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Single versus Multiple Sets

Smith Single Leg Split SquatHass et. al. compared one and three sets in long-term recreational weightlifters and found no significant difference in strength and muscular development.

Hass CJ, Garzarella L, de Hoyos D, Pollock ML (2000). Single versus multiple sets in long-term recreational weightlifters. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 32(1):235-42.

Rhea et. al. also compared one and three sets in recreationally trained individuals for the Bench Press and Leg Press. A statistically significant difference in strength gains was found favoring 3 sets in the leg press (p < 0.05, effect size [ES] = 6.5). However, only a small but statistically insignificant difference in strength gain was found for the bench press (p = 0.07, ES = 2.3).

Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Ball SD, Burkett LN (2002). 16(4):525-9. Three sets of weight training superior to 1 set with equal intensity for eliciting strength. J Strength Cond Res.

Borst found that over the course of 25 weeks, untrained men and women subjects performing 3 sets increased strength approximately 4.8%, whereas, subjects performing 1 set increased strength by 3%

Borst SE, De Hoyos DV, Garzarella L, Vincent K, Pollock BH, Lowenthal DT, Pollock ML (2001). Effects of resistance training on insulin-like growth factor-I and IGF binding proteins. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 33(4):648-53.

Schlumberger found greater strength gains in women performing 3 sets versus a single set. Both training groups made significant strength improvements in leg extension (multiple-set group, 15%; single-set group, 6%; p 0.05). However, in the seated bench press, only the 3-set group showed a significant increase in maximal strength (10%).

Schlumberger A, Stec J, Schmidtbleicher D (2001). Single- vs. multiple-set strength training in women. J Strength Cond Res.15(3):284-9.

Single-set programs for an initial short training period in untrained individuals result in similar strength gains as multiple-set programs. As progression occurs multiple-set programs were more effective.

Wolfe BL, LeMura LM, Cole PJ (2004). Quantitative analysis of single- vs. multiple-set programs in resistance training. J Strength Cond Res.18(1):35-47.

Baker et. al. compared one and three sets in recreationally strength-trained men and found no statistically significant differences in muscular strength or body mass. Unexpected to the researcher, the single set training group experienced a significant greater decreases in the sum of skinfolds as compared to the 3-set group.

Baker JS, Davies B, Cooper SM, Wong DP, Buchan DS, Kilgore L (2013). Strength and body composition changes in recreationally strength-trained individuals: comparison of one versus three sets resistance-training programmes. Biomed Res Int. doi: 10.1155/2013/615901. Epub 2013 Sep 8.


Number of Sets for Muscular Hypertrophy

For muscle hypertrophy, 2-3 sets per exercise were more effective than 1 set, but there was no significant difference between 2-3 sets per exercise and 4-6 sets per exercise.

Krieger JW (2010). Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 24(4):1150-9.


Dose-response of Resistance Exercise Sets

A 6 months study compared 1, 3, and 5 sets on strength, local muscular endurance, and hypertrophy in men with no weight training experience. Bench press (BP), front lat pull down (LPD), shoulder press (SP), and leg press (LP) were performed 3 time per week. Subjects performing 5 sets experienced a significantly greater increases in 5 RM BP and LPD compared with the groups performing 1 or 3 sets. No significant differences between groups were found for the 5RM LP and SP.

Subjects performing 3 and 5 sets exhibited significantly greater improvement in the 20RM BP as compared to the 1 set group. Subjects performing 5 sets exhibited significantly greater improvement in the 20RM LP as compared to the 1 set group. There were no significant differences reported between groups performing the 20RM LPD or SP.

Significantly more elbow flexor thickness was experienced in the 3 and 5 set group versus the single set group. Significantly more elbow extensor thickness was experienced in the 5 set group versus the single set group. All training groups decreased percent body fat, increased fat-free mass, and vertical jump performance but no differences were found between those performing 1, 3, and 5 sets.

