The “Best of SAF” series features articles that were published as part of the original SeriousAboutFitness.com site that ran from 2002 to 2010. Republishing this article is important because this set-and-rep scheme is one of the most effective ever devised. It may be decades old, but it’s as worthwhile today as when it was first introduced. I also thought it particularly relevant to republish now, since I wrote an article recently about meeting Vince Gironda, the legendary trainer who championed this routine and taught me the proper way to train. . . . Doug Schneider, SAF Founder
Originally published on SeriousAboutFitness.com: February 1, 2007
Photo right: Chantal Dicaire, whom I coached for about six years and who won six national and international fitness titles, used the 10-8-6-15 routine often.
People often ask me for a new routine to add variety to their training programs and, almost always, the first one that first comes to mind is what the late, great Vince Gironda called "10-6-8-15." It’s a fast and effective training routine designed to improve muscle size and shape. In fact, Gironda had a course that he wrote and sold in booklet form called 10-8-6-15 which not only described the sets and reps involved in the routine but included certain exercises to go with it as well. Below, I’ll describe how he prescribed the sets and reps, which might allow you to incorporate the 10-8-6-15 method into your own workout routine.
Gironda’s mantra was also that less is more, and he believed workouts should be done in the shortest possible time. In fact, he was the first to propose that workouts should last no longer than 45 minutes. This sets the stage for 10-8-6-15, which is a brief routine. It involves choosing just one exercise per bodypart and doing just four sets. On the first set you do 10 reps, on the second set 8 reps, on the third set 6 reps, and, not surprisingly, on the last set you do 15 reps. The key comes with picking the right weight to use for each set and working through the four sets with sufficient intensity.
Gironda, of course, was quite methodical and specific about the weights to use. For this exercise, the weights are based on what is used during the third set, which is the one done for 6 reps. So before you start, you need to know how much you can lift for a certain exercise for 6 very hard reps. That weight is considered to be 100 percent. However, this will create a bit of a problem for some, because it takes some foresight to know how much you’d use for the third set. As a result, for most people it takes a workout or two to get the weights exactly right.
Once you know your maximum for 6 reps, you’re ready to figure out the rest. For the first set (the one done for 10 reps), you use 50 percent of that weight. For the second set (8 reps), you use 75 percent of the weight. Obviously, these first two sets are nowhere near failure, and many will consider them warm-up sets. For the third set you use the maximum weight – this is the set that’s really going to work your muscles. Finally, for the last set (15 reps), you use 35 percent of the weight. Those final 15 reps are to be done with a smooth, pumping motion to flush the muscle with blood. The amount of time between sets is simply the time it takes to change the weight and catch your breath, so you’ll do the four sets quite quickly.
For example, let’s say that you can do a certain exercise, such dumbbell curls, with 20 pounds for 6 reps. The sets and reps for 10-8-6-15 would be like this:
- Set 1: 10 pounds (50%) for 10 reps
- Set 2: 15 pounds (75%) for 8 reps
- Set 3: 20 pounds (100%) for 6 reps
- Set 4: 7 pounds (35%) for 15 reps
As I mentioned, only one set approaches failure. But please note that I said approaches failure. Gironda felt that training to true failure was a recipe for disaster. He believed that pushing the body beyond what it’s capable of on its own taxes the nervous system too much and impedes recovery. Furthermore, going to failure and beyond also increases the chance of injury.
So why does this routine work? A couple of reasons have been cited. First, both the reps and weights change, which keeps the muscles guessing – some people call this "muscle confusion." Second, some have theorized that varying the reps and sets not only keeps the muscles guessing, but the entire body guessing too, and the body’s response to that kind of stress results in an increase of natural growth hormone levels. An increase in natural growth hormone levels not only builds new muscle tissue, it reduces body fat as well.
The 10-8-6-15 is certainly not a new routine – Gironda promoted it decades ago – but it’s certainly a good one that has stood the test of time. Furthermore, it’s a fast, efficient way to train, and although it’s not a program I use for long periods of time, I find that it’s an effective way to change a workout routine and stimulate new muscle growth.
SAF President and Founder