Also look at the following research studies posted below.
One set gives same results as mutilple sets.Hence, one set training is more productive as Mike would have concluded.
Further, IGF-I increased similarly with both training voulmes.
Also ,repetition failure appears to be the central ingredient for developing strength.
Further,by training to failure for just one set of bench presses, the athletes doubled their strength gains as compared to the group that never reached failure.
Mike was a genius .He was advocating the above, before all the scientific studies came out.
ONE SET IS AS GOOD AS THREE SETS OF RESISTANCE EXERCISES
Starkey, D. B., Pollock, M. L., Ishida, Y., Welsch, M. A., Brechue, W. F., Grames, J. E., & Feignbaum, M. S. (1996). Effect of resistance training volume on strength and muscle thickness. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28, 1311-1320.
This study determined the effects of different volumes of high-intensity resistance training on isometric torque and muscle thickness.
Training was conducted three times per week using one set (group N = 18) or three sets (group N = 20) of exercise. A control group (N = 10) performed no exercise of the experimental form.
Both groups improved torque similarly at most angles. There were no significant differences in muscle thickness changes.
Implication. One set of high-intensity resistance training is as effective as three sets for increasing isometric torque and muscle thickness. Repetitious fatiguing on strength exercises as a form of supplementary training should be questioned. Doing only one maximal set should be evaluated to see if any effect is transferred to actual performance.
ONE SET IS AS GOOD AS THREE FOR STRENGTH GAIN
Hass, C. J., Garzaarella, L., De Hoyos, D. V., & Pollock, M. L. (1998). Effects of training volume on strength and endurance in experienced resistance trained adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 651.
The effects of low volume strength training and high volume strength training on strength and endurance development in resistance trained adults (N = 40) were determined. Ss w ere assigned to a group of experimental training consisting of either one or three sets of 8-12 repetitions to failure, three times per week for 13 weeks. Performance gains were measured through 1RM for leg extension, leg curl, chest press, overhead press, and biceps curl. Muscular endurance was measured for chest press and leg extension as the number of repetitions to failure with a load of 75% of baseline 1RM.
Both groups increased strength and muscular strength significantly with no difference between them on any measure.
Implication. One strength training set to failure of 8-12 repetitions is as effective as three sets for improving strength and muscular endurance in the exercised muscles.
LONG TERM RESULTS ARE SIMILAR FOR ONE AND THREE SET STRENGTH TRAINING REGIMES
Pollock, M. L., Abe, T., De Hoyos, D. V., Garzarella, L., & Hass, C. J. (1998). Muscular hypertrophy responses to 6 months of high- or low-volume resistance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 661.
It was found that one- and three-set resistance training three times per week for 25 weeks produced similar increases in muscle thickness in both lower and upper body sites.
Implication. One full-effort strength training set yields the same benefits as do three sets. Performing fewer sets has the added benefit of stimulating less fatigue than the larger volume of training.
ONE SET OF STRENGTH TRAINING IS AS GOOD AS THREE
Starkey, D. B., Welsch, M. A., Pollock, M. L., Graves, J. E., Brechue, W. F., & Ishida, Y. (1994). Equivalent improvement in strength following high intensity, low and high volume training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26(5), Supplement abstract 651.
Either one or three sets of high intensity strength training was performed, 3 days/wk for 14 weeks. It was found that one set (8-12 repetitions) was as effective as three.
The superfluous training time might be used better for other activities.
Implication. The stimulus for high intensity strength training does not have to include much volume. One maximal set is sufficient.
ONE AND THREE-SETS YIELD SIMILAR STRENGTH GAINS
Wolfe, B. L., Vaerio, T. A, Strohecker, K., & Szmedra, L. (2001). Effect of single versus multiple-set resistance training on muscular strength. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 435.
Untrained Ss (M = 3; F = 13) were randomly assigned to a 1-set, 3-set, or control group for 10 weeks of strength training. Training consisted of performing six repetitions of a supine bench-press at an intensity of 75-80% 1 RM, three times per week.
Muscular strength increased 22.1% for the 1-set group, and 31.2% for the 3-set group. There was no statistical significance between those two groups, although both were significantly more than the control group.
Implication. 1-set strength training protocols have largely similar strength-gain effects as to 3-set protocols.
ONE SET OF REPETITIONS IS BETTER THAN THREE
Fincher, G. E. (2000). The effect of high intensity resistance training on peak upper and lower body power among collegiate football players. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(5), Supplement abstract 657.
The effect of a single, exhaustive set of strength exercises on peak upper and lower body power was investigated. College football players served as Ss. One group (N = 20) performed one set of strength exercises (6-10 reps) to exhaustion. Ss were also encouraged to attempt further repetitions to ensure muscular fatigue. The multiple-set group performed three sets of 6-10 repetitions. They were not asked to attempt further repetitions to achieve an exhausted state.
Gains in peak power were significantly greater in the one-set group than the multiple-set group.
The defining characteristic of this training was the exhaustion experienced by the one-set group.
Implication. One set of exhaustive exercises produces better gains in power than multiple sets of the same exercises not performed to absolute exhaustion.
