One of the perks of being certified as a group fitness instructor through AFAA is their magazine that comes in the mail monthly.
Magazines are just so much fun to have around!
The other night when we went to bed crazy early (8pm – it was awesome!), I pulled out my latest copy of American Fitness and caught up on a few articles. One of them was on whether one set is better than multiple sets when looking to gain strength. It’s pretty common for me to run through 2, 3, or maybe even 4 sets in a workout. I went into reading the article as a skeptic.
What does the research say?
I won’t go into all the details, but the concluding summary of the research came out with this:
- More than 30 studies show that multiple sets do not yield superior strength gains, when compared to single sets.
- There were only four studies that showed multiple sets with more strength gains than single sets.
Will that change the way I work out?
No, I still personally enjoy challenging my body with multiple sets, but for a quicker workout 1 set would work too. One idea that was mentioned in the article is to just do one set of the exercises, but increase the variety of exercises you’ll do for that muscle.
An example would be this: before if you planned out 3 exercises for your shoulders, say lateral raise, overhead press and upright row, add in a few more. So instead of 3 exercises you can do 6, those first 3 + front raise, Arnold press and pike press.
The benefit of adding a variety of exercises to your workout is that each exercise targets the muscle in a different way or different angle. Not only will this help develop the muscle in a more balanced way, it also helps prevent overuse of the muscle if you always do the same exercise over, and over, and over again.
What’s the article really looking at? Strength gains. Strength is measured here by how much you can lift in a 1 rep max – the most you can lift only 1 time with proper form. I never go for my 1 rep max, because honestly strength training isn’t about how much weight I can lift. I lift because it makes me feel great, it’s fun and awesome for my body. Having muscles is cool. For those who are all about the # of pounds you can lift, maybe sticking with just 1 set might be the right plan, but it’s not a goal of mine to be able to lift a crazy amount of weight… just once.
What are your thoughts on this? How many sets do you typically do when you strength train? What do you want to get out of strength training?