This post will be an ongoing blog post which we plan to update on a continuous basis.  We hope this page will help those who are new to training to understand the gibberish that is the strength and conditioning programming language. Geek time!

When we all first start training with an experienced strength and conditioning coach we can get a little confused with the program format.   If we are going to be working together on a remote coaching basis, it's critical that we speak the same language.

Let's take a look at an example program:

A. Deadlift 5 x [4-5], 31×1, rest :120

B1. DB Walking Lunges, 4 x [10-12steps ea leg], 21×0, rest :60
B2. Chin-ups, 4 x [6-8], 30×1, rest :90
C. 8min EMOM of:
odd: 10 RKBS
even: 10 Burpees

D. Sustainable Conditioning:
3 Rounds of:
400m Row
40 Double-Unders
20 Wall Balls
Rest, Walk 2min between rounds

If it’s your first time reading this, you probably understand most of it, but what do all those letters and the funny looking number mean? It’s one thing to be able to read the program; it’s a different thing to comprehend the science behind it.  Strength and conditioning programs are not as easy as some may make them out to be, and simply "going through the motions" is not going to deliver success.  

Far too often beginners,  intermediate and even advanced lifters fail to follow the exercise prescription correctly.   The "confusing little numbers" get overlooked and then they wonder why they do not see any results. Don’t be that meat-head who believes the only training parameter that matters is the weight on the bar.

1. What is RX’d?
2. What does A, B1, B2, C, & D. mean? How do I follow the sets and reps?
3. How do I read the reps and sets?
4. Understanding the Repetition Range
5. What is TEMPO and what the hell does 32X1 mean?
6. Why is the TEMPO important?
7. What is RM?
8. What about my personal best (PB)?
9. What weight do I start with for each exercise of the workout?
10. What about wave loading?
11. What are Clusters?
12. When a complex of movements is prescribed as:
13. How do we use percentages?
14. The Sustainable Conditioning Workout Weights?
15. What is AMRAP?
16. What is EMOM?
17. What is Touch and go (TnG)?
18. What are Ladders?
19. What is AHAFA?

1. What is RX’d?

The term “as Rx’d” is used to denote that the workout is performed “as prescribed” with no scaling or modifications.  Be aware; it is not compulsory to complete every workout at the Rx’d level. If we are unable to lift a certain weight or perform a particular movement, we would be smart to scale the workout to a level that allows us to get the desired response.

2. What does A, B1, B2, C, & D. mean? How do I follow the sets and reps?

The day-to-day training program will often use different styles and formats that can include a variety of letter and numbers that dictate the flow of the session.
In the above example, the athlete will complete five sets of exercise “A” for [4-5] repetitions at the Rx’d TEMPO (explanation to come) and the Rx’d rest period. 

After completing all five sets of “A”, the athlete will then move to part B.  Part B is a superset of two exercises “B1” and “B2”. The athlete will complete one set of “B1” [10-12steps each leg], then rest 60sec before completing one set of “B2” [6-8] repetitions. After resting for 90sec, the athlete will then repeat the superset of  “B1” and “B2” for a total of four sets. 

This rotation continues until the prescribed number of sets are completed for each part. For the above program, this would mean five sets of “A”, four sets of the superset “B1” and “B2”, then the EMOM if part "C” and the conditioning in part “D.” (details to follow).

A workout could also be designed with the format A1/A2, B1/B2, C1/C2/C3 or A1/A2/A3/A4/A5. Nothing changes, the athlete continue to complete the Rx’d numbers of reps and sets for the order of exercises. The athlete completes all of the exercises with the same letter before moving onto the next “letter” in the alphabet.  We just hope you know your alphabet?

3. How do I read the reps and sets?

Here at TSTM, we write the number of sets first and the number of repetitions second. Be aware that different coaches may have their format for writing these parameters.

TSTM example, 5 x [8-10] = 5 sets of 8 to 10reps.

Understanding Sets - Typically, from set to set the central nervous system (CNS) will continue to recruit a larger number of motor units and muscle fibres, due to CNS activation.  Often, the weight lifted will slowly increase from set to set, as long as correct form/technique and TEMPO is maintained.  These training parameters, along with the sets, repetitions and rest intervals, are critical elements to the success of the program and the desired adaptations that the coach wants for the athlete.

