How often do so many fitness magazines and trainers encourage people to do three sets of 10 when lifting weights? It's one of those unquestioned bits of Conventional Wisdom that deserves to be questioned.
One trainer who is wise but far from conventional is Mike Mahler. His website has a great article about German Volume Training, or GVT. As Mike explains it, he first learned of GVT from strength coach Charles Poliquin. In its original form, it is a brutal workout:
Here is how it works. Take 60 percent off your one rep max on an exercise and do ten sets of ten reps. Use the same weight on all ten sets and do not increase the weight until you can do ten sets of ten with the same weight.
This is probably a bit too brutal for most people. Mike Mahler suggests starting with something along the lines of 10X5 or even 10X2 instead of 10X10. You can always work your way up.
One great thing about German Volume Training is it encourages better form. Lots of weightlifters who use a 3X10 scheme tend to get awful sloppy on those last few reps. Dropping the number of reps while increasing the number of sets gives you a chance to quickly reset and recharge, ensuring that your form stays consistent. Good form leads to good results.
There are of course many rep schemes that are proven effective: 8X8, 6X6, 5X5 (aka the Faith workout for all you Buffy fans), etc. The trick is not to get stuck in some sort of never-changing groove. Mix up your training, and consider adding German Volume Training to your fitness arsenal.