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 Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?

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Pete
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PostSubject: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat Sep 04, 2010 3:13 am

Yes, it's that old chestnut again!
There has been years of debate & one study certainly won't end it, but here is a meta-analysis (that is a study of studies done by other people). It takes, in this case, 8 studies & compares outcomes in terms of muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Results are basically no significant difference between 2-3 sets per exercise and 4-6 sets per exercise & multiple sets are associated with 40% greater hypertrophy than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects. So in this study the conclusion is "Do 2-3 heavy sets of an exercise for best muscle size increase"
Here's the study:

Quote :
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300012?dopt=Abstract

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

Krieger JW.

Journal of Pure Power, Colorado Springs, CO, USA. jim@jopp.us
Abstract

Previous meta-analyses have compared the effects of single to multiple sets on strength, but analyses on muscle hypertrophy are lacking. The purpose of this study was to use multilevel meta-regression to compare the effects of single and multiple sets per exercise on muscle hypertrophy. The analysis comprised 55 effect sizes (ESs), nested within 19 treatment groups and 8 studies. Multiple sets were associated with a larger ES than a single set (difference = 0.10 +/- 0.04; confidence interval [CI]: 0.02, 0.19; p = 0.016). In a dose-response model, there was a trend for 2-3 sets per exercise to be associated with a greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.09 +/- 0.05; CI: -0.02, 0.20; p = 0.09), and a trend for 4-6 sets per exercise to be associated with a greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.20 +/- 0.11; CI: -0.04, 0.43; p = 0.096). Both of these trends were significant when considering permutation test p values (p < 0.01). There was no significant difference between 2-3 sets per exercise and 4-6 sets per exercise (difference = 0.10 +/- 0.10; CI: -0.09, 0.30; p = 0.29). There was a tendency for increasing ESs for an increasing number of sets (0.24 for 1 set, 0.34 for 2-3 sets, and 0.44 for 4-6 sets). Sensitivity analysis revealed no highly influential studies that affected the magnitude of the observed differences, but one study did slightly influence the level of significance and CI width. No evidence of publication bias was observed. In conclusion, multiple sets are associated with 40% greater hypertrophy-related ESs than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Mon Sep 06, 2010 8:32 pm

I don't know how to see the whole article but I recall that most of these strength training studies I've read of are 6 weeks long and use novice lifters.

My personal experience is that indeed multiple sets will give more size. More "puffiness" you could say. But I shouldn't really use the term "puffiness" as that makes it sound like it's something of no use. Although it's not more muscle, it's supporting ....stuff Smile which helps in quicker recuperation for additional sets. Also I agree that 4 to 6 sets as opposed to 2 to 3 will do little. At least certainly in the short term it will do little. Perhaps in the long term, sort of like runners try to build a base, perhaps eventually learning to handle more volume will benefit lifters.

From what I've seen of studies (and personally experienced) in the short term, absolute strength is about the same for a single set versus multiple sets.

And then there's all kinds of factors to take into consideration. In some situations single set lifting is better. For me, multiple sets often has caused some sort of overtraining. Not lately though. Blueberry smoothies are really making a huge difference concerning that.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat Nov 06, 2010 9:02 am

There have been so many studies done on this subject through the years, that by now there should be a definitive answer.
However some of the studies go with multiple sets, some single.
My experiences through the years though show that for myself, and friends who are geneticaly average, 1 set gives best results , while the gym folks with above average genetics, or steroid users get better results from multiple set workouts.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat Nov 06, 2010 10:42 am

I think it's going to be hard to a definitive answer as there are so many factors. Say I design 2 programs. One is a great well rounded program & say it has several sets per exercise..Now suppose I make another equally rounded single set per body part routine. Things that can go wrong are (off the top of my head & in no way complete!):
1/ The trainer -
a/ they can be good or bad
b/ they can have personal preference or belief in a system
c/ work with a particular client base (they might get good results with elite athletes, but not have a clue about the 'average' or below average athlete - or the other way around be unable to train elite athletes)

2/ The client -
a/ worked too hard by a trainer used to working with a different client base
b/ be under worked if the trainer is used to more elite athletes
c/have a training belief system in place
d/ be under or over trained when they arrive for the research
e/ be under stress
f/ Not be concerned enough to put in the necessary effort to achieve results (go through the motions)

3/ Nutrition -
a/ Have no understanding of good nutrition
b/ have an understanding but not be willing or able to commit to a decent nutrition program

If you get a good athlete getting a good trainer then you will get exceptional results, conversely bad athlete or trainer-or any of the above (& more) & you get less results.
It may also be the case that different types actually do respond to different protocols, so some people really do do better with one set, while others need several to achieve the best results?

Personally I think that you find a system that works best for you, then take some time doing it...but move to other styles now & again as the change in itself often stimulates growth. Me I prefer low reps for example, yet now & again I have to force myself into the higher rep ranges, just to stimulate those areas I'd miss if I stayed in the lower rep ranges all the time. Obviously if you suffer from issues like Jay you'd have to be aware & avoid things that cause health issues, but for most of us we have 'naturally comfortable' (not to be confused with easy) types of training, like one set brutally hard for example, while others do better on long lactic acid burning sets upon sets (with most of us somewhere inbetween I suspect).

As I said I think we are a way off knowing "THE WAY" to train (if there is such a beast), so for now you do best by using a log book & seeing what actually works best for you, then straying outside that style now & again just to keep things fresh.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Mon Nov 08, 2010 5:52 am

I do think it's sad just how little knowledge we really have concerning exercise.

I think most of these studies have again been short term studies with untrained people. Not much money is put into such things. Perhaps the communist countries might have learned some stuff, but it seems they mostly learned how to use steriods.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:27 am

I was going to start a new thread but this post has a lot to do with original post in this thread so Im putting it here.
My friend-gym buddy is the complete opposite of what is needed for good results at the gym, very all, skinny etc, and although he has ben able to add strength in the 3-4 years hes trained has found it impoossible to add any size.
He has tried various approaches to his training style, but then decided to try a workout based on mike mentzer routine
Day 1 Chest and Back
DB flyes supersetted with flat bench press 1 superset
stiff arm pullldown supersetted with close undergrip pulldowns 1 superset


rest a week then

Delts and Arms
DB side raises
DB rear delt laterals
Barbell Curls
pushdowns supersetted with close grip bench press 1 superset
rest a week then routine 1 again etc

He is supposed to do a leg workout inbetween these two but due to a painfull lowerr back[the curse of tall skinny folk] he hasnt been able to add these as yet.
all excercises are done for one set only, and where supersetted the isolation excercise is 8-10 reps to failure then straight onto the compound which is done for 3-5 reps.
his workout takes around 15 minutes,and he only hits the gym once a week
For the first time in his life he is starting to add muscle to his frame
I measured him before the gym yesterday and he has added two and a half inches around his chest.
His arms although the same size are looking much harder and more shapely.

The mentzer routine done as it should be done can be found here
http://www.musclenet.com/mikementzerheavyduty.htm
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Tue Feb 01, 2011 10:18 am

An interesting read on the 1 set or more argument
http://www.cbass.com/NEWEVIDE.HTM
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Fri Feb 11, 2011 8:06 am

That appears to be pretty close to a slam dunk for single set training. Thanks for posting.
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PostSubject: real life example   Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:41 am

Back in November last year I had a young man put in touch with me who had been training at the gym I go to for around 18 months doing the regular multi set multi day workouts with very little to show for it.
He was getting very dissilusioned and toying with the idea of buying steroids Shocked

It took me a while to persused him to try a 1 set per body part once a week routine, but in the end he decided to give it a try.
I put him on the following routine
Leg press
bench press
pulldown
seated shoulder press
barbell curl
close grip bench press
All done for 1 set of 8 reps after two warmup sets on first three excercises, 1 on rest.
In the three months he has trained this way, his weights have gone up each and every workout,and he has put on 6lb in bodyweight while losing almost 2 inches off his waist measurement.
He still has a long way to go, but If he carrires on training this way I reckon he will be looking good by gym standards within a year at the most
sadly he will not give veganism, or vegetarianism a try, but this thread is about amount of sets to do for best results, so I thought id post here
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Thu Feb 17, 2011 12:24 pm

The first two years or so I lifted weights I did multiple set workouts and my weight stayed in the 170 to 180 pound range. (I'm 6'4"). I usually could barely benchpress my weight. I didn't improve really at all during this time. I switched to doing one set to failure every 4 days with not really any warmup. (I would do a single rep wtih a much lighter weight as my "warmup" just to make sure about my form.) In a year I gained 50 pounds, bench had improved to about 260, etc. Squat had improved by like 150 pounds. Deadlift by 100 or so.