If we are using the correct methodology, then the muscle groups your targeting will be screaming for vengeance by the last set.  Gradual progressions from set to set is typically the key, often dictated by the training parameters (tempo, rest, repetitions, and possible weight percentages).  Be aware that individual performance can also be affected by lifestyle factors such as stress, sleep, and nutrition. If you're having a stressful week and you have not been sleeping or eating well, you should expect to strength to be impacted.

It’s important to remember that our strength levels depend on so many factors.  If we’re not balancing our lifestyle and training plan correctly, we will quickly plateau or even see a decrease in our strength.  Nobody can train back-to-back day-in-and-day-out and expect strength and fitness to improve.  Rest and recovery are just as important, if not more important. 

4. Understanding the Repetition Range

The training program will often prescribe a "repetition range", for example [6-8]. We are always aiming to achieve the top end of the range while maintaining PERFECT lifting form. 

  • If we can accomplish perfect form for all repetitions, the load SHOULD BE INCREASE (unless specified otherwise i.e. working with percentages).

  • If the middle of the range is reached, the athlete may choose to either STAY THE SAME for the next set or possible INCREASE SLIGHTLY.

  • If the athlete fails to reach the bottom of the range, the load MUST DECREASE for the next set.

It's important that we understand these principles, as strength progressions are built on the limits of one's ability. Failing to stay within the repetition range will never deliver the maximal return on investment. 

5. What is TEMPO and what the hell does 32X1 mean?

This four digit number in the programming code represents how fast, or slow, the athlete needs to move through each repetition of the prescribed exercise. Here are some examples of TEMPO – 21X0/1010/50A0/etc. Each exercise can have a different TEMPO, and an individual exercise can have different TEMPO's in each training blocks.

For example, if a bench press or back squat has a 32X1 TEMPO.

The first number signifies that the athlete should take 3 seconds (1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand) to move the bar from the top position to the bottom position (bar to the chest in the bench press or full depth for the squat). It’s critical to remember that the first number ALWAYS signifies the lowering (eccentric phase) portion of ALL exercise, we will come back to this.

The second number signifies if there is any PAUSE (isometric hold) at the bottom position. In this example the second number is a 2, after lowering the weight for 3 seconds down, the athlete will pause for 2 seconds (1 one thousand, 2 one thousand) in the bottom position, and then lift the weight back up. If the TEMPO is 30X0, then there would be no pause because the second number is a zero.

The third number signifies the time taken to lift the weight (concentric phase). When this number says “X” it means to accelerate the load as fast as possible – regardless of how fast the weight is moving, the intention is lift is as fast as possible.  If this number is replaced by the letter “A,” this means assisted.  Perhaps someone is not able to perform the concentric phase of the pull-up, we may ask them to jump up and then slowly lower themselves back down.  The assistance (A) is the jump.  We will never use a band for assistance in dynamic exercises like a pull-up.

If the TEMPO is 2020, then you have to take 2 seconds to lower fully, no pause in the bottom position, then take 2 seconds to come back to the top (the athlete may be capable of moving faster, but that is not what is being asked, so stick to the TEMPO). We could also be asked to do a 3010 TEMPO – on the bench press for example – the third number is just as important as the others because it means that for whatever the rep range is, you MUST take this exact time to raise the load.  If the weight is too heavy, the athlete may take 2-3seconds to lift the weight, and this is not acceptable for this TEMPO.

TEMPO does not allow for maximal efforts to be used with all sets, as we HAVE TO MAINTAIN a certain cadence rep-by-rep, so forget the weight as the TEMPO must always take priority.

The fourth number, as you may have guessed, signifies any time at the top of the movement. If it says 30X1 for a weighted chin-up, the athlete will hold their chin over the bar for one second before lowering for 3 seconds to full arm extension.

The TEMPO for chin-ups, deadlifts and rows, for example, can sometimes be confusing as these movements begin with the concentric phase first, unlike a back squat or bench press that starts with the eccentric phase. If the TEMPO is 30X0, the first thing you look at for concentric phase movements is NOT the 3-second eccentric prescription (the first number), but the 3rd number, in this case, the  X. Yes, confusing we know, but you will get the hang of it in time. Just remember that the first number ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS refers to the lowering of the weight and the third number is the lifting of the weight.

6. Why is the TEMPO important?

The TEMPO dictates the speed of the repetitions and the total “Time Under Tension” (TUT). If the TEMPO is 3010 for a total of 10repetitions,  we will be moving the load for a total of 40seconds (3+0+1+0 = 4sec x 10reps = 40seconds). The TUT dictates the training response. 

