Home / Reps in Reserve (RIR): A Safer Way to Get Results

Reps in Reserve (RIR): A Safer Way to Get Results

By Greg Brookes
Reps in Reserve RIR

Reps in Reserve (RIR) is a fitness training strategy uniquely designed to manage the intensity and fatigue of workouts.

Rather than pushing your body to its absolute limits within a set, RIR is the number of additional repetitions that you could perform beyond your set, but you choose not to, so you are not fully exhausting your muscles.

Utilizing this concept prevents muscular failure, allowing for a more controlled and safer muscle-building exercise experience.

Benefits of Reps In Reserve


Auto-regulation is one of the key benefits of the RIR method. It allows you to adapt the intensity of your training based on your own individual capacity and readiness on any given day.

For instance, if you feel more energetic, you might lower your RIR, thus increasing the intensity.

Conversely, on days when you’re not at your best, you can reduce the intensity by allowing for more reps in reserve.

This adaptability facilitates optimal progress by meeting your body’s needs without steering towards overtraining.

Technique Maintenance

RIR aids in technique maintenance by discouraging training to the point of technical failure.

Being mindful of keeping a few reps “in reserve” enables you to focus on the proper form and execution of each exercise, as you’re not driven to complete to the point of exhaustion.

This is particularly valuable in complex exercises where poor form can lead to ineffectiveness or injury for example, during the kettlebell snatch.

kettlebell snatch
Kettlebell snatch

Reduced Risk of Injury

Overexertion often leads to injuries in strength and fitness training. By implementing the RIR strategy, you’re consciously reducing the risk associated with reaching the limits of your muscular strength.

Aiming for safety is key to adopting a training method that is both sustainable and beneficial for one’s health.

Improved Recovery and Performance

Consistently training to failure can lead to prolonged muscle fatigue and affect your overall training schedule due to extended recovery time.

The RIR concept is designed to combat this problem and ensures a balance in muscular stimulation, promoting better recovery and, subsequently, fostering sustained progress over time.

Practical Application of RIR

RIR Scale

The typical RIR scale ranges from 0 (complete muscular failure) to 5 (or more), with the larger the number of reps left in reserve, the lower the intensity of the exercise set. This scale provides a training pace and intensity guideline based on individual capacity.


RIR is particularly useful when designing and implementing a training program. For example, while doing kettlebell swings, a trainer or an individual could decide to perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions, leaving 3 reps in reserve each time.

This ensures the individual benefits from the exercise without reaching muscular exhaustion and uses good form.

Two handed kettlebell swing
Kettlebell Swing


RIR is also beneficial for progression in training. As an individual’s strength and endurance improve, RIR can be gradually decreased (i.e., increasing the number of performed reps) to provide a continuously challenging but manageable workout.

Here’s a simple example using the kettlebell clean and press:

  1. KB Clean & Press – 3 Sets – 8 to 10 reps – 3 RIR – 2 Mins Rest
  2. KB Clean & Press – 3 Sets – 10 to 12 reps – 2 RIR – 2 Mins Rest
  3. KB Clean & Press – 4 Sets – 10 to 12 reps – 2 RIR – 1.5 Mins Rest
  4. KB Clean & Press – 3 Sets – 8 to 10 reps – 1 RIR – 2.5 Mins Rest

Week 1: Start with a moderate number of sets and reps. Ensure you stop each set with approximately 3 reps still in reserve (RIR of 3).

Week 2: To increase volume, add a couple of reps to each set. Reduce the RIR to 2.

Week 3: Continue escalating the volume by adding one more set. At this point, you could lessen the rest interval slightly for a raise in intensity, still with an RIR of 2.

Week 4: The kettlebell weight is increased. Volume is reduced back to what it was in Week 2, and the rep range returns to Week 1 level. However, the important change is in RIR, which should be reduced to 1. 

This means during each set, you’re pushed to the limit with only around 1 rep remaining. This strategy both encourages progression and sets you up for a week of deloading during week 5.

Remember: This plan should serve only as a guideline. It’s vital to adhere to your body’s signals, recover appropriately through rest and nutrition, and modify the routine as needed to avoid overtraining. 

Limitations of Reps In Reserve

Estimation Accuracy

One of the primary limitations of the RIR method is its subjectivity. It depends largely on an individual’s ability to accurately estimate their remaining capacity, which can vary with perceived exertion and differs from person to person.

However, this estimation accuracy usually improves with experience and increased body awareness over time.

Not Ideal for Complete Beginners

While RIR is a useful training concept, there might be better approaches for complete beginners. Novices may be better off focusing on learning the correct technique and movement patterns before incorporating RIR into their training regimen.

Scientific Backing of RIR

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that submaximal training (incorporating the concept of RIR) was as effective as training to failure for increasing muscle mass and strength.

This demonstrates that it is not always necessary to push to the point of muscular failure to stimulate growth and improvement (1).


In summation, Reps in Reserve (RIR) is an effective and efficient training strategy that enables auto-regulation, encourages technique maintenance, reduces the risk of injury, and enables better recovery and improved performance.

It allows for a customizable, adaptable approach to training, making it a sustainable choice for long-term fitness progression. However, its effectiveness primarily relies on an individual’s ability to accurately gauge their remaining capacity.


  1. Sampson JA, Groeller H. Is repetition failure critical for the development of muscle hypertrophy and strength?Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016;26(4):375-383.

Let's Get Started

Join over 65,000 subscribers and get the best kettlebell workouts developed after teaching over 1000 classes!
    Related Posts
    View More


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *