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number of sets

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 6:03 am
by Jayman
Hello people.
I've been lifting for about a month 3times/week. I do basic compund exercises squat, deadlift, bench press, military press, rows. And a few extra exercises like abs, biceps and calves on machine. Total of 10 exercises per workout, always the same workout.
Now I'm a beginner in this type of exercising and just learned to squat and deadlift properly. Should I do 2 or 3 sets of each exercise? Does it matter?

How Much time?

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 1:37 pm
by Stephen Johnson
As long as your workout is done within an hour or so, you should be OK. Thirty sets (3 sets x 10 exercises) should put you right there. Focusing on the big multijoint exercises using freeweights is good - more muscle gets exercised in less time. As a bonus, the strength developed from these exercises have more real-world carryover.

There is considerable debate about the "right" number of sets to do for each bodypart. But there seems to be empirical evidence that one warm-up set and one work set will deliver 90% of the growth stimulus if they are done correctly. Whether it is worth chasing the remaining 10% with additional sets is up to you.

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:07 pm
by Ryan A
Actually Stephen, the organization that adopted those standars of 1 set warm up, 1 work set has released new information supporting multiple sets are needed for continued progress with more experienced lifters.

I do not think there is anythign int here about "doing the sets the right way" removing the need for more sets. Obviously, there is some ideal training method for each individual but we assume that for the multiple sets as well.

Thanks for The Info

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:27 pm
by Stephen Johnson
Ryan A

I wasn't aware that the organization had recanted on the two set protocol. But were they talking about people doing full body routines, or split routines?

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:37 pm
by jayman
Thanks for answering =)
I will continue doing three sets of each.
Focusing on the big multijoint exercises using freeweights is good - more muscle gets exercised in less time. As a bonus, the strength developed from these exercises have more real-world carryover.
Yes this is important for me and is one of the reasons for doing these exercises.

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:44 pm
by Guest
This is real hard to nail down. Intensity is going to change the answer. Also compound lifts will make it so you don't need as much for other supporting muscles. For going to failure I like 3 or 4 sets. After chest, front delts and triceps don't need much work. Biceps and forarms don't need much after working your back also. Now if you are not going to failure more sets would be good. Maybe 6 to 8 sets at 70%. Then there was just a discusion about German volume training where they go as light as 60-65% for 10 sets on a major muscle group. I think it is good to change between these protocols. There are also HIT type workouts using 1 working set (sort of). You use drops, super sets, negatives, forced reps and other such techniques. You can even keep it simple and just alternate HIT or failure training with the German volume training and get good results with that. Just don't stay on the same thing or only use similer techniques. It has to be different. Body adaptation is the main principle behind this.

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:06 pm
by Ryan A
you should use whatever number of sets give you the best benefits. I agree that compound exercise and larger muscle groups deserve more sets unless you have a specific weakness.


Well, I assume you have been reading all of the debate here about when you should or should not change exercises/sets/reps.

I think we all agreed you should change something and the 1 workset previously recommended woudl always be in the 8-12 rep range.

For 95% of the people who visit the gym just to improve healthy and are not interested in increasing their numbers indefinately, this is a fine scheme. I have used it after coming back from a layoff but after 6-8 weeks I was done making gains (I had previously lifted for 4 years before the 1 year layoff with occasional lifting).

I am no exercise physiologist but I have read many times that muscle growth is correlated to time under tension and the tension itself. Optimal amounts vary from person to person but in order to increase the time under a load, without reducing the load below the effective amount, one needs to do multiple sets of a lower rep range.

This explains why the 5x5 programs can be very effective and so many people have had success on these programs. The provide a fairly high intensity and also a high volume. Volume creates growth and intensity creates strength.

As for the full body and split routines, I am not sure it really matters. The original advice of 2 sets was not just for full body or split that I am aware?

Splits are basically designed to limit workout time to a level which maximizes performance and allow more recovery time.

As has been discussed earlier, training to muscle contraction failure is not a good practice if you desire to increase strength. If one needs more time under tension, it would be more beneficial to do additional sets.

Posted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:32 am
by Stephen Johnson
Ryan A

The reason why I asked about the type of routine (full body vs split) is that a full body routine could easily exceed an hour in length if you don't rein in the number of sets per exercise. In a split routine, you are (presumably) doing fewer exercises, so you could get away with doing more sets.

I read somewhere once that lifting for less than 60 - 75 minutes raised testosterone and growth hormone levels, while lifting for more time than that reduced them and raised cortisol levels. Brief workouts work better for me anyway, both for results and my schedule. But a lot of the old-time bodybuilders - like Bill Pearl - would spend 2 1/2 hours working out per session. That would kill me.

Posted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:44 am
by Ryan A
Yes I agree with the 60-75 minute thing and try to adhere to that more than anything.

I can get a great workout for my upper body in ~35 minutes diong 6 sets of 4 reps on the bench press and then 6 sets of 3-4 pullups.

Add in squats for 5-6 sets and I think that covers pretty well the whole body with the inreased sets in less than an hour.

I guess I tend to do "lift splits" rather than muscle splits. At the very worst I split upper and lower but usually I always do upper back work or arm/shoulder work on a lower body day.

Currently I am doing something like

Deadlift and Lower Pull
Upper back Row

Bench and upper body
including pullups

squat and arms/shoulders

I do a lot of assistance work besides this but very fast with minimal rest after the main lifts and the workouts always take less than an hour and 15 minutes.

Posted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 10:00 am
by FullSquat2003
You can try the following routine. It starts with the large muscle groups. I use it when I want to do a full body workout. You may want to rest two days between workouts. Your body wil need to recover.