There are many different types of strength and many different ways to develop strength. The TUT is a critical parameter in determining how the muscle will respond to the exercise prescription. Failing to follow the TEMPO will change the outcome of the training plan and possibly lower the potential results. Stick to the TEMPO to achieve the best results! 

Downloading a metronome on your phone can make it a lot easier to correctly count the seconds while performing your repetitions.

The TEMPO is also used to control the intensity, to overload certain areas of a movement/body part, improve technique on movements, improve strength in a certain range, increase the size of a muscle and add training variety. Performing five back squats at 3010 TEMPO is a lot easier than five back squat at an 8110 TEMPO, and hence the weight on the bar (intensity) can be much heavier when the TUT is lower.  The result of the squats at 3010 (20sec TUT) is significantly different to the result of the squats at 8110 (50sec TUT). 

Countless studies have been done to support the tempo principle.

7. What is RM?

Our Repetition MAX (RM) is often used as a reference to the best weight we have lifted for an exercise. If we are new to training, we can set a new RM every single day we walk into the gym. If we have been lifting for years, the RM’s will become a little less frequent.

A 1RM is the largest load we can lift for a particular exercise. Let’s say you manage to deadlift 120kg for one repetition; this is now you new 1RM Deadlift. We can also have a 5RM, 10RM, or 3RM when we lift a new load for this particular number of repetitions. It's important to realise that a 1RM should only valuable if performed in the last 3months. If the RM was performed 3+months ago, maybe before you went on holiday, chances are your strength levels have changed, and this calculation is no longer accurate. On the other hand, if the RM is 3+months ago and you have been training a particular lift over the last three months, there is a good chance this weight may have increased.

TSTM is not a massive fan of a 1RM test as maximal loads are often performed with questionable lifting form. Establishing a 3RM, on the other hand, allows the athlete to perform 1-2 repetitions and then decide if their form is good enough to attempt the 3rd and final rep.

Once you know you 5RM, 3RM or 1RM you can use these scores to calculate certain percentages and maximise the results of your training program (see using percentages).

8. What about my personal best (PB)?

Your personal best may not be your current 1RM. “Back when I was 23 I deadlifted 220kg”, but when I reached the age of 40, my deadlift 1RM was 180kg. The PB is 220kg (best lifetime lift), but the current 1RM is 180kg.

9. What weight do I start with for each exercise of the workout?

The weight will depend on the training parameters assigned to the exercise, and the individual performing it.  Training age, training status, gender, muscle group, exercise selection, the number of reps, the TEMPO, the rest periods, etc.. Athletes should start to build an awareness of the loads they are capable of lifting for certain exercises and certain numbers of repetitions or TUT.  Recording your training results is highly recommended.

Always warm-up the movement before starting your first working set.  Once warm, find a weight that is challenging but allow you to perform the set with the highest number of repetitions prescribed.  After completing the first set of the specified exercise, the athlete can then decide to increase the load, keep in the same, or decrease the load  (see the details on repetitions above). Move up on weight every set if you are moving well on every single repetition, otherwise stay with the same weight or decrease the weight.  Movement quality should ALWAYS dictate the wight that is selected.

What weight should I use for all sets?
A. Back Squat 5 x [4-5], 40×0, rest :90

If your best 5RM is 100kg for the Back Squat, then the optimal loading might be something like  80/90/95/100(4)/100kg. If you’re having a bad day and you’ve not had enough sleep, your strength might be down and you may struggle to perform five repetitions at 95kg. Then shut it down there. You are not productive by performing shitty reps. Today is not the day to chase weight, lower the weight and focus on the quality repetitions and allow the body the chance to get some rest and recover. 

If you are to perform the back squat within an A1/A2/B1/B2 style workout, for five sets of 4-5reps each set, then the following loading should occur – 80/85/90/95/100kg(4). If the following happens – 80/85/90(4)/95kg(3). Then you are done after set 4, shut it down. You DO NOT DO SET number 5. Arguably, you should stop after set 3, or keep the weight the same and make sure you hit the repetitions required.

