optimum number of sets for muscle growth

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    Aug 21, 2008 3:42 PM GMT
    Question if anyone knows:

    Is the usual warm up set plus 3 proper sets that everyone seems to do the scientifically proved optimum number for muscle growth? More than that and you may be increasing your general fitness and burning kilojoules but it is not contributing any more to muscle growth.

    Or does the logical idea apply that the more sets you do for a muscle the more it will grow?

    Or is it individual and each person needs to figure out what seems to work best for them?

    Thanks.
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    Aug 21, 2008 3:48 PM GMT
    Got we are a bunch of vanity-driven freaks on this site. You have a nice build as things stand nowicon_biggrin.gif

    I think you will get a lot of different replies to things. The warmup/3 set routine does not work for everyone, me included. I do a warmup + 4 lately and that seems to be the only thing that has encourage my back to start growing again. If you watch the huge people at the gym, you will probably notice that not all of them do the same rep style as well. It should be a guideline, not a rule.
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    Aug 21, 2008 6:34 PM GMT
    number of reps is immaterial its down to personal preference it sTime under tension and progression that is key anything else is just a bunch of idle talk
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    Aug 21, 2008 9:51 PM GMT
    Each person has an ideal number of sets and repetitions per set, and it also varies per muscle group.

    Obviously, doing 100 or 1 rep sets with one ounce on bench presses wouldn't do much for you. Doing just one set of one rep at a very heavy weight wouldn't either. Basically, a high number of sets and reps will be more catabolic (lean), and a lower number of sets with more resistance will be anabolic (growth). You want to find the heaviest resistance you can do with good form for at least 5 or so reps. If you can do more than 15 reps, you should try increasing resistance, but only if you can keep good form.

    For sets, once you find a good level and reps between 5 and 15, that seems to work well for you, then you should do as many sets as you can without having to decrease the resistance or do less than 5 reps.

    For abs and legs, closer 15 reps is usually better. For upper body, closer to 5.

    So to summarize:

    1. Find the most resistance you can lift with good form at least 5 reps, and which tires you to failure by 15 reps. Use your personal experience to determing where between 5 and 15 reps works best for you. Do a warm up set with about 2/3 of that resistance.

    2. Do as many sets as you can with that resistance, until you can't do even 5 reps. For heavy resistance, this will usually be 2 or 3 sets, lighter 3 or 4.

    3. After working out, don't work the same muscles until you are no longer sore.

    4. Try some variety in your reps and sets every once in a while to see how it works, and to keep your muscles growing.

    That's my advice.

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    Aug 21, 2008 11:50 PM GMT
    muchmorethanmuscle saidI wouldn't recommend more than say 20-25 total working sets in a given workout.

    When I focus on doing just one part like chest for example I may do 4 exercises and do 3 to 4 sets of each exercises.

    A good rule of thumb would be:

    Two pressing movements like flat and incline barbell press.

    Then do some flye type movements like a pec dec machine and incline chest.

    For the pec minor you could omit one of the exercises above like flat bench flyes and and do dips that are designed to work the pectoralis minor.


    Awesome, that's exactly what I do. Just remember to push yourself, just don't count the numbers. Those last few reps should feel next to impossible to finish.

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    Aug 22, 2008 2:22 AM GMT
    The only "scientific" approach to increasing muscle mass that I know is the same one I recommend all the time: "Hypertrophic Specific Training."

    It requires a full-body workout three times a week. It's broken down into 8-week cycles. You do two weeks of 15 reps, 2 of 10 and 2 of 5, and 2 of negatives (or 5s again). You focus on compound movements.

    While I've also had good luck with the 5x5 routine, I wouldn't recommend working to failure every workout, as it requires -- at least not without considerable breaks. It is reallllly hard on the tendons.

    Here's the link for HST:

    http://www.hypertrophy-specific.com/hst_index.html
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    Aug 22, 2008 5:23 AM GMT
    I've had good results with HST, and I periodically go back to it once every 12 or 18 months.

    One thing tho -- I find there are very few people that can look at that web site and actually figure out what to do without help. Most folks I recommend it to stumble on the complexity they weren't expecting. And the web site itself is abysmally written.

    It's probably the most complex workout I've ever attempted. It requires a lot of setup work to figure out which exercises work for you (and work in your gym), a fairly long time to figure out your max lifts for each exercise, and then finally the math required to precompute the poundages for each set for months in advance.

    It's no wonder the only people I've ever seen actually try this all have PhDs. I can now increase that statistic by one more, after OW's post.

    All that said, I think it's definitely worth doing the legwork -- I guarantee you'll break a plateau with it.

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    Aug 22, 2008 9:51 AM GMT
    I do HST style and have done for the past 3 years I throw a change in once every three months just for a month for boredoms sake but then again I am not seeking to get any bigger as cant be arsed with extra calories.

    All this talk of tendon damage isnt true as you place as equal loading on the tendons when doing 3 sets of 15 reps the only difference is with HST you do half the volume in half the time so its a damn site more efficient. HST would damage the tendons if you tried to do the same style workout but then again there is no way you would be working to failure so its not HST!
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    Aug 22, 2008 12:58 PM GMT
    Bodybuilding is much an individual sport. Its knowing your body and seeing what works. Mostly all the routines work but some work better for others.

    Then a routine works for a while and then you plateau so you have to shock your system out of it.

    Then do reps 5x15 (Mass)
    then do reps 3x8 (Strenght)

    and so on
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    Aug 22, 2008 2:36 PM GMT
    IguanaOne thing tho -- I find there are very few people that can look at that web site and actually figure out what to do without help. Most folks I recommend it to stumble on the complexity they weren't expecting. And the web site itself is abysmally written. It's probably the most complex workout I've ever attempted. It requires a lot of setup work to figure out which exercises work for you (and work in your gym), a fairly long time to figure out your max lifts for each exercise, and then finally the math required to precompute the poundages for each set for months in advance.

    LOL...You are right about the bad writing and failure to to present a clear explanation of the process, but once you establish your maximum lifts you need only increase the weights about 5 lbs during the next cycle, after the 10-14 days of "strategic deconditioning." And there's a calculator on the site.

    The hypertrophy isn't the result of the particular weight you're using as much as its progressive increase.

    BFG1: I don't really understand your post. HST does not call for 3 sets of 15. It's just one set of 15 and it is very helpful for me in preparing my body for the heavier lifts. It's three sets of 15 over the course of a week, not per workout. There is absolutely no question to me that this is easier on my joints. But maybe that has to do with my decrepitude.

    I am curious, though, to know what you break the routine up wih. It does get very boring!
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    Aug 22, 2008 4:34 PM GMT
    obscenewish saidBFG1: I don't really understand your post. HST does not call for 3 sets of 15. ...

    I am curious, though, to know what you break the routine up wih. It does get very boring!


    You always have to read BFG carefully. Note he said "HST style" not "HST." I translate that into "I read thru the HST site a bit, got the general gist, than incorporated some unspecified bits into my workout, details of which are also left unspecified."

    Sort of like "truthiness."

    As for breaking up HST, since it's a program that lasts 21 weeks or more, with every set precomputed in advance WRT weight and reps and exercise, I don't see how you can "break it up" in the middle. My "break" is that I just stop doing it after the program is over, and try something else. Even with HST, my body can get used to it, and it starts to fade, just like any other approach.
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    Aug 22, 2008 8:01 PM GMT
    21 weeks????
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    Aug 22, 2008 8:56 PM GMT
    OK, so it's been over a year that I was on it, and I'm not good remembering numbers or arithmetic.

    *rummages thru files, pulls out old HST spreadsheet*

    *makes frowny face trying to understand it*

    OK, at 3 days/week, each cycle of 6 days lasts 2 weeks, 3 of each cycle (15s, 10s, 5s -- I skipped negatives -- no spotter), which is 6 weeks, plus one week off, which is 7, and I did 3 rounds at a time, which is 21 weeks.

    What you do, OW?
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    Aug 22, 2008 10:56 PM GMT
    I do 2 weeks of 15, 2 weeks of 10, 4 weeks of 5 (which is what you 'posed to do if you don't do the two weeks of negatives). Then you take at least a week off, but I usually take 2. That is a complete cycle.

    Sometimes, I insert two weeks of 8 after the 10s, which extends it to 10 weeks.