Since then I've mostly plateaued.(sp). (I did bench 300 eventually and deadlift 465.) During the last decade+ I've gone back and forth and never really found anything useful to happen with multiple sets.

I recall there was one well known trainer who basically dismissed anyone who says good things about single set training, saying that they just have woefully inferior genetics. But this research you've just posted seems to prove otherwise.

...FYI the best workout I ever did was a hard single set to failure every 4 days (5 to 8 reps) and then on the other three days a lighter single set just to get the blood flowing, using around 60% of the weight for 15 reps. My experiments with just a single set every week weren't as good.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Thu Feb 17, 2011 3:21 pm



OK just to throw oil onto this fire I've just stumbled across this gem, that could well make the average iron-heads blood boil (I'm looking forward to the fall-out on this one Laughing )



The basics:

You get better anabolic results using low-load (30% 1 rep max!), than using high load ( 90% 1 rep max)!!!
This doesn't seem to tie in with real world experience, to me at least. Does it mean that if you occasionally shifted to a low % of your 1 rep max you 'could' make gains? I don't know, I've never seen or even heard of it, except in a few over-training examples, but I've never even considered doing 30% 1 rep max on anything other than rehab, so I can't say I've ever experimented with such a low %? Has anyone ever tried that kind of low % training (under a third of your 1 rep max) for any length of time?



Quote :
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20711498

PLoS One. 2010 Aug 9;5(Cool:e12033.
Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men.

Burd NA, West DW, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, Moore DR, Holwerda AM, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM.

Exercise Metabolism Research Group, Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Abstract

BACKGROUND: We aimed to determine the effect of resistance exercise intensity (%1 repetition maximum-1RM) and volume on muscle protein synthesis, anabolic signaling, and myogenic gene expression.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Fifteen men (21+/-1 years; BMI=24.1+/-0.8 kg/m2) performed 4 sets of unilateral leg extension exercise at different exercise loads and/or volumes: 90% of repetition maximum (1RM) until volitional failure (90FAIL), 30% 1RM work-matched to 90%FAIL (30WM), or 30% 1RM performed until volitional failure (30FAIL). Infusion of [ring-13C6] phenylalanine with biopsies was used to measure rates of mixed (MIX), myofibrillar (MYO), and sarcoplasmic (SARC) protein synthesis at rest, and 4 h and 24 h after exercise. Exercise at 30WM induced a significant increase above rest in MIX (121%) and MYO (87%) protein synthesis at 4 h post-exercise and but at 24 h in the MIX only. The increase in the rate of protein synthesis in MIX and MYO at 4 h post-exercise with 90FAIL and 30FAIL was greater than 30WM, with no difference between these conditions; however, MYO remained elevated (199%) above rest at 24 h only in 30FAIL. There was a significant increase in AktSer473 at 24h in all conditions (P=0.023) and mTORSer2448 phosphorylation at 4 h post-exercise (P=0.025). Phosporylation of Erk1/2Tyr202/204, p70S6KThr389, and 4E-BP1Thr37/46 increased significantly (P<0.05) only in the 30FAIL condition at 4 h post-exercise, whereas, 4E-BP1Thr37/46 phosphorylation was greater 24 h after exercise than at rest in both 90FAIL (237%) and 30FAIL (312%) conditions. Pax7 mRNA expression increased at 24 h post-exercise (P=0.02) regardless of condition. The mRNA expression of MyoD and myogenin were consistently elevated in the 30FAIL condition.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: These results suggest that low-load high volume resistance exercise is more effective in inducing acute muscle anabolism than high-load low volume or work matched resistance exercise modes.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Thu Feb 17, 2011 3:39 pm

Oh gosh here's a study showing 3 sets are superior to 1 set

Looks like a basic 70% of 1 rep max protocol, then they measure how long protein synthesis is measured - I can't see the full study...but it looks like protein synthesis only NOT muscle breakdown, but I could be wrong? Also other % of your 1 rep max may affect the results?

Quote :
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20581041

J Physiol. 2010 Aug 15;588(Pt 16):3119-30. Epub 2010 Jun 25.
Resistance exercise volume affects myofibrillar protein synthesis and anabolic signalling molecule phosphorylation in young men.

Burd NA, Holwerda AM, Selby KC, West DW, Staples AW, Cain NE, Cashaback JG, Potvin JR, Baker SK, Phillips SM.

Exercise Metabolism Research Group, Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada.
Abstract

We aimed to determine if any mechanistic differences exist between a single set (1SET) and multiple sets (i.e. 3 sets; 3SET) of resistance exercise by utilizing a primed constant infusion of [ring-13C6]phenylalanine to determine myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) and Western blot analysis to examine anabolic signalling molecule phosphorylation following an acute bout of resistance exercise. Eight resistance-trained men (24+/-5 years, BMI=25+/-4 kg m2) were randomly assigned to perform unilateral leg extension exercise at 70% concentric one repetition maximum (1RM) until volitional fatigue for 1SET or 3SET. Biopsies from the vastus lateralis were taken in the fasted state (Fast) and fed state (Fed; 20 g of whey protein isolate) at rest, 5 h Fed, 24 h Fast and 29 h Fed post-exercise. Fed-state MPS was transiently elevated above rest at 5 h for 1SET (2.3-fold) and returned to resting levels by 29 h post-exercise. However, the exercise induced increase in MPS following 3SET was superior in amplitude and duration as compared to 1SET at both 5 h (3.1-fold above rest) and 29 h post-exercise (2.3-fold above rest). Phosphorylation of 70 kDa S6 protein kinase (p70S6K) demonstrated a coordinated increase with MPS at 5 h and 29 h post-exercise such that the extent of p70S6K phosphorylation was related to the MPS response (r=0.338, P=0.033). Phosphorylation of 90 kDa ribosomal S6 protein kinase (p90RSK) and ribosomal protein S6 (rps6) was similar for 1SET and 3SET at 24 h Fast and 29 h Fed, respectively. However, 3SET induced a greater activation of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2B (eIF2B) and rpS6 at 5 h Fed. These data suggest that 3SET of resistance exercise is more anabolic than 1SET and may lead to greater increases in myofibrillar protein accretion over time.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Fri Feb 18, 2011 1:28 am

[quote="Pete"]Yes, it's that old chestnut again!
There has been years of debate & one study certainly won't end it,

As you said in the above quote
this debate will not end,
but all I can say is that in EVERY instance where I have helped people I know who are stuck, or not gaining, cutting them down to 1 or 2 sets per bady part, infrequent training[once every 4 to 7 days], has produced the best results they have ever had. Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Fri Feb 18, 2011 5:11 am

I can see the arguments for one set & the arguments for several sets - I believe both have some merit & probably work in different settings...but. I can't figure out how that 30% of 1 rep max works. What sort of physiological effect would need you to build more muscle size doing only 30% of your max (basically an endurance move)?
That's one study I like to see repeated as I'm seriously wondering about the protocols used (although the University is well respected & not known for shoddy work).
But why the hell would you need to build extra muscle at that loading? More endurance, maybe a little size from mitochondria, but the really high protein synthesis?!? I'm wondering if they used trained guys who normally trained very hard & so backing off allowed recovery from overtraining & so increased muscle building? It's my only possible explanation?
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat Feb 19, 2011 6:32 am

Quote :
Infusion of [ring-13C6] phenylalanine with biopsies was used to measure rates of mixed (MIX), myofibrillar (MYO), and sarcoplasmic (SARC) protein synthesis at rest, and 4 h and 24 h after exercise. Exercise at 30WM induced a significant increase above rest in MIX (121%) and MYO (87%) protein synthesis at 4 h post-exercise and but at 24 h in the MIX only. The increase in the rate of protein synthesis in MIX and MYO at 4 h post-exercise with 90FAIL and 30FAIL was greater than 30WM, with no difference between these conditions; however, MYO remained elevated (199%) above rest at 24 h only in 30FAIL. There was a significant increase in AktSer473 at 24h in all conditions (P=0.023) and mTORSer2448 phosphorylation at 4 h post-exercise (P=0.025). Phosporylation of Erk1/2Tyr202/204, p70S6KThr389, and 4E-BP1Thr37/46 increased significantly (P<0.05) only in the 30FAIL condition at 4 h post-exercise, whereas, 4E-BP1Thr37/46 phosphorylation was greater 24 h after exercise than at rest in both 90FAIL (237%) and 30FAIL (312%) conditions. Pax7 mRNA expression increased at 24 h post-exercise (P=0.02) regardless of condition. The mRNA expression of MyoD and myogenin were consistently elevated in the 30FAIL condition.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: These results suggest that low-load high volume resistance exercise is more effective in inducing acute muscle anabolism than high-load low volume or work matched resistance exercise modes.
Cyclists generally have huge thighs relative to the rest of their body. I've read that the main difference by the way of Lance Armstrong to other cyclists was having larger thighs relative to the rest of his body. And that in general thigh size relative to body weight determines performance.
Robert Cheeke by the way, I recall used to do deep tissue massage for a living and far and away (at the time) his best body part was his forearms.

Right now my only upper body exericise for the last month at least is using an ergometer 30 minutes twice a week. It's early to say but I'm liking the results so far, although it's only one exercise and doesn't have as much ROM as I'd like.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat Feb 19, 2011 6:39 am

Quote :
However, 3SET induced a greater activation of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2B (eIF2B) and rpS6 at 5 h Fed.
Both of these studies though, instead of looking at long term changes in performance, are just doing biopsies, and looking at things that don't necessarily translate at all to longterm improvements in performance.

This reminds me of how studies of runners usually look at changes in VO2 max. But actually, there's little to no correlation between VO2 max/changs in VO2 max and performance.
http://powerrunning.com/Exercise%20Physiology/Do%20Increases%20in%20VO2max%20Cause%20Improved%20Performance.htm

When I read of "eukaryotic translation initiation factor..." etc I can't help but think of VO2 max.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat Feb 19, 2011 7:31 am

http://www.cbass.com/NEWEVIDE.HTM
Bass wrote:
ie Drechsler's points may help to explain why research on the set question is inconclusive. As my earlier article said, a review of literature by Carpinelli and Otto found that 33 out of 35 strength-training studies showed no significant difference in strength or size gains as a result of doing one set or multiple sets. (Sports Medicine. 25(7): 1998)The two main criticisms of these studies, according to Dr. Carpinelli, are that they were too short, and that the participants were often untrained. The suggestion is that seasoned trainers might benefit from doing more sets.

This is then followed up by an additional 6 long term studies. All of which show no additional benefit in multiple sets.
Quote :
After considering this new evidence, Dr. Ralph Carpinelli sums-up: "The lack of scientific evidence that multiple sets...produce a greater increase in strength or size, in itself, provides a rationale for following a single set training protocol."

Here's the original article, copied and pasted. Reads much better as a pdf, sorry. What makes it more worthwhile is that they look at actual changes in performance as opposed to taking biopsies and looking at eukaryotic translation initiation factor and so on.

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2): 73-84

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2): 73-84

0112-1642/98/0008-0073/$06.00/0

© Adis International Limited. All rights reserved.

Strength Training

Single Versus Multiple Sets

Ralph N. Carpinelli and Robert M. Otto
Human Performance Laboratory, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, USA

Contents

Abstract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

1. Support for Multiple Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .74
2. One Set VersusTwo Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
3. One Set VersusThree Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
4. MoreThanThree Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
5.Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .81
6. Recommendations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Abstract Perhaps the most controversial element of any strength training programme is
the number of sets required to increase muscular strength and hypertrophy. There
is a prevalent belief that at least 3 sets of each exercise are required to elicit
optimal increases in strength and hypertrophy. However, most of the studies that
reported the results of training with single versus multiple sets do not substantiate
this tenet. In fact, the preponderance of evidence suggests that for training durations
of 4 to 25 weeks there is no significant difference in the increase in strength
or hypertrophy as a result of training with single versus multiple sets. Because of
the design limitations of these studies, conclusions concerning the efficacy of
multiple sets should be tentative. However, there is little scientific evidence, and
no theoretical physiological basis, to suggest that a greater volume of exercise
elicits greater increases in strength or hypertrophy. This information may represent
an important practical application of time-efficient, low-volume exercise.

Strength training has been shown to be an effective
method for increasing muscular strength and
hypertrophy. It is often prescribed for general fitness,
athletic conditioning, health and prevention
or rehabilitation of muscular and orthopaedic injuries.
An essential component of any strength training
programme is the number of sets required for
each exercise. The prevalent recommendation is to
perform multiple sets (at least 3) of each exercise
in order to elicit increases in muscular strength and
hypertrophy. This recommendation appears at all

levels in the scientific literature, including strength
training reviews and exercise physiology textbooks.
Reviews by Atha,[1] Behm,[2] Clarke,[3] Fleck
and Kraemer,[4] Kraemer and Fleck,[5] Kraemer and
colleagues,[6] Lillegard and Terrio[7] and McDonagh
and Davies,[8] and books by Berger,[9] Enoka,[10]
Fleck and Kraemer,[11,12] Fox and colleagues,[13]
Wilmore and Costill[14] and McArdle and colleagues[
15] all claim that multiple sets are superior
to a single set. With the exception of a study by
Berger,[16] which is discussed in this review, there


Carpinelli & Otto

Carpinelli & Otto
cise
physiology textbooks that would support the
claim that multiple sets are superior to a single set.
The absence of compelling evidence to support this
training philosophy, as well as the abundance of
evidence that suggests a single set of each exercise
is just as effective as multiple sets, is discussed
below.

It should be recognised that many of the studies
cited may have design limitations with confounding
variables such as different numbers of repetitions,
amount of resistance, specific muscle
groups, exercise equipment and types of muscle
actions within a specific investigation. The purpose
of this review is to present an objective, comprehensive
account of all the studies which have been
published, albeit some of them as abstracts, that
have reported the results of training with single or
multiple sets. The reader may decide whether there
is sufficient evidence to support the widely held
belief that multiple sets are required.

1. Support for Multiple Sets
In the most frequently cited strength training
study, published in 1962, Berger[16] reported that 9
groups of males (approximately 20 in each group)
exercised 3 times per week for 12 weeks. In addition
to their regular weight training programme,
which was not described in the report, participants
performed different combinations of sets and repetitions
(sets ´ reps) of the free-weight bench press
exercise. Because the groups were not initially
matched, an analysis of covariance was applied to
adjust the means of the 1 repetition maximum
(1RM) bench press in each group. All of the groups
showed a significant increase in 1RM for the bench
press exercise (table I).

Berger[16] reported that the maximal rate of
strength development resulted from a training programme
of 3 sets of 6 repetitions (3 ´ 6). However,
a comparison of the individual groups which performed
the same number of repetitions (2, 6 or 10)
showed that the increase in strength for the 3 ´ 6
group was significantly greater than the 2 ´ 6 group

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but not significantly greater than the 1 ´ 6 group.
Similarly, the 3 ´ 2 group had a significantly greater
increase in strength compared with the 2 ´ 2 group
but the 3 ´ 2 group was not significantly greater
than the 1 ´ 2 group. Nor was there any significant
difference in 1RM between the following groups:
1 ´ 6 and 2 ´ 6, 1 ´ 2 and 2 ´ 2, 1 ´ 10 and 2 ´ 10,
1 ´ 10 and 3 ´ 10, 2 ´ 10 and 3 ´ 10. Seven out of
the 9 possible comparisons (groups performing the
same number of repetitions) showed no statistically
significant difference in the magnitude of strength
gains as a result of performing single or multiple
sets (table II).