How should I progress if the workout calls for?
A. Back Squat 5 x [4-5], 40×0, rest :120

In these workouts, you warm-up to a challenging load for five reps of back squats at a 40×0 tempo. If you know your 1RM (repetition maximum) or 5RM for the Back Squat, it will be easier to calculate the weights to work with. For this workout, you could have a loading sequence that looks like this: 100kg x 5, 105×5, 110×5, 115×4, 115×4. Each set has to be hard, with the next set being harder than the previous unless you fail to make the repetition bracket.

What if the workout is something like?
A. Deadlift, 5 x [5,4,3,2,1], 30×0, rest :120

In this workout, each set should be VERY hard. You may even fail on a certain set; this is not a warm-up to try a 1RM. A PB may occur with this, but each of the sets 5,4,3,2,1 should be maximal efforts for those sets. If your best Deadlift is 150kg, then your sets may look like 125kg x5, 130kg x4, 135kg x3, 140kg x2, 145kg x1. Or if the goal is to PB you might increase the increments a little faster 125kg x5, 135kg x4, 140kg x3, 147.5kg x2, 152.5kg x1.

What if the workout is?
A. Bench Press, find 1 RM

You are being asked to find a one repetition max (1RM). Now is not the time to working to fatigue in the sets leading up to this. If your PB is 100kg for the Bench Press, then your set scheme could look something like this, following a good warm-up – 50 x5, 60 x3, 70 x2, 80 x1 90 x1, 95 x1, 100 x1, 102.5 x1, 105 x1, 107.5 (failed). The goal is to get up to a heavy weight quickly, with the fewer sets, the better, as for most people, this will allow the central nervous system (CNS) to warm-up and to be prepared for setting a new PB.

10. What about wave loading?

A. Front Squat 6 x [5,4,3,5,4,3], 30x0, rest :2min

Wave loading is a creative way to stimulate the CNS and increase the athletes potential for lifting heavy weights.  The first wave in the above example is the first three sets 5,4,3.  The second wave is the next three sets of 5,4,3.  The athlete should aim to increase the weight as the number of repetitions goes down.  After the 3rd set (the set of 3reps) the athlete will then decrease the weight as the number of repetitions has increased (back up to five).  However, we want the second wave to be heavier than the first wave.  If the athlete lifted 80kg for the first set of five, 85kg for four, and then 90kg for three, we might try to lift 82.5kg for the next set of five, 87.5kg for the next set of four, and 92.5kg for the final set of 3.

11. What are Clusters?

Another example can be a cluster format of receptions:
A. Back Squat, 5 x [3.3.3], 30×0, rest :15sec between 3’s, rest :180sec

The athlete performs 3 UNBROKEN back squats and then racks the bar and rest for 15seconds. They then unpack the bar and complete another 3 UNBROKEN back squats before racking the bar and rest for another 15sec. They then complete one more set of 3 UNBROKEN back squats before finishing the cluster set and rest for 180sec before repeating. Each set contains nine repetitions with a small amount of rest between them.

12. When a complex of movements is prescribed as:

A. Power Clean/Hang Power Clean/Front Squat, 5 x [1+3+5], rest :180sec.

The way you would read this workout is for you to do 1 Power Clean, then immediately do 3 Hang Power Cleans, then immediately do five front squats. There is no rest between exercises, and no Rx’d tempo in this example. These complexes can vary in length, the shorter:

A. Press/Push Press/Push Jerk, 5 x [1+1+1], rest: 180 sec

or the longer

A. Power Clean/Front Squat/Push Press/Back Squat/Push Press, 7 x [1+1+1+1+1], rest as needed.

Understanding the Rx’d repetitions, and if there is any Rx’d rest between reps, is key.

13. How do we use percentages?

Often percentages can be used in the training program:
A. Deadlift 5 x [4-5], 30×0, @70%, 75%, 80%, 82.5%, 85%, rest :120

B. 10 EMOM of  2 Deadlift @70% – move the weight fast

There are many different ways to build strength and improve conditioning.  The science behind getting strong and perform well is not all about the max effort lifts all the time.  Moving the weight well and controlling the TEMPO can significantly improve your performance.  

Percentages are used to dictate the specific loads that can be used to control the weight on the bar and hence the training stimulus.  Typically the percentage is calculated from our 1RM, for example, if you can deadlift 100kg for 1RM, you would use 100kg to calculate the percentages for your deadlift in “A” and “B” above.