ONE-SET AS GOOD AS THREE-SETS FOR STRENGTH BUT THREE SETS BEST FOR MUSCULAR ENDURANCE
De Hoyos, D., Abe, T., Garzarella, L., Hass, C., Nordman, M., & Pollock, M. (1998). Effects of 6 months of high- or low-volume resistance training on muscular strength and endurance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 938.
This study compared the effects of 1-set versus 3-sets of resistance training over an extended 25-week period to see if differences or similarities persist over such a duration.
It was found that both forms of training produced similar long-term muscular strength and muscular endurance improvements. There was a suggestion that the 3-set group improved more in muscular endurance.
Implication. One-set is as effective as three-set strength training for developing strength. Both conditions improve muscular endurance but the three-set protocol probably develops it more.
ONE SET IS AS GOOD AS THREE SETS FOR STRENGTH GAINS
Hass, C. J., Garzarella, L, de Hoyos, D., & Pollock, M. L. (2000). Single versus multiple sets in long-term recreational weightlifters. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32, 235-242.
The effects of increasing training volume from one to three sets on muscular strength, muscular endurance, and body composition in adult recreational weight lifters (N = 42) was investigated. When athletes in heavy training perform auxiliary strength training, in many respects their responses are equivalent to recreational weight lifters. Ss had been performing one set (8-12 repetitions) of nine exercises in a circuit for a year. Ss were divided into two groups: one performing one and the other performing three sets of the exercises three times per week for 13 weeks.
Both groups improved in 1-RM performances and muscular endurance on the training exercises, and in lean body mass. No differences between the groups were exhibited. The one-set group still improved, despite having trained for a year before the study. An increase in lifting volume did not produce any added benefits.
Implication. For the development of strength in adults, one set of strength training exercises is as effective as three sets. For athletes who strength-train as a supplement to greater volumes of more specific training, one-set training regimes might be sufficient and the use of three-sets could be unnecessarily fatiguing as well as providing no added benefits.
MAXIMALLY FATIGUING SINGLE SET OF STRENGTH EXERCISES RESULTS IN SIGNIFICANT BODY COMPOSITION CHANGES
Fincher II, G. E. (2003). The effect of high intensity resistance training on body composition among collegiate football players. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(5), Supplement abstract 1793.
Highly resistance-trained football players were assigned to a single-set (N = 20) or three-set (N = 20) training group. The single-set group (high-intensity) performed one set of 6-10 RM to volitional fatigue in each exercise. Ss were then urged to attempt more repetitions until the exercise could not be performed. The three-set group performed 6-10 RM but were not encouraged to attain extreme fatigue through added repetitions. Training lasted 10 weeks.
The high-intensity training group recorded a significant loss in body fat whereas the three-set group did not.
Implication. A single-set maximal fatigue training stimulus results in more body change than does a three-set training stimulus. [This suggests that maximal fatigue is the stimulus for strength training effects, not the number of repetitions or number of sets.]
ONE IS AS GOOD AS THREE SETS IN EXPERIENCED RESISTANCE TRAINERS
Gomes, P. S., de Paula, A. M., Diogo, C. E., de Freitas, M., Rodrigues, F., & Pereira, M. I. (2003). Effects of single and multiple sets resistance training on strength gains of previously experienced adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(5), Supplement abstract 1621.
Previously resistance-trained males (N = 19) completed 14 weeks of resistance training consisting of nine exercises performed with either one or three sets of 8-10 RM, three times/week. Five exercises were tested for 1 RM and 8-10 RM pre-and post-training.
The number-of-sets groups did not differ in response. Both groups improved significantly as a result of the training.
Implication. One set is as good as three sets in resistance training when Ss have previous experience with resistance training.
ONE SET IS AS GOOD AS THREE SETS IN WEIGHT TRAINING
Baker, J. S., & Cooper, S. M. (2004). Strength and body composition: single versus triple set resistance training programs. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(5), Supplement abstract 394.
“When designing optimal strength training programs there are contrasting and conflicting recommendations regarding the number of weight-lifting sets required to elicit an increase in muscular strength. The prevalent recommendation is to perform multiple sets (at least three) in order to achieve maximal strength gains. The main advocates of multiple set training programs propose that multiple sets are superior for achieving optimal physiological adaptation, and that single sets are most appropriate for untrained subjects” (p. S53).
Male weight-trainers (N = 16) were divided into two different training groups. Supervised upper body weight-training was conducted three times per week for eight weeks, one group performing one set of six repetitions to fatigue of variable resistance training exercises. The other group performed three sets.
Both groups displayed similar significant improvements in strength. The one set group lost a significant amount of fat tissue.
Implication. Recreational weight-trainers experience as much improvement from one set of repetitions as is experienced from three.
REPETITION FAILURE IS THE PRINCIPAL STIMULUS FOR STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT
Drinkwater, E. J., Lawton, T. W., Lindsell, R. P., Pyne, D. B., Hunt, P. H., & McKenna, M. J. (2004). Repetition failure is a key determinant of strength development in resistance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(5), Supplement abstract 395.