    This is the only program I've done for the last few years and I did the so-called 5x5 for a year before that and the DC program before that.

    I used to lift at least 4x a week, often 5, but I think I was in a state of perpetual overtraining.

    Here is a link to the HST manual. It's a pdf file and it's clearer than the website:

    www.hypertrophy-specific.info/iB_html/uploads/HST_Faq_book.pdf

    Here is a link to a handy 1-rep calculator:

    http://www.bodybuildingpro.com/onerepmax.html

    I don't think the body adapts to HST the way it does to other routines because it builds in deconditioning and doesn't depend on maximum lifts.



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    Aug 23, 2008 7:25 PM GMT
    iguanaSF said
    obscenewish saidBFG1: I don't really understand your post. HST does not call for 3 sets of 15. ...

    I am curious, though, to know what you break the routine up wih. It does get very boring!


    You always have to read BFG carefully. Note he said "HST style" not "HST." I translate that into "I read thru the HST site a bit, got the general gist, than incorporated some unspecified bits into my workout, details of which are also left unspecified."

    Sort of like "truthiness."

    As for breaking up HST, since it's a program that lasts 21 weeks or more, with every set precomputed in advance WRT weight and reps and exercise, I don't see how you can "break it up" in the middle. My "break" is that I just stop doing it after the program is over, and try something else. Even with HST, my body can get used to it, and it starts to fade, just like any other approach.


    If you have issues Iguana spit it out and be a man dont try and be a smart arse as you only look an arsehole through your own stupidity


    I have more books than you can shake a stick at on HST not just a web site I also have access to a Sports science library and work with a top trainer in the UK. The HST website is only one resource and certainly wasnt the first to pioneer this approach.

    OW I wasnt saying the HST calls for that approach. I was saying that lifting to failure is no more likely to cause tendon damage or CNS damage (which is the other fav myth people like to spout) than someone taking a differing approach and lifting 3 heavy sets for 15 reps.
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    Aug 24, 2008 12:42 AM GMT
    My apologies BF. I'm on the rag and was being snotty. I know you're always helpful to folks on here and that's a great thing, and you've certainly given your bonafides many times, so I'm aware of your background. My only issue with you (and it's not really an "issue" in the sense you mean) is that I consistently have difficulty understanding your posts. I think you often speak in a shorthand that I have trouble parsing.

    As for my stupidity, well, I think it's wise to refrain from characterizing one's own intelligence.
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    Aug 24, 2008 2:24 AM GMT
    I
    bfg1 have more books than you can shake a stick at on HST not just a web site I also have access to a Sports science library and work with a top trainer in the UK. The HST website is only one resource and certainly wasnt the first to pioneer this approach.

    OW I wasnt saying the HST calls for that approach. I was saying that lifting to failure is no more likely to cause tendon damage or CNS damage (which is the other fav myth people like to spout) than someone taking a differing approach and lifting 3 heavy sets for 15 reps.


    What books do you have on HST?

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    Aug 24, 2008 3:04 AM GMT
    This is a hotly debated area in bodybuilding. First off there are 4
    primary rules to apply when you consider this question.

    1.) Everything works to some degree when consistently applied.
    2.) Individual differences in physiology mean that different things work for different people.
    3.) Progressive stimulus (increasing load, intensity, density, etc) is the key to progressive results.
    4.) The same thing applied the same way over a long period of time will become less effective as the body becomes more efficient at performing the same thing.

    According to scientific evidence one set is as effective as multiple sets. I am not sure I agree with this, I need to do additional research. But I am presenting it for discussion and to give you guys something to think about.

    Abriged from:
    More than one set is a waste of time for gaining muscle strength!

