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How many sets per exercise?

[Post Followup ] [ Anabolic Forum Board ]

Posted by Bill

Regarding the question as to how many sets of each exercise you need to do to make effective gains:

Certainly, there have been advocates of low-set training. Dorian Yates was among them. However, if any low-set routine like this is to be effective, those sets must necessarily be of the maximum intensity.

But it is virtually impossible for most people to achieve maximum intensity from set one most of the time. It takes several sets, usually of increasing resistance, to achieve that level of intensity. So perhaps only one or two maximum sets will do the job, but it seems likely it takes 3-5 sets to make those two maximum sets happen. There is also the possibility that, since you are really recalibrating the nervous system when you train rather than doing anything to the muscles directly, that more sets and reps are necessary in order to communicate this message fully. That both intensity and volume of information are necessary in order to force the body to change and adapt.

Furthermore, if somebody says "no studies have been done" indicating that three, four or five sets are most effective, tell them to visit some gyms where top bodybuilders train. This 3-5 set training program is the basis of almost every champion's routine, and these people are the most muscularly developed in the world. Remember, not all research is done in a labratory. All of modern bodybuilding is one, huge (pardon the pun) research study.

Of course, when somebody in the non-bodybuilding worlds says "we got equal results" with lower sets, the question remains as to whether any of the results they achieved with either kind of training would be what a bodybuilder would consider sufficient.

Maybe...and nobody knows for or two sets would be enough if they were balls-out intense every single time. But, when in doubt, if you want to be a bodybuilder you should usually try to do what the top bodybuilders have done. In the future, we will probably find that champions have been doing some things right and a few things wrong, but when you look at what they've achieved there is no reason to believe they will ever be shown to have been very wrong.

Who would you tend to believe---a Mr. Universe or Mr. or Ms. Olympia, or some guy who publishes research in Prevention and can't point to anyone you'd want to look like as an example of the efficacy of the training method he recommends?

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