) Anyway, I turned it to ESPN, only to see that the Women’s Crossfit World Championships (did I even say that right?; not a big Crossfit fan, so anyone feel free to correct me if I need correcting) was on the tube. The women were engaging in a competition that involved nothing more than doing 30 snatches—apparently they can either do power snatches or full snatches; whatever it takes to get the bar up—as fast as possible. I think they were using 90 pounds, maybe 110, I can’t really remember. The first competitor to reach 30 reps wins. Simple enough. Not easy, but simple.
This got me to thinking.
If the fittest women in the world were using 90 pounds, then surely I could do the same thing with 135 pounds. (My best power snatch is close to my bodyweight; around 190 pounds.) I seldom do heavy snatches, but such a workout couldn’t be that tough.
Jason showed up in another ten minutes or so. I walked out into my garage gym as he ambled up the driveway. “I got something different for the first part of our workout,” I said.
“What’s that?” he answered. He may have been surprised. Typically we just train with the basics. Heavy power cleans, overhead presses, squats, deadlifts, barbell curls, etc. are the usual suspects—5 sets of 5 reps, 6 sets of 4 reps, occasionally a lot of heavy doubles or triples; that sort of thing.
“Well, we’re going to start with 30 power snatches with 135 pounds.”
He looked at me, and I couldn’t tell if the stare was annoyance or bemusement. “I don’t like high reps,” was all he said.
“I’m not sure if I would call this high reps. I mean, don’t get me wrong. If you can do 30 reps straight with 135, then knock yourself out. But I thought we would do 3, 4, or 5 reps—whatever we feel like doing—on each set. As soon as you do a set, I do a set, and back and forth until we get 30 reps.”
He shrugged. “I’ll give it a shot.”
We were finished with all 30 reps of the power snatches in about 10 minutes. Most of our “sets” were done for 3 reps. I did the last 2 sets with 5 reps, just to get finished a little quicker. And we did a few sets for either 4 or 2 reps apiece.
When we finished all 30 reps, we were both a little fatigued, but nothing too bad, and I decided that it was a pretty good way to do a lot of work in a short period of time. It was similar—obviously enough—to performing a 10 sets of 3 reps workout, but I enjoyed the fact that it was slightly less confining. You just count total number of reps, which gives it a kind of “zennish” lose yourself in the moment quality to the workout.
We decided to do the same thing with chins, although we ended up doing more reps—40 total—in about the same period of time. When that was over, we also did 10 sets of squats, working up to some fairly heavy doubles with around 450.
A pretty good workout—or so I thought.
The next day, my back was so sore that it made just walking around uncomfortable. My legs and butt were hardly sore at all, which meant the twin culprits were the snatches and chins.
Since that day, about half of the workouts Jason and I perform are “30 rep sessions.” It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite ways to train.
If you want to incorporate these into your training program, or if you want to use solely “30-reps” for a while, here are some “techniques” and “pointers” that I find make it work the best:
- Stick with “bang for your buck” exercises. In other words, use a lot of compound movements.
- It’s probably best—at least at first—to utilize it with every-other-day, full-body workouts. You can’t go wrong with a workout of chins, dips, and deadlifts, for instance, followed a couple of days later with overhead presses, squats, and barbell curls.
- When selecting the weight to use, start off with something that would be very difficult for a set of 6 to 8 reps.
- Stop the sets whenever your reps begin to slow down. This will prevent you from making the mistake of doing too much too soon. You want to do less early so that you can do more later on. (If you don’t understand what that means, then you obviously do too much high-rep training.)
- If you are going to combine it with other forms of “heavier” training, then save the 30-reps portion for the end of the workout. In other words, my first “run” with this workout from the example above probably wasn’t the best way to do it. I should have done the heavy squats first, which would have actually “primed” my nervous system for the 30-reps part of the workout.
- And, as always, have fun!