    Proposition for Debate - by Andrew Burne



    Summary
    Considering the lack of difference observed between one set and multiple-set programs found in the majority of the literature presented, it seems a single set of 8-12 repetitions represents an efficient method of developing muscular strength, endurance, and body composition regardless of the fitness level of the individual. This is important for individuals who desire the health and fitness benefits associated with a well-rounded physical fitness program but may not have the time to devote to multiple-set resistance training programs.
    There is minimal evidence in the literature to suggest that the response to single or multiple sets in trained athletes would differ from that of an untrained individual. There is also no evidence to indicate that a single set of an exercise would be less productive than multiple sets for people in the general population or specific populations, such as the elderly, cardiovascular and orthopaedic patients who perhaps, should not or will not perform each exercise to the point of muscle fatigue.
    No studies have shown a significant difference in strength development when comparing one versus two sets of exercise. These studies clearly indicate that single-set training promotes significant improvements in strength of both the upper and lower extremities and postural muscles and that these improvements are comparable with those attained from a higher volume of training. The majority of these studies were 8-12 wk in duration using previously sedentary adults and single isolation exercises. Whether more compound multi-joint movements respond similarly to low and high volume training warrants further investigation.

    If you want to read the whole paper you can do so here: http://physiotherapy.curtin.edu.au/resources/educational-resources/exphys/00/muscle_strength.cfm
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    Aug 24, 2008 3:18 AM GMT
    I would like to see scientific evidence of the 4th rule you mention. I don't think there is actual agreement about that. It seems intuitively true but I've never seen evidence to support it.

    As for the argument about one set being as good as multiple sets, that presumes the one set meets all the requirements to stimulate growth. I find that without warm-up sets, which obviously entail multiple sets, I can't lift as much.
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    Aug 24, 2008 8:29 AM GMT
    obscenewish saidI would like to see scientific evidence of the 4th rule you mention. I don't think there is actual agreement about that. It seems intuitively true but I've never seen evidence to support it.

    As for the argument about one set being as good as multiple sets, that presumes the one set meets all the requirements to stimulate growth. I find that without warm-up sets, which obviously entail multiple sets, I can't lift as much.


    There is evidence of four, and I will try to find that for you

    You make a really interesting point about the warm up, although the untility of warm up sets is controversial. This is likely to be one of those things where not everyone will respond the same. Studies have shown that a warm up that raises heart rate (cardio warm up) reduces the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) where resistance warm up sets did not reduce DOMS. As to whether or not it allows you to lift more is a subject of debate. I would say in my personal experience it depends on the muscle group, for me I get no benefit from warm up sets with shoulders, but there does seem to be a definite improvement in preacher curls when I do a warm up set.

    The one factor that is not addressed in this paper is one that seems to be a significant challenge to the validity of this. That factor is that multiple studies have shown a greater testosterone and growth hormone release with multiple sets. In fact for those two things, five sets of heavy lifts is the optimal number for anabolic hormone release. In all likelihood the individual physiological biochemistry is too complex to give a general answer to the one set versus multiple set question. My suggestion would be to the try one set method for six weeks and see what your results are. This is the advantage to keeping a detailed training journal. By accurately recording everything, body measurements, body fat percentage, lean mass, fat mass, the lifts on each day, the weight, the sets, the reps, etc,,you then have an objective means of determining what actually works for you instead of listening to the incessant chatter of parrots.
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    Aug 24, 2008 1:45 PM GMT
    I read a study about a year ago that examined the classic argument that stretching before lifting is good for you. (I can't find it.) The study concluded that general stretching was not nearly as effective as warm-ups with lower weights. I have found this absolutely to be true for myself. (I find stretching of much more value after I lift.)

    I'm sure, as you say, this may be a subjective experience and it probably is affected by age, of which I have plenty.

    I have done the one-set method many times. It was central to Arthur Jones' method when he developed the Nautilus machines. As I recollect, Mentzer's HIT program refined Jones' theory. Again, I think one set is perfectly legitimate as long as that set includes what's necessary to simulate muscle growth (the factors you mention in #3). But I don't think most of us manage that with one set.

    A more interesting question about sets and progressive weights is whether the multiple sets need to be done in one workout. When you are working out the same body part 3x a week, you can easily end up doing more sets than if you work the part only once or twice a week.

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    Aug 24, 2008 8:31 PM GMT
    Thanks OW and YH for the interesting discussion. I think I'm going to start some experimentation on myself WRT the optimal number of sets. It's something I haven't really focused on other than doing HST once a year or so.

    Woot!

    K

    PS "incessant chatter of parrots" -- love that.

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    Sep 02, 2008 8:23 PM GMT
    I'm going to look into some of this, too.
    And, I'll use y'all's pictures as inspiration.