Berger[16] also compared the results of training
with 1, 2, or 3 sets of repetitions by combining the
9 groups according to the number of sets performed.
Training with either 1 set or 2 sets produced
similar improvements in strength (22.3 and
22.0%, respectively), while training with 3 sets
elicited an increase in 1RM of 25.5% (table III).
The difference in 1RM between 1-set and 3-set
training programmes was 3.2% (1.8kg) at the end
of 12 weeks of training in apparently untrained,
healthy, college-age men (pretraining 1RM bench
press = 56.6kg).

If 3 sets of 6 repetitions are superior to other
training protocols for this exercise, subsequent
studies should have replicated these results, but
they have not. A follow-up study by Berger[17]
failed to support his conclusion that 3 sets of 6
repetitions was the best training protocol. In the

Table I. Increases in single repetition maximum (1RM) for the
free-weight bench press exercise in 9 groups of men training 3 days
per week for 12 weeks using a protocol of 1, 2 or 3 sets of repetitions[16]

Group (sets ´ repetitions) Mean increase in 1RM
% kg
1 ´ 2 20.0 11.3
1 ´ 6 25.5 14.5
1 ´ 10 21.6 12.2
2 ´ 2 17.3 9.3
2 ´ 6 22.9 12.9
2 ´ 10 25.1 14.2
3 ´ 2 23.5 13.3
3 ´ 6 29.6 16.7
3 ´ 10 23.0 13.0

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Number of Sets in Strength Training

Number of Sets in Strength Training
[16]

Comparison groups (sets ´ repetitions)
Statistical significance

3 ´ 6 and 2 ´ 6
SDNSNSSDNSNSNS

3 ´ 10 and 1 ´ 10 NS
2 ´ 10 and 1 ´ 10 NS

6´6 and 16´6 and 12´2 and 22´2 and 12´2 and 110´10 and 2

NS = no significant difference between groups; SD = significant
difference at the p = 0.05 level.

later study, 3 groups trained 3 times per week for
9 weeks, performing either a 6 ´ 2, 3 ´ 6 or 3 ´ 10
protocol in the bench-press exercise. All groups
showed significant increases in 1RM bench press
(16.9, 21.3 and 20.0%, respectively), with no significant
difference among the groups. That is, contrary
to Berger’s earlier investigation[16], the 3 ´ 6
protocol was not shown to be superior to the 3 ´ 10
protocol. In the textbook Applied Exercise Physiology,[
9] published 20 years after his original training
study, Berger claimed that 3 sets were more
effective than fewer sets for maximising strength,
and the only reference cited for this was his first
training study.[16]

Kramer and colleagues[18] randomly assigned
43 weight-trained males to either a single-set (1 ´
12RM), multiple-set (3 ´ 10 repetitions at a target
weight) or varied multiple-set group (1 to 5 sets of
2 to 10 repetitions at a target weight). They performed
7 free-weight exercises 3 times per week
for 14 weeks. The single-set group performed each
exercise to muscular fatigue. The target weight was
set by the investigators for the multiple-set and varied
multiple-set groups. The multiple-set groups
did not exercise to muscular fatigue. All groups
showed significant increases in 1RM for the squat
exercise. The multiple-set and varied multiple-set
groups showed significantly greater increases in
1RM for the squat exercise than the single-set
group (25, 22 and 12%, respectively). There were

no significant changes in body mass or body composition
for any of the groups. No data were reported
for the changes in 1RM strength or amount
of resistance for the other 6 exercises.

Kraemer and colleagues[19] (published abstract)
randomly assigned 24 females to a single-set, a
varied multiple-set or a control group. Both of the
training groups performed the same exercises 2 to
3 times per week for 9 months. The single-set
group performed 1 set of 8 to 10RM for all of the
exercises. The multiple-set group performed 2 to 5
sets of repetitions for each exercise and varied the
number of repetitions on different days (3 to 5RM,
8 to 10RM and 12 to 15RM). After 4 months of
training, both groups showed increases in 1RM for
bench press, military press and leg press exercises.
The authors claimed that only the multiple-set
group continued to show further significant increases
in strength. However, no absolute values or
percent increases in strength were reported, nor
were any statistically significant differences in
strength observed between the 2 training groups
for any of the exercises at any of the 1RM evaluation
points (0, 4, 6 and 9 months). The lack of data
and statistical analyses leave this report open to
different interpretations.

2. One Set Versus Two Sets
A number of studies have investigated the increases
in strength gained by training protocols using
one set and two sets of repetitions (table IV).
Based on the equipment manufacturers’ recommended
training protocols, Coleman[20] trained
participants on Nautilus® machines using a 1 ´ 8
to 12RM protocol, or on a Universal® Gym for 2
sets: 10RM on the first set, 8RM on the second set.
They trained 3 times a week for 10 weeks. Both

Table III. Combined mean percentage increase in repetition maximum
for the 9 groups performing 1, 2 and 3 sets of repetitions in
the free-weight bench press exercise[16]

1 set 2 sets 3 sets

22.3 22.0 25.5*
* = significantly greater compared with 1 and 2 sets at the p = 0.05
level.
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Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Carpinelli & Otto

Carpinelli & Otto

Reference Programme Modality/exercise Frequency Strength Training protocol Strength Results
duration (wk) (days/wk) measure (sets ´ repetitions) increase (%)

Coleman[20] 10 Nautilus®3 1RM 1 ´ 8-12RM NS
bench press 12.3
biceps curl 15.9
lateral pull20.2
leg press 17.9
Universal®1 ´ 10RM + 1 ´ 8RM
bench press 12.4
biceps curl 15.1
lateral pull20.0
leg press 17.4

Graves et al.[21] 12 MedX/lumbar 1 Maximum IM 1 ´ 8-12RM (Range from NS
extension torque 2 ´ 8-12RM 18.0 to 63.0)a
1 ´ IM
2 ´ IM
1 ´ 8-12RM + 1 ´ IM

Hurley et al.[22] 16 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 43.1 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 43.8
Ryan et al.[23] 16 14 Keiser® 3 Peak torque 1 ´ 15 UB 51.4 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 35.6
Treuth et al.[24] 16 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 39.2 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 40.8
Ryan et al.[25] 16 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 37.9 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 37.5
Miller et al.[26] 16 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 64.2 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 40.4
Koffler et al.[27] 13 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 41.0 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 45.0
Rubin et al.[28] 13 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 40.0 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 41.0
Nicklas et al.[29] 13 14 Keiser® 3 3RM 1 ´ 15 UB 37.0 NS
machines and FW 2 ´ 15 LB 39.0
Pollock et al.[30] 12 MedX/cervical 2 Resistance loads 1 ´ 8-12RM 40.9 NS
extension 43.5
Peak IM torque 1 ´ 8-12RM + 1 ´ IM 21.9 NS

22.3
Westcott[31] 4 5 Nautilus® 3 Total strength 1 ´ 10 56.0 NS
machines 2 ´ 10 54.0
Capen[32] 12 5 exercises 3 Total strength 1 ´ 8-15RM 18.8 NS
(equipment type 1 ´ 8-15RM + 1 ´ 5RM 20.9
not reported)

a Specific data not reported.
FW = free-weight; IM = isometric; LB = lower body; NS = no significant difference between protocols; RM = repetition maximum; UB = upper
body.


groups showed significant increases in 1RM
strength for all the exercises tested: bench press

12.4 and 12.3%, biceps curl 15.1 and 15.9%, lateral
pull 20.0 and 20.2% and leg press 17.4 and 17.9%,
in the Universal® and Nautilus® groups, respectively.
There was no significant difference between groups.
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Significant increases in fat-free mass were reported
for both groups (3.9 and 3.2% for Universal® and
Nautilus® groups, respectively), with no significant
difference between groups.