The coach who is designing your program will have a periodized plan to help you improve your strength over the week/months ahead, failing to stick to the percentages is not going to deliver the desired result. Strength takes months and years to build, not weeks and certainly not days.  Be patient and stick to the percentages to achieve the best results.

14. The Sustainable Conditioning Workout Weights?

The high volume workouts are not the time to test your strength. The conditioning elements should be designed to test your fitness and have you moving a load that you are comfortable moving for the prescribed period. DO NOT TRY TO BE A HERO, think about the workout and your ability to perform the Rx’d movements.

For example, performing a workout that contains deadlifts and toes to bar is going to fatigue you grip very quickly. When our grip starts to fatigue our ability to deadlift is dramatically lower and those who have failed to strategies the workout often end up with terrible deadlifting form, a sore back, possibly an injury.

Always be conservative with the conditioning elements and think more about the desired outcome of the workout, not the weight.

15. What is AMRAP?

As Many Repetitions As Possible: We can use AMRAP to prescribe a duration of time allowed for an athlete to perform a certain task. For example:

Sustainable Conditioning
10min AMRAP of:
5 Pull-ups
10 Push-ups
15 Air Squats

The athlete must perform as many repetitions as possible in 5minutes. Each round would be 30 repetitions (5+10+15 = 30), and if the athlete managed ten rounds + 5 push-ups + 5 squats in 10minutes, the total number of repetitions would be 310.

An AMRAP could also be used for a strength endurance aspect of the training program:

C. 3 x AMRAP Chin-ups, 2min rest between sets

The athlete will perform as many unbroken chin-ups as possible when they can no longer perform a repetition the set is over

C. 3 x AMRAP(-2) Chin-ups, 2min rest between sets

If you were to do chin-ups with AMRAP (-2), then that is understood as ending the set 2 rep shy of max, to ensure a higher speed of repetition throughout the set, and also to feed into the next set, and to control intensity.

16. What is EMOM?

Every Minute On the Minute is designed to keep athletes moving for a set period:

C. EMOM for 10min: 5 Deadlifts, 20×0

This EMOM will involve a total of 50 repetitions of deadlift, the athlete’s goal it to perform five deadlifts every minute for 10minutes. Each time the clock ticks over to the next minute, the athlete will complete five deadlifts and then rest for the remainder of the minute.
The EMOM abbreviation can also be written as E2MOM (E#MOM) where the working interval number (#) is not every minute but ever 2minutes in this example. (E3MOM, E5MOM, etc… as also examples)

It is also possible to create a workout that has different actions each minute:

C. EMOM for 10min:
even: 5 Deadlifts, 20×0
odd: 10 Burpees

In this workout the athlete will perform five deadlifts on min 0:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, and 8:00. On the off minutes 1:00, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, 9:00 the athlete will perform ten burpees

C. EMOM for 12min:
first min: 5 Deadlifts
second min: 10 Burpees
third min: 5 Power Cleans
fourth min: 10 Push-ups

In this workout, the athlete will continue to work through the four exercises minute after minute until 12minutes has passed. Four exercises for 12 minutes is three rounds of each exercise.

17. What is Touch and go (TnG)?

TnG repetitions are often used in barbell cyclic movements like hang cleans, push-press, and power snatches. The idea is not to put the bar down, but cycle through the specified number of repetitions unbroken if possible

Sustainable Conditioning
8min EMOM of:
5TnG Power Cleans
5 Burpees over the bar

The aim is not to pause in the bottom position of the movement,  touch the weight on the floor and immediately power clean the weight again.

18. What are Ladders?

What does 1-10 rep ladders mean? It means that you MUST complete each number of the ladder in UNBROKEN reps, for 1, then for 2, then for 3, and so on, up to 10, or the Rx’d number. 

Sustainable Ladder: 
1-10 chin -ups

You MUST not come off the bar until the number of reps that you are currently on is completed, i.e., if you have just completed eight unbroken reps, then you must rest before you can attempt to complete the nine unbroken reps, and so on. If you made the nine reps, unbroken, then you have to do the 10, and before you are done. If you perform 8/10 and then drop off the bar, you must rest and then try to complete ten unbroken repetitions.  

19. What is AHAFA?

As Heavy As Form Allows - This allows each athlete to scale the workout based on individual capacity. Quality movement is always the fastest way to the best results, If your form starts to break down, it is too heavy. Check your ego at the door and make sure you are moving well so that you don’t injure yourself.