3 Sets is the Sweet Spot for Muscle Growth


Do you believe that you don’t need to do more than 1 set per bodypart to stimulate growth as long as you are reaching for muscle failure (now you know the importance of muscle failure – I told you so)? Or do you believe that you need to do several sets of more than 5-6 sets in order to get the volume needed to stimulate growth?

Of the two groups; the 1 set HIT group, or the Volume group, who got the set range right?

workout sets 1 set or 5 sets

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Answer:

None of the above, but I did!

For sake of disclosure my method has been doing 4 sets of 3 moves for big muscle groups such as chest, back, and legs and 3 sets for arms. According to experience I find this set range to be the sweet spot when it comes to stimulating muscle growth.

But that is MY preference and that is what I have been doing ever since the first guy who taught me to lift said that it is not optimal to lie down in the bench press for hours doing God knows how many “sets” to infinity of benches. And since then 3-4 sets has been my staple set range, BECAUSE IT WORKS FOR ME. You are free to do any set range that you feel works for you.

But just in case you are looking to be more scientific of this, let us review a certain study that I have already shared with you before in case you missed it:

Note: The first one is the Meta analysis, there is a second study highlighted afterwards before the end and that one was an Experiment:

Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis (study)

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. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1150-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d4d436.

As you can see, the 3-4 set template for any basic program hasn’t exactly been pulled off our asses – well…maybe it was at one point, since bodybuilders and aesthetic lifters find it effective and since this study has been conducted last 2010 we actually had no proof that doing more than one set to failure was optimum or if doing less than 5 sets is going to cut it – this study answers both questions:

1 set or multiple set?

Answer: 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 (ES=effect sizes, the factors that the researchers measured to determine size gains) than 1 set.

Is doing more sets better, let’s say 4-6 sets?

Answer: 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).

Although the studies showed that doing more than 3 sets can produce greater size effects but the difference is statistically insignificant. 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).

3 set failure

Now if you are doubtful about the results and the nature of meta analysis above I feel for you – I myself can see the limitations brought about by integrating statistical data from many studies about a subject that is as complicated as weight training.

 

In that case check this study out published in ncbi last 2012 – this one is NOT a meta analysis but is an experiment.

 

Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men

 

The study determined that regardless of the load, as long as the subjects reached for failure muscle growth remains consistent – HOWEVER they also found out that the ones who did 3 sets to failure got more muscle gains than those who did 1 set to failure:

However, the 80%-3 (three sets performed to the point of fatigue with 80% of 1RM)and 30%-3 (three sets performed to the point of fatigue with 30% of 1RM) showed more than double the average hypertrophy of the 80%-1 condition (one set of knee extension performed to voluntary failure at 80% of 1RM). These results, while not quantitatively congruent with our acute data are, we propose, broadly supportive of the framework we have proposed of how muscle hypertrophy arises.

This somehow proves our “sweet spot” theory and the balance between volume and intensity of effort.

 

Therefore I will stick to doing 3-4 sets for my weight training sessions. What about you? How many sets do you usually do? Eat your eggs, A-lifters!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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