Graves and colleagues[21] randomly assigned 67
men and 43 women to one of 6 groups: 1 set dynamic,

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Number of Sets in Strength Training

Number of Sets in Strength Training
etitions
through a 72° range of motion (ROM) performed
to volitional fatigue. Participants in the
isometric groups were instructed to hold each
maximal isometric muscle action for 3 seconds.
After 12 weeks, all training groups significantly
increased maximal isometric torque (18 to 63%)
for all angles tested, with no significant difference
among the groups at any angle.

Eight studies performed by a group of investigators,
in different male and female participants for
each investigation, examined the effects of resistance
exercise on body composition,[22-24] bone
mineral density,[25] insulin action,[26] gastrointestinal
transit time,[27] urinary chromium excretion[28]
and hormonal responses.[29] It is beyond the scope
of this article to discuss the specific aspects of each
of the investigations; however, there were some
notable results concerning increase in strength.
The participants trained 3 times per week for 16
weeks performing 14 exercises using Keiser®
pneumatic (air) resistance machines and free-
weights. Although the rationale for the training
protocol was not stated in any of the reports, all of
the individuals performed a 1 ´ 15 programme for
each of the 9 upper body exercises and a 2 ´ 15
programme for each of the 5 lower body exercises.
Similar significant increases in upper body (1 set,
43.6%) and lower body (2 sets, 40.5%) strength
(3RM) were observed in all 8 studies[22-29].

Pollock and colleagues[30] trained male and female
volunteers twice a week for 12 weeks on a
‘MedX’ cervical extension machine. One group
performed 1 ´ 8 to 12RM dynamic repetitions
throughout a 126° ROM to volitional fatigue. Another
group performed 1 ´ 8 to 12RM dynamic
repetitions plus a set of maximal isometric muscle
actions (1 to 2 seconds each) at 8 positions in the
ROM. Dynamic training loads increased 40.9 and
43.5% for the 1- set and 2-set groups, respectively,
with no significant difference between groups.
Both groups had significant increases in isometric
torque at all 8 angles (mean = 21.9 and 22.3%, 1-set

Ó Adis International Limited. All rights reserved.

and 2-set groups, respectively), with no significant
difference between groups at any angle.

Westcott[31] trained 44 women and men 3 times
a week for 4 weeks on 5 Nautilus® machines: leg
extension, leg curl, torso pullover, triceps and biceps.
Half of the participants followed a 1 ´ 10
protocol and the other half performed a 2 ´ 10 protocol.
The 1 ´ 10 group increased overall strength
by 56.0%, while the 2 ´ 10 group increased by
54.0%.

In a multifaceted study involving 8 groups of
men and 4 training protocols, Capen[32] had one of
his groups perform different protocols for contra-
lateral muscles. The men performed 1 ´ 8 to 15RM
for their right elbow flexors, left elbow extensors,
left shoulder abductors, right knee extensors and
left knee flexors (programme 1). For the contralateral
muscles (left elbow flexors, right elbow extensors,
right shoulder abductors, left knee extensors
and right knee flexors) they used 1 ´ 8 to 15RM
followed by 1 ´ 5RM (programme 2). All participants
trained 3 times a week for 12 weeks. The
average increases in strength for the 5 muscles
tested were 18.8% for programme 1 and 20.9% for
programme 2. There was no significant difference
in the magnitude of strength gained in the contra-
lateral muscle groups as a result of training with 1
set versus 2 sets.

3. One Set Versus Three Sets
A number of studies have investigated the
increases in strength gained by training protocols
using 1 set and 3 sets of repetitions (table V).
Starkey and colleagues[33] compared strength and
muscle thickness (using 2-dimensional ultrasound
measurements) of the anterior and posterior thigh
muscles in 38 male and female volunteers after
training 3 days a week for 14 weeks. Both training
groups performed dynamic bilateral knee extension
and knee flexion exercises on 2 ‘MedX’
strength machines. The low volume group performed
1 ´ 8 to 12RM to volitional fatigue; the
high volume group performed 3 ´ 8 to 12RM to
volitional fatigue. Peak knee extension torque at
7 angles significantly increased in both the low

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


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Reference Programme Modality/exercise Frequency Strength Training protocol Strength Results
duration (wk) (days/wk) measure (sets ´ repetitions) increase (%)

Kramer et al.[18] 14 7 FW exercises 3 1RM squat
1 ´ 12RM 12.0
3 ´ 10 25.0 SD
1-5 ´ 2-10 22.0 SD

Starkey et al.[33] 14 MedX knee extension 3 Peak IM 1 ´ 8-12RM 23.8 NS
torque 3 ´ 8-12RM 19.7
MedX knee flexion 1 ´ 8-12RM 21.3 NS
3 ´ 8-12RM 23.3

a

Terbizan & 8 5 Universal® gym 3 1RM
1 ´ 6-9 NS

Bartels[34] exercises
1 ´ 10-15
3 ´ 6-9
3 ´ 10-15

Silvester et al.[35] 8 FW biceps curls 3 Peak IM
1 ´ 8-12RM 22.0 NS

Nautilus® biceps strength
3 ´ 6RM 30.4
1 ´ 8-12RM 24.7 NS
3 ´ 6RM 19.4

Reid et al.[36] 8
9 Universal®-type 3 Peak IM 1 ´ 8-12 or 1 ´ 3-5 17.7 NS
exercises strength 3 ´ 6-8RM 17.9

a

Stowers et al.[37] 7 FW bench press and 3 1RM 1 ´ a NS
squat 3 ´ a
Messier & Dill[38] 10 9 FW exercises 3 Resistance 3 ´ 6 22.5 NS


12 Nautilus® exercises loads 1 ´ 8-12 or 1 ´ 15-20 38.0
Jacobson[39] 10 Nautilus® knee extension 3 Dynamic 1 ´ 6-10RM 31.9 NS
strength 3 ´ 6RM 39.2
1 ´ 6-10RM 7.6 NS
IM strength 3 ´ 6RM 7.6
De Hoyos et al.[40] 10 11 exercises (equipment 3 1RM chest 1 ´ 10-15RM 12.5
type not reported) press 3 ´ 10-15RM 12.8 NS

1 ´ 10-15RM 21.7 NS
1RM leg 3 ´ 10-15RM 20.8
press

a

Westcott et al.[41] 10 Gravitron® dips and chins 3 Number of 1 ´ 5, 10, or 15RM NS
repetitions 2 ´ 5, 10, or 15RM
3 ´ 5, 10, or 15RM
Welsch et al.[42] 14 MedX knee extension 3 Peak IM 1 ´ 8-12RM 22.5 NS
torque 3 ´ 8-12RM
MedX knee flexion 1 ´ 8-12RM 20.0 NS
3 ´ 8-12RM

Leighton et al.[43] 8 6 FW exercises 2
IM strength 1 ´ 6 17.0 NS
on 3 3 ´ 6 18.0
exercises

Stadler et al.[44] 8 7 exercises (equipment 2 and 3 1RM on 7 2 ´ 10-12 17.0 NS
type not reported) exercises 3 ´ 8 17.0
De Hoyos et al.[45] 25 7 MedX exercises 3 1RM on 5 1 ´ 8-12RM 32.0 NS
exercises 3 ´ 8-12RM 41.0
Vincent et al.[47] 25 MedX knee extension 3 1RM 1 ´ 8-12RM 33.3 NS

3 ´ 8-12RM 31.6
Peak IM 1 ´ 8-12RM 35.4 NS
torque 3 ´ 8-12RM 32.1

1 ´ 8-12RM 25.6 NS
Resistance 3 ´ 8-12RM 14.7
loads

Hass et al.[49] 13 9 MedX exercises 3
1RM on 5 1 ´ 8-12RM 10.0 NS
exercises 3 ´ 8-12RM 12.0

a data not reported.
FW = free-weight; IM = isometric; NS = no significant difference between protocols; RM = repetition maximum.