Radaelli R, Fleck SJ, Leite T, Leite RD, Pinto RS, Fernandes L, Simão R (2015). Dose-response of 1, 3, and 5 sets of resistance exercise on strength, local muscular endurance, and hypertrophy. J Strength Cond Res. 29(5):1349-58.


Training Volume More Important for Power Training

Training volume has more impact on power than strength.

Baker, D (2001), The effects of concurrent training on the maintenance of maximal strength and power in professional and college-age rugby league football players, Journal of Strength and conditioning Research, 15(2), 172-177.


Prilepin's Table

Soviet sports scientist Alexander Sergeyevitch Prinlepin analyzed training data from over 1000 Olympic, World, European, and National weightlifting champions. He utilized his findings during his career as head coach of the USSR's national junior Olympic Weightlifting team (1975 – 1980) and head coach of the national senior team (1980 – 1985). Prinlepin's Athletes achieved 27 world records during this time.

Prilepin's table permits practical planning of volume for specific loads. Percent Maximun, Range, and Optimal Total are only for heaviest loads lifted during workout. Warmup sets will be lighter and are not included.

It is thought that the Prilepin's Table can be applicable for powerlifters. The only difference is that no more than 5 sets of 1-2 reps should be performed with resistances above 90% Percent of Maximum. This restriction may be due to the increased stress experienced during the eccentric portion of the powerlifting exercises versus Olympic-style exercises. Westside Barbell Program utilizes this restriction.

Percent of Max Reps/Set Range Optimal Total
<70% 3-6 18-30 24
70-79% 3-6 12-24 18
80-89% 2-4 10-20 15
90%+ 1-2 4-10 7


Example of Varying Volumes

MSU Experimental Training Program

Volume expressed as %1RM * Reps
Week Exercises Sets per Exercise Total Sets Reps per Set %1RM Volume
1 10 6 60 2 58 6948
2 14 7-8 104 2 63 13184
3 19 4-10 ~118 1-2 80-100 13596
4 8 4-10 ~118 1-2 80-105 13170
5 14 8 104 1 75-110 6880
6 6 6 48 1 80-90 3160 


Daily Undulating Periodization

Compare training volumes of llight and heavy days with varying number of sets. Interestingly, more sets do not necessarily translate to higher volume.

  • Light Day
    • Few Sets, Higher Reps, Moderate Resistance, Merit Based Progressions
    • 6480 Volume
    • 8-10 Reps x 2-3 Sets
      • Set 1: 12 reps x 135lbs (1620)
        • Warm-up set with 50% workout resistance
      • Set 2: 10 reps x 270lbs (2700)
        • Resistance adjusted to reflect approximately 10% less resistance of 6 Rep Max
          • 10 reps - 6 reps = 4 reps * 2.5% = 10% less resistance
        • Increase 2.5% resistance for every rep performed beyond 10 reps
      • Set 3: 8-10 reps x 270 (2160)
        • Optional set: 8 reps with moderate rest, 10 reps with long rest
  • Heavy Day
    • Greater Sets, Lower Reps, Heavier Resistance, Microloading Progressions
    • 5580 Volume
    • 6 Reps x 4-5 Sets
      • Set 1: 6 reps x 135 lbs (810)
        • Warmup progression
      • Set 2: 6 reps x 225 lbs (1350)
        • Warmup progression
      • Set 3: 6 reps x 275 lbs (1650)
        • Warmup progression
      • Set 4: 6 reps x 295 lbs (1770)
        • Resistances adjusted to reflect approximately 10% greater load than 10 Rep Max
      • Set 5: 6 reps x 300 lbs (1800)
        • performed only if set 4 finished strong


Possible Rep Set Pairings

Sets and Total Reps includes warm-up set(s).
Reps Sets Total Reps
1-2 8-12 13-20
3 6-7 18-21
5 4-5 20-25
6 3-4 18-24
8 2-3 16-24
10 2-3 20-30
12 2 24
15 1-2 15-30


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