Welcome to Part 4 of our programming strategies blog series. If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, you can check them out on our blog. Today’s topic is incorporating plus sets into your throwing programs.
So what are plus sets?
In the strength and conditioning realm, a plus set, or AMRAP (as many reps as possible), is one set during the week (or during a training session) on a specific exercise that is usually taken to failure. They are generally prescribed for compound movements and used once per week at most. Here’s an example of how a plus set would look in a strength program:
|Squat||4×8 @ 210||5×6 @ 225||6×4+ @ 240|
In this case, on Friday the athlete would perform 5 sets of 4 reps. The 6th set would be the plus set, where the athlete would perform 4 reps and as many extra reps as possible.
The utilization of plus sets within a structured weight lifting program is just one strategy to achieve progressive overload. More specifically, plus sets can be used to objectively measure progress week to week, or (when used in conjunction with RPE) as a checkpoint to progress weight and/or intensity. Plus sets are typically used on a low(er) repetition training day after which you will have sufficient time to rest before your next training day. A strategically placed plus set allows for added volume without causing excessive systemic fatigue that will affect future training sessions. Furthermore, we will find that these guidelines carry over well when we program plus sets into a structured throwing program.
Application in a Throwing Program
It is critical for a person using this strategy to understand what the goal is and whether or not a given athlete is a good fit for it. Then, it is imperative to meticulously track athlete results. The more results that are tracked the better you’ll be able to understand how each athlete responds to the training.
Similar to their application in a strength and conditioning program, utilization of plus sets in a throwing program can help the athlete achieve progressive overload by adding throwing volume at a given intensity. An example of this is performing more reps at max effort. For most athletes, a good starting point may be to use plus sets once per week at most. This should occur towards the end of a training week or when at least one or more light or off days follow. Again, this helps prevent the added reps (more volume) from negatively affecting training in the short term.
So what format can you use for incorporating plus sets?
In general, plus sets can be incorporated during an on-ramp or velocity phase. Let’s review some guidelines for each phase.
In the case of incorporating plus sets during an on-ramp phase, the goal is to add reps at a lower intensity to build arm fitness. Because of the lower intensity, these plus sets can be done weekly during a hybrid B day. Here is an example of a weekly progression for a hybrid B day. While you can add reps with any ball for any drill, in this example we will add reps with the grey Plyo Ball ® for walking wind ups.
- Week X – standard of two reps
- Week X+1 – add 3-5 reps to previous week
- Week X+2 – add 3-5 reps to previous week
- Week X+3 – add 3-5 reps to previous week
It is important to note that these added reps would only be added to one hybrid day each week, not to all three hybrid days. Adding this number of reps each week to all hybrid days may cause too large of a jump in throwing volume for some athletes. This is not to say that adding reps to each day is not a viable way to increase throwing volume—it certainly can be. As coaches, however, we just need to make sure those volume increases are within reason.
In the case of incorporating plus sets during a velocity phase, the goal is to add reps at a higher intensity to improve velocity, and to push for it a bit more aggressively. While incorporating plus sets can be done weekly, you may see diminishing returns for some athletes if done very consistently, due to the added volume at high intensity. Therefore, some athletes may see better results if done every other week, or once right before a de-load period (or any other period of lower intensity throwing). The format of the plus set, as well as athlete results and athlete readiness scores, should largely dictate when and how often you incorporate them. Here are a few different formats for performing plus sets during a velocity phase. In this example, we’ll be using pulldowns:
Setting a repetition cap for pulldowns – After an athlete performs the standard number of throws with the 3oz ball (3 reps @ 100% RPE), add 2-3 additional reps with the 3oz for this week. While adding 2-3 reps is arbitrary, it may be a good starting point for some athletes. Formatting plus sets in this manner is probably the most conservative approach.
Setting a velocity cap for pulldowns – Let’s say an athlete performs the standard number of throws with the 3oz and hits 101, 101.4, and 100.7. The athlete keeps performing pulldowns with a 3oz until he hits 100 or less, without a repetitions cap. This method, however, is a double edged sword. While this format may be a great teaching tool for intent, it may incur a huge spike in volume because you do not know how many repetitions it will take for the athlete to throw 100 or less. While not advisable for many athletes, it could be a good training stimulus right before a de-load period. This is the most aggressive approach.
Setting a velocity AND repetition cap – Let’s say an athlete performs the standard number of throws with the 3oz and hits 101, 101.4, and 100.7. The athlete keeps performing pulldowns with the 3oz until he hits 100 or less—BUT limiting his added repetitions to 6. Again, 6 repetitions is arbitrarily chosen. This format serves as a good middle ground between the former formats. It allows the athlete to compete against himself by continuously fighting for another repetition, while still having a volume ceiling to keep his workload in check.
There is nothing special about incorporating plus sets into a throwing program. In the end, whether you are programming athletes for an on-ramp or velocity phase, incorporating plus sets is just one of many strategies to achieve progressive overload, which in this case refers to progressing throwing volume (total number of throws) at a given intensity. Again, the most important aspect of this strategy is meticulously tracking athlete results. That way you’ll know if it worked and which athletes respond to it best. While they are certainly not the end all be all, plus sets may be a useful strategy to have in your toolbox. As with anything, it is all about how you use them within a well-rounded throwing program.
Thanks for reading!
Written by Throwing Trainer Stephen Hart