Ó Adis International Limited. All rights reserved.
Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Number of Sets in Strength Training

Number of Sets in Strength Training
to 36.1%) and high volume (13.2 to 27.1%)
groups. Peak knee flexion torque at the same angles
increased in both the low (13.0 to 34.8%) and high
volume (7.8 to 40.7%) groups. There was no significant
difference in the knee extension or flexion
peak torques between the 2 groups (except at 24°,
where the low volume group had a significantly
greater increase in peak extension torque than the
high volume group). Both groups had similar significant
increases in dynamic training resistance
for the 2 exercises. Ultrasound scans revealed
significant increases in muscle thickness, with no
significant difference between the 2 groups.
Terbizan and Bartels[34] (published abstract)
randomly assigned 80 women to one of 4 strength
training protocols: 1 ´ 6 to 9, 1 ´ 10 to 15, 3 ´ 6 to
9 or 3 ´ 10 to 15. They trained 3 times a week for
8 weeks, performing 5 different exercises on Universal
® Gym equipment. There were significant
increases in lean body mass and strength (1RM) on
all 5 exercises (data not reported). There was no
significant difference between the groups.

In an attempt to support the hypothesis that 3
sets of 6 reps were optimal for strength gains,
Silvester et al.[35] trained 4 groups of men 3 times
a week for 8 weeks. Two groups performed barbell
curls: group I performed 1 ´ 8 to 12RM to muscular
fatigue, group II performed a 3 ´ 6 protocol using
80% 1RM. Two groups used the Nautilus Omni
Biceps® machine: group III performed 1 ´ 8 to
12RM to muscular fatigue, group IV followed the
3 ´ 6 repetition protocol. All 4 groups had significant
increases in strength at all angles tested, with
no significant difference between groups (group I
= 22%, group II = 30%, group III = 25% and group
IV = 19%).

Reid et al.[36] trained male volunteers 3 times a
week for 8 weeks. The participants performed 9
exercises on a Universal®-type machine (Supra-
Athletics Corporation). One group performed 3 ´
6 to 8RM, and another performed 1 ´ 10 to 12RM
for the first 2 sessions each week and 1 ´ 3 to 5 at
the third session. Both groups showed significant
increases in most of the isometric strength tests.

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The average increase in strength was 17.7% for the
1-set group and 17.9% for the 3-set group.

Stowers and co-workers[37] compared the effects
of training with free-weights 3 times a week
for 7 weeks using either 1 set to exhaustion, 3 sets
to exhaustion or periodisation training. Periodisation
is a predetermined programme of variable
combinations of sets, repetitions and resistance for
specific durations. The periodisation group performed
5 ´ 10 (weeks 1 and 2), 3 ´ 5 (weeks 3 to 5)
and 3 ´ 3 repetitions (weeks 6 to 7). All 3 groups
(84 untrained men) showed significant increases in
1RM bench press, with no significant difference
among groups. All participants significantly increased
1RM squat. The periodisation group increased 6%
more than the 3-set group and 11% more than the
1-set group, and the 3-set group increased 5% more
than the 1-set group after 5 weeks of training. However,
there was no significant difference between
the 1-set and 3-set groups at the end of the study.

In a study by Messier and Dill,[38] a free-weight
group performed 3 ´ 6 for 9 exercises, and a Nautilus
® group performed 1 ´ 8 to 12 for 8 upper body
exercises and 1 ´ 15 to 20 in 4 lower body exercises.
Both groups trained 3 days a week for 10
weeks. The Nautilus® group increased their resistance
by 30.0% for upper body exercises and
46.0% for lower body exercises; the free-weight
group increased their resistance 22.0% for the
upper body and 23.0% for the lower body. Because
of the confounding variables it is not known
whether the greater strength increases reported in
the Nautilus® group were a result of only performing
1 set of each exercise compared with 3 sets, the
greater number of repetitions or the training mode
(Nautilus®) per se.

Jacobson[39] trained 2 groups on a Nautilus®
knee extension machine 3 times a week for 10 weeks.
Group A used a 3 ´ 6 protocol with 80 to 85% 1RM.
Group B performed 1 set to volitional concentric
fatigue with a partner supplying additional resistance
on the eccentric phase (3 to 4 seconds) of
each repetition. They performed approximately 6
repetitions with 65% 1RM, followed by 3 to 4
additional repetitions to elicit volitional eccentric

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


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DeHoyos et al.[40] (published abstract) trained
adolescent tennis players 3 times a week for 10
weeks with 11 weight training exercises. Trainees
performed either 1 or 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
to muscular fatigue. There were significant increases
in 1RM chest press and leg press in both
training groups: chest press 12.5 and 12.8%, and
leg press 21.7 and 20.8% for the 1-set and 3-set
groups, respectively. There was no significant difference
in the strength increases between the 1- and
3-set groups.

Westcott and colleagues[41] trained 54 men and
23 women 3 times a week for 10 weeks on a Gravitron
® machine, which provides individualised programmed
assistance for performing dips and chins
within a desired range of repetitions. Participants
chose 5, 10 or 15 repetitions within each of the 3
training groups of 1, 2 or 3 sets. The mean improvement
in the number of repetitions (dips and chins)
was 4.8, 4.1 and 5.2 for the 1-, 2- and 3-set groups,
respectively. There was no significant difference
between the groups.

Welsch and colleagues[42] (published abstract)
trained 15 volunteers on ‘MedX’ knee flexion and
knee extension machines. Participants performed
bilateral exercise to muscular fatigue following
either a 1 ´ 8 to 12RM or 3 ´ 8 to 12RM protocol
3 times a week for 14 weeks. There were significant
increases in maximal isometric torque at all measured
angles for knee flexion (20.0%) and knee
extension (22.5%), with no significant difference
between the 1-set and 3-set groups.

Ó Adis International Limited. All rights reserved.

Leighton and colleagues[43] trained 2 groups of
participants who performed a 1 ´ 6 repetition protocol
for each of 6 exercises, and 7 groups who
performed various combinations of 3 ´ 6 protocols
for each exercise, with different weights, rest periods
between sets, super-sets (2 exercises for the same
body segment with little rest between exercises),
tri-sets (3 exercises for the same body segment with
little rest between exercises), etc. All of the participants
exercised twice per week for 8 weeks. The
increase in strength in the 1-set groups (»17%) was
similar to that in the 3-set groups (»18%) for the 3
isometric elbow flexion, elbow extension and leg-
lift strength tests. There was no significant increase
in arm and thigh girth measurements or body-
weight in any of the groups.

In a study by Stadler and colleagues[44] (published
abstract), 14 participants performed 4 upper
body and 3 lower body exercises for 8 weeks. One
group performed a protocol of 2 ´ 10 to 12 repetitions
twice a week, and the other performed a 3 ´
8 protocol 3 times a week. The weekly volume of
exercise for the 3-set group was 50% greater than
for the 2-set group. Both groups had significant
increases in 1RM strength for all of the exercises
with no significant difference in strength gains
(»17%) between the 2 groups. The greater volume
of exercise did not elicit greater increases in
strength.

Two valid criticisms of most strength training
studies are that the durations of the studies are relatively
short, usually about 6 to 12 weeks, and that
the studies usually recruit untrained participants.
These criticisms were addressed in the following
investigations. De Hoyos et al.[45] and Pollock et al.[46]
(published abstracts) investigated the effects of 1set
versus 3-set protocols for strength training over
a 6-month period. Two groups performed 7 exercises
to muscular fatigue in a 1 ´ 8 to 12RM or a
3 ´ 8 to 12RM protocol on 3 days per week. The
1RM strength was assessed for the chest press,
rowing, arm curl, knee extension and thigh curl exercises.
Muscle thickness at 8 sites (chest, subscapula,
biceps, triceps and the anterior, medial, lateral
and posterior thigh) was measured using ultrasound.

