Number of Sets for Muscular Hypertrophy
For muscle hypertrophy, 2-3 sets per exercise were
more effective than 1 set, but there was no significant difference
between 2-3 sets per exercise and 4-6 sets per exercise.
Krieger JW (2010). Single vs. multiple sets of resistance
exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Strength
Cond Res. 24(4):1150-9.
Strength Dose-Response Curve
participants experience maximal strength gains training each
muscle group 2 days per week with an average training intensity
of 80% of their 1 RM, or approximately 8 RM. Four sets performed
per muscle group elicited the most gains in both trained
and untrained. Interestingly, only marginal benefits where observed
between 2 and 4 sets per muscle group in trained individuals.
Rhea warns their dose-response curves represent mean training
levels and should not be construed as supporting training at
a particular volume or intensity on a constant basis. Instead,
effective programs should incorporate varied training doses (volume,
frequency, and/or intensity) [particularly for trained individuals].
Untrained participants (less than 1 year of consistent training)
experience maximal strength gains with an average training intensity
of 60% of their 1 RM or approximately a 12 RM, training each
muscle group 3 days per week. Novices weight training 2 times
per week may make approximately 80% of the strength gains as
compared to training 3 times per week.
Rhea et al (2003) suggested caution when prescribing multiple-set
programs to those who have not been training consistently for
at least 1 year. Adequate time is required to become accustomed
to the stress of resistance exercise and avoid over-stress injuries
in the early phases of training. Novice trainees may also lack
the desire to commit to a training program requiring the additional
time needed to perform multiple sets and thus reduce adherence
to the exercise regimen.
Braith RW, Graves JE, Pollock ML, Leggett SL, Carpenter
DM, Colvin AB (1989). Comparison of 2 vs 3 days/week of variable
resistance training during 10- and 18-week programs. Int J Sports
Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Burkett LN, Ball SD (2003). A meta-analysis
to determine the dose response for strength development. Med
Sci Sports Exerc. 35(3):456-64.
Single versus Multiple Sets
Hass et. al. compared
one and three sets in long-term recreational weightlifters and
found no significant difference in strength and muscular development.
Hass CJ, Garzarella L, de Hoyos D, Pollock ML (2000). Single
versus multiple sets in long-term recreational weightlifters.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 32(1):235-42.
Rhea et. al. also compared one and three sets in recreationally
trained individuals for the Bench Press and Leg Press. A statistically
significant difference in strength gains was found favoring 3
sets in the leg press (p < 0.05, effect size [ES] = 6.5).
However, only a small but statistically insignificant difference
in strength gain was found for the bench press (p = 0.07, ES
Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Ball SD, Burkett LN (2002). 16(4):525-9.
Three sets of weight training superior to 1 set with equal intensity
for eliciting strength. J Strength Cond Res.
Schlumberger found greater strength gains in women performing
3 sets versus a single set. Both training groups made significant
strength improvements in leg extension (multiple-set group, 15%;
single-set group, 6%; p 0.05). However, in the seated bench press
only the 3-set group showed a significant increase in maximal
Schlumberger A, Stec J, Schmidtbleicher D (2001). Single-
vs. multiple-set strength training in women. J Strength Cond
Single-set programs for an initial short training period in
untrained individuals result in similar strength gains as multiple-set
programs. As progression occurs multiple-set programs were more
Wolfe BL, LeMura LM, Cole PJ (2004). Quantitative analysis
of single- vs. multiple-set programs in resistance training.
J Strength Cond Res.18(1):35-47.
Rest Between Sets
Ahtiainen et. al. compared
2 to 5 minute rest periods in previously strength-trained men.
No significant difference in acute hormonal and neuromuscular
responses or long-term training adaptations in muscle strength
and mass were found.
Ahtiainen JP, Pakarinen A, Alen M, Kraemer WJ, Häkkinen
K (2005). Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic
resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and
hormonal adaptations in trained men. J Strength Cond Res.19(3):572-82.
3 minute rests between sets of bench press allowed for more
repetition to be performed than rests of 2 or 1 minute.
Willardson JM, Burkett LN (2006). The effect of rest interval
length on bench press performance with heavy vs. light loads.
J Strength Cond Res. 20(2):396-9.
Squat strength gains were not significantly different between
2 minutes versus 4 minutes rest between sets.
Willardson JM, Burkett LN (2008). The effect of different
rest intervals between sets on volume components and strength
gains. J Strength Cond Res. 22(1):146-52.
activity between sets can improve recovery. In a study conducted
at University of Kansas, subjects completed six sets of squats
(85% 10RM) with 4 minute rest periods between sets. Rest periods
consisted of either sitting quietly (passive recovery) or cycling
at 25% or 50% of VO2max (active recovery). Blood lactate was
significantly lower when cycling at 25% of VO2max compared to
the other two types of rest periods. Following the initial workout,
the 25% VO2 recovery group continued to perform more repetitions
to exhaustion (65% if 10RM) compared to the other two recovery
groups. Also see Dodd
Corder K, Potteiger J , Nau K, Figoni S, Hershberger S
(1998). Effects of active and passive recovery on lactate, RPE,
and performance during resistance training. Medicine and Science
in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 194.
Corder KP, Potteiger JA, Nau KL, Figoni SE, Hershberger
SL (2000). Effects of active and passive recovery conditions
on blood lactate, rating of perceived exertion, and performance
during resistance exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research, 14: 151-156.
Making workload alterations (8RM, 6RM, 4RM) every workout
was more effective in eliciting strength gains than doing so
every 4 weeks.
Rhea MR, Ball SD, Phillips WT, Burkett LN (2002). A comparison
of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated
volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. 16(2):250-5.
Hunter et. al. compared variable resistant training (once-weekly
training at 80%, 65%, and 50% 1RM) versus training 3 times a
week at 80% 1RM in men and women over the age of 60. After 6
months both groups made similar strength and lean body mass gains.
However the variable resistant training group reported lower
perceived exertion during a carrying task.
Hunter GR, Wetzstein CJ, McLafferty CL Jr, Zuckerman PA,
Landers KA, Bamman MM (2001). High-resistance versus variable-resistance
training in older adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 33(10):1759-64.