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Number of Sets in Strength Training

Number of Sets in Strength Training
[45] as well as
similar significant increases in upper and lower
body muscle thickness (»14 and »13%, respectively).[
46] The authors concluded that both training
protocols produced increases in muscle strength and
hypertrophy of the same magnitude.

Vincent and colleagues[47] (published abstract)
trained 42 participants who performed a 1 ´ 8 to
12RM or 3 ´ 8 to 12RM protocol of the knee extension
exercise 3 times a week for 25 weeks. The
1-set and 3-set groups had significant increases in
1RM strength (33.3 and 31.6%, respectively), isometric
peak torque (35.4 and 32.1%, respectively)
and training resistance (25.6 and 14.7%, respectively),
with no significant difference between the
2 groups.

Ostrowski and colleagues[48] randomly assigned
35 males who had been weight training for 1 to 4
years to one of 3 training groups: a 1-set, 2-set or
4-set programme. All of the participants trained on
6 free-weight exercises 4 times a week for 10
weeks, performing 12RM, 7RM and 9RM in weeks
1 to 4, 5 to 7 and 8 to 10, respectively. The exercises
were all performed to muscular fatigue and the
only difference between the 3 programmes was the
number of sets. At the end of the programmes, significant
increases in 1RM squat (7.5, 5.4 and
11.6%), 1RM bench press (4.0, 5.0 and 1.9%) and
bench press throw power (W) [2.3, 2.3 and 3.1%]
were observed for the 1-, 2- and 4-set groups, respectively,
with no significant difference between
the groups. Significant increases in thigh circumference
and cross-sectional area, triceps thickness
and body mass were reported for all 3 groups, with
no significant differences between the groups.

Hass and colleagues[49] (published abstract) recruited
40 adults who had been performing 1 set of
each of 9 exercises to muscular fatigue for at least
1 year before entering the study. Participants were
randomly assigned to either a 1-set or a 3-set group
who performed 8 to 12RM on 3 days per week
for 13 weeks. Both of the groups significantly
increased their muscular strength and endurance

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(1-set by 10% and 3-set by 12%), with no significant
difference between the groups for any of the
5 1RM strength tests (knee extension, thigh curl,
chest press, overhead press and arm curl). The investigators
concluded that 1 set of resistance exercise
was as effective as 3 sets in adults with
strength training experience.

4. More Than Three Sets
A number of studies have investigated the increases
in strength gained by training protocols using
more than 3 sets of repetitions (table VI). Withers[
50] trained 3 groups of volunteers twice a week
for 9 weeks. They performed either 3 ´ 7RM, 4 ´
5RM or 5 ´ 3RM combinations of sets and repetitions
for each of 3 free-weight exercises: curl,
bench press and squat. All groups showed significant
increases in overall strength (1RM) of 19.3,

22.9 and 19.3% for the 3-, 4- and 5-set groups,
respectively. There was no significant difference
between the groups.
Ciriello and colleagues[51] trained 9 men (3 days
per week for 16 weeks) using a Cybex® II isokinetic
dynamometer at a velocity of 60°/sec. All volunteers
trained the knee extensors of one limb with a
5 ´ 5 protocol and the contralateral knee extensors
with a 15 ´ 10 protocol. Peak torque significantly
increased at all 7 test velocities (no data reported).
The greater total work performed (4.39 times
greater) by the 15-set thigh compared with the contralateral
5-set thigh manifested a significantly
greater increase in peak torque at only one speed
of movement (30°/sec).

5. Conclusion
No study has compared exercise programmes
using 1 set of repetitions with those using 5 or more
sets, but perhaps a syllogistical inference can be
applied. That is, most reports describe no significant
difference in strength increases when comparing
1-set with 2-set,[20-32] 1-set with 3-set,[33-47,49]
1-, 2- and 4-set,[48] 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-set[17,50] and 5and
15-set protocols.[51] Thus, it may be inferred
that no significant difference in the magnitude of
strength gains should be expected between 1-set

Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Carpinelli & Otto

Carpinelli & Otto

Reference Programme Modality/exercise Frequency Strength measure Training protocol Strength Results
duration (wk) (days/wk) (sets ´ repetitions) increase (%)
Berger[17] 9 FW/bench press 3 1RM bench press 6 ´ 216.9 NS
3 ´ 621.3
3 ´ 10 20.0
Ostrowski et
al.[48]
10 6 FW exercises 4 1RM squat 1 ´ 7-12RM
2 ´ 7-12RM
7.5
5.4
NS
4 ´ 7-12RM11.61RM bench press 1 ´ 7-12RM 4.0NS
2 ´ 7-12RM 5.0
4 ´ 7-12RM 1.9
Withers[50] 9 3 FW exercises 2 Total strength (1RM) 3 ´ 719.3 NS
4 ´ 522.9
5 ´ 3 19.3
Ciriello et al.[51] 16 Cybex® knee 3 Peak torque 5 ´ 5 a NS
extension 15 ´ 10

a data not reported.
FW = free-weight; NS = no significant difference between protocols; RM = repetition maximum.


and multiple-set, up to 15-set, programmes. The
literature lends support to the innovators of single-
set strength training programmes such as Liederman,[
52] Jones,[53] Darden,[54] and Riley[55] who intuitively
hypothesised that 1 set of repetitions of an
exercise was as effective as performing multiple sets.

This review raises the question of whether the
training study by Berger,[16] which reported on a
single exercise (bench press), and one other report
by Kramer et al.[18] on a single exercise (squat),
should set a precedent for strength training. The
opinion that multiple-set protocols are better than
a single set of an exercise is not supported by the
consensus of scientific evidence; 33 out of 35 of
the comparative reports included in this review
show no significant difference in strength increase
between individuals performing single-set and
those performing multiple-set (up to 15 sets) exercise
protocols. One set of repetitions has been
shown to be as effective as multiple sets, and more
time efficient, for increasing muscular strength and
hypertrophy in males and females of different ages,
for a variety of muscle groups and using various
types of exercise equipment. In other words, there
is insufficient evidence to support the prevalent belief
that a greater volume of exercise (through multiple
sets) will elicit superior muscular strength or
hypertrophy than will the minimal volume (through

a single set). By employing a single-set protocol,
individuals can achieve similar results in less time
and with less work and a decreased potential for
injury.

There is no evidence to suggest that the response
to single or multiple sets in trained athletes would
differ from that in untrained individuals. There is
also no evidence to suggest that a single set of an
exercise would be less productive than multiple
sets for people in the general population or special
populations, such as the elderly and cardiovascular
and orthopaedic patients who, perhaps, should not
or will not perform each exercise to the point of
muscular fatigue.

In addition to the increases in muscular strength
and lean body mass, there are other potential health
benefits of resistance exercise training. These benefits
include increased bone mineral density,[25]
connective tissue strength (ligaments and tendons),[
56] functional capacity (ability to climb stairs
and walking speed),[57] sports performance,[14]
metabolic rate[23] and enhanced quality of life.[58]
There can also be a concomitant decrease in body
fat,[24] gastrointestinal transit time,[27] heart rate
and blood pressure responses to specific activities.[
59] There is no evidence that multiple sets are
superior to a single set of each exercise in attaining
these benefits.

Ó Adis International Limited. All rights reserved. Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Number of Sets in Strength Training

Number of Sets in Strength Training
Recommendations
Although it is often considered that multiple
sets are required to properly warm up muscles during
exercise, there is no evidence to suggest that an
exercise-specific warm-up is superior to a total
body warm-up for producing increases in strength.
If a low number of repetitions, such as 3 to 5, is
desired for training, or if a competitive power-lifter
or Olympic weight-lifter is attempting a 1RM, then
a single warm-up set with a lighter resistance may
be appropriate. Fitness enthusiasts, as well as recreational
and competitive athletes, should attempt
to attain the benefits of resistance exercise training
by undertaking the minimal volume of exercise not
the highest tolerable volume; that is, the minimal
volume to achieve the desired response.

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Ó Adis International Limited. All rights reserved.
Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)


Carpinelli & Otto

Carpinelli & Otto
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training volume on hormonal output and muscular size and
function. J Strength Conditioning Res 1997; 11 (3): 148-54
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50. Withers RT. Effect of varied weight-training loads on the
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Biochemistry of exercise. Vol. 13. Champaign (IL): Human
Kinetics, 1982: 787-93
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of strength. New York (NY): Earle Liederman, 1925: 116-30
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2nd ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1997: 131-63
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Correspondence and reprints: Dr Ralph N. Carpinelli,
Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Health,
Physical Education, and Human Performance Science,
Woodruff Hall, Adelphi University, South Avenue, Garden
City, NY 11530, USA.
E-mail: otto@adlibv.adelphi.edu


Ó Adis International Limited. All rights reserved. Sports Med 1998 Aug; 26 (2)

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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sun Apr 03, 2011 9:18 am

Here's a study advocating 4 or more sets for optimal strength. Again, the details of the study will affect outcome. Like how hard did each set work? If you did one really hard (as in 'reach for the sick bucket' type hard), could you seriously do 7 more them? I couldn't! The hardest training I ever did was (after warm-up) 1 set of 20 reps squatting 3 times a week (plus some other bits done after you'd laid down for about 15-20 minutes!).
So, a lot depends upon the way you train. Some people cannot go balls to the wall, needing the puke bucket after a set of curls style of training every week. Infact I think it's probably a minority that can actually train like that week after week as it taxes the will-power of most people over time. Most of us can do it for 4-6weeks though, so people should explore both multiple & single set training (with any necessary warm-up). You never know it might be something you enjoy?

Anyway, here's the abstract - I just wish there was something like a youtube vid of the people doing these sets so we could see just how hard they work each set.

Quote :
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21451937?dopt=Abstract

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print]
Strength and neuromuscular adaptation following one, four, and eight sets of high intensity resistance exercise in trained males.

Marshall PW, McEwen M, Robbins DW.

School of Biomedical and Health Science, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia, p.marshall@uws.edu.au.
Abstract

The optimal volume of resistance exercise to prescribe for trained individuals is unclear. The purpose of this study was to randomly assign resistance trained individuals to 6-weeks of squat exercise, prescribed at 80% of a 1 repetition-maximum (1-RM), using either one, four, or eight sets of repetitions to failure performed twice per week. Participants then performed the same peaking program for 4-weeks. Squat 1-RM, quadriceps muscle activation, and contractile rate of force development (RFD) were measured before, during, and after the training program. 32 resistance-trained male participants completed the 10-week program. Squat 1-RM was significantly increased for all groups after 6 and 10-weeks of training (P < 0.05). The 8-set group was significantly stronger than the 1-set group after 3-weeks of training (7.9% difference, P < 0.05), and remained stronger after 6 and 10-weeks of training (P < 0.05). Peak muscle activation did not change during the study. Early (30, 50 ms) and peak RFD was significantly decreased for all groups after 6 and 10-weeks of training (P < 0.05). Peak isometric force output did not change for any group. The results of this study support resistance exercise prescription in excess of 4-sets (i.e. 8-sets) for faster and greater strength gains as compared to 1-set training. Common neuromuscular changes are attributed to high intensity squats (80% 1-RM) combined with a repetition to failure prescription. This prescription may not be useful for sports application owing to decreased early and peak RFD. Individual responsiveness to 1-set of training should be evaluated in the first 3-weeks of training.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sun Apr 03, 2011 9:30 am

Oh yea, as a side note I am just reading The 4 hour body by Tim Ferris. It advocates for size increase an Arthur Jones style 1 set to failure type training routines as it's main option.
So, far the book does trivialise muscle gain/fat loss basically down to a few easy tricks. It kind of down plays the ease, with stuff like you'll gain 20 pounds of muscle in a month easily if you do 4 weeks of HIT style working out - although it mentions how hard it doesn't really get across how hard it is to do that sort of training & infact most people will not gain 20 pounds of muscle in a month even if they ate, workout AND took gear!
The weight loss is again a lot of easy tricks. He has stuff like a guy had a goal & simply weighed himself everyday, no dietary change, but hit his goal...it's not impossible, but just look at the failure rates for dieting. Let's be honest the guy CHANGED his eating habits! He may not admit it, but obviously if anyone just weighed themselves & did nothing, you'd get what you put in...NOTHING.
I know a lot of people rave about the book, but so far (I've only read the adding muscle & part of the fat loss as I write this) I'm not exactly a convert. If I want to cut fat, I'll increase activity, decrease calories taken in & lift heavy, if I want to add muscle, I'll increase calories, stay steady with activity & lift heavy. The rest is down to time, consistency, eating correctly, resting enough & working out hard enough.
I just thought the book might be of interest as it's getting pretty popular at the moment.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat May 14, 2011 8:21 am

Pete wrote:
Yes, it's that old chestnut again!
There has been years of debate & one study certainly won't end it, but here is a meta-analysis (that is a study of studies done by other people). It takes, in this case, 8 studies & compares outc CI: -0.09, 0.30; p = 0.29). There was a tendency for increasing ESs for an increasing number of sets (0.24 for 1 set, 0.34 for 2-3 sets, and 0.44 for 4-6 sets). Sensitivity analysis revealed no highly influential studies that affected the magnitude of the observed differences, but one study did slightly influence the level of significance and CI width. No evidence of publication bias was observed. In conclusion, multiple sets are associated with 40% greater hypertrophy-related ESs than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects.
[/quote]

Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, found the effects of one set detrimental instantly. He and Frank Columbo tested it and stopped quickly. This information is in the book Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat May 14, 2011 5:04 pm

A version I heard (again hearsay) was that Arnold went to visit Arthur Jones (famous for his one set to failure style of HIT training) & stated if he always had to train like that - as in as hard as Arthur made him train, then he'd never have become a champion - I'm not sure how true that is, but I know Arthur Jones was a task master & forced people to do truly brutal workouts.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Tue May 17, 2011 9:03 am

I tried to train like Arnold for years and never got anywhere at all. Maybe if I had been using steriods.
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat May 28, 2011 4:28 am

Thats the main thing to think about when you see people growing muscle at a fast pace-steroids.
Its amazing how many people at the gym I train at show no signs of growth NO MATTER WHAT SORT OF TRAINING THEY DO, but then a few months before sunny beach weather is due, they sprout like weeds,injecting all kinds of stuff.
After summer, back off the steroids, and slowly back to usual size untill the next time
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PostSubject: Re: Single set Vs multiple sets - which is best for muscle size?   Sat May 28, 2011 4:52 am

..& if you look at the old timers like the great Rollino who died at 104 & was still lifting most days of the week (he was killed by being hit by a van, was in perfect health & showed no signs of slowing down)...oh yea & he was a veggie for most of his life, or Jack LaLanne who died this year at 96, & many others show what you can achieve. Jack was exercising the day before he died! Joe Rollino trained most days of the week, every week. They were able to keep going because they didn't abuse their bodies, tried to eat as well as they could - on his 104th birthday Joe was offered cake, but said (I paraphase) "I've made it this far through not eating that kind of thing, why would I start now?" good answer!!!!
Guys who jack up for quick gains using gear are going to suffer. Even comparing many of the guys from recent bodybuilding, powerlifting & strength fields to the oldtimers not too many match up in terms of longevity. I'm not saying steroids are useless, for people with hormonal issues or even some guys who dabbled like Bill Pearl (another older guy who looks awesome for an older dude), but the guys who just jack up then fade away, training should be a lifestyle choice, a way to improve your life, not a quick fix. Those guys will be the guys conking out in their middle ages with all sorts of issues, also the risks of stuff like impotence, bitch tits, hair loss etc are all hugely increased by that sort of reckless, short-term vanity-based training philosophy.
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