This study compared the effect of different set designs and volume on the magnitude of strength development when training to repetition failure. Elite junior basketball players (N = 12) and senior volleyball players (N = 10) were tested on 6- and 3-repetition maximum mass of bench press and 40 kg Smith Machine bench press throw power. For six weeks, groups trained either 4 sets of 6 repetitions every 121 seconds (4×6), 8 sets of 3 repetitions every 72 seconds (8×3), or 12 sets of 3 repetitions every 72 seconds (12×3). All Ss trained with progressive increases in resistance between 90-100% 6 RM to ensure repetition failure by the end of each session.
The 4×6 and 12×3 groups reached failure on more repetitions than the 8×3 group. All groups improved significantly and similarly in 6 RM, 3 RM, and bench press throw.
1. Repetition failure appears to be the central ingredient for developing strength.
2. Set and rest duration, set volume, and repetitions missed were not related to strength gains.
SHORT REST PERIODS STIMULATE GREATER STRENGTH GAINS THAN LONG RESTS
Kulling, B. A., Hardison, B. H., Jacobson, B. H., & Edwards, S. W. (1998). The effect of two different rest periods between sets in a resistance training program. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 939.
The effects of 30- and 90-second rest periods between sets on muscular strength and selected body mass indices were compared using both male and female (N = 55) college students as subjects. A no-activity control group was used for the 12-weeks period.
It was found that both training groups improved in strength and body mass indices but the shorter rest period group improved more in strength.
Implication. Rest periods of 30 seconds stimulate more strength development than 90 seconds.
HARD RESISTANCE TRAINING REQUIRES CONSIDERABLE INTER-SESSION RECOVERY
McLester, J. R., Bishop, P, Smith, J., Dale, B., & Kozusko, J. (2001). Effect of training volume on recovery from resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 1819.
This study investigated the effects of seven resistance sets to momentary muscular failure of eight different exercises in healthy resistance-trained males (N = 10). The number of repetitions performed with the weight for approximately 10-RM was recorded for each exercise in session #1. Recovery status was indicated by the number of repetitions performed with the same weight and exercise at 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours after the session #1.
Performance was significantly lower at 24 hours. At 48 hours, 6 of the 10 Ss still performed below session #1 levels. After 72 hours, seven Ss had recovered enough to perform at or above session #1 values. After 96 hours, eight Ss had fully recovered with five Ss showing improved performances. Two Ss never recovered to return to session #1 levels of performance. Inter-subject variability was large.
Implication. High volumes of resistance training require relatively long recovery periods. Training effects from such training sessions might not peak for several days [in this study it was at least four days for half the Ss]. Pre-testing individual recovery ability before undertaking resistance-training programs would be advisable.
ECCENTRIC STRENGTH TRAINING MORE EFFECTIVE THAN CONCENTRIC TRAINING
Hortobagyi, T., Barrier, J., Beard, D., Braspennincx, J., Koens, P., De Vita, P., Dempsey, L., Israel, R., & Lambert, J. (1996). Greater adaptations with submaximal muscle lengthening than maximal shortening contractions. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(5), Supplement abstract 761.
It has been known for a long time that the strength demands of eccentric contractions far exceed those of concentric contractions in a coordinated movement. Studies which have used maximal eccentric load versus maximal concentric load have shown superior strength gains for eccentric training. This study controlled for load so that both forms of contraction were overloaded by the same amount. Ss were women.
Eccentric contractions were still shown to develop significantly greater strength gains than concentric contractions despite the similarity of loads. The following table indicates what resulted.
Training condition Improvements
Concentric Isometric Eccentric
Eccentric 13% 30% 42%
Concentric 36% 18% 13%
Each form of contraction improved its like condition supporting the specificity of strength training. Improvements in eccentric and isometric strength under the eccentric training condition were significantly greater than that achieved with concentric training.
Implication. Eccentric strength training, even under submaximal eccentric loads, produces better strength gains than concentric training. This suggests this might be a better form of rehabilitation strength training. However, the specificity of effects further support the contention that strength training is particularly specific and is likely to have little transfer to whole-body sporting activities.
MAXIMUM STRENGTH GAINS ARE DERIVED AFTER A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF EXERCISE — ANY MORE TRAINING DOES NOT YIELD ANY FURTHER BENEFITS
Teixeira, M. S., Silva, E. B., Santos, C. B., & Gomez, P. S. (2001). Effects of resistance training with different sets and weekly frequencies on upper body muscular strength in military males 18 years of age. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 753.
This investigation evaluated the effects of combined frequency and sets of resistance training programs over eight weeks in male military recruits (N = 94). Six experimental groups were formed. Three groups trained three times a week, one group performing one, another two, and the third three sets. Three more groups trained fives times per week, each differentiated by one, two, or three sets of repetitions. A non-exercising control group was also formed.
All exercise groups gained significantly over the eight weeks. The five days per week, three sets group was significantly stronger than the three times per week, one-set group. There were no differences between groups performing the same number of sets whether for three or five times per week. Essentially, the results showed that one set of strength training exercises is as effective as three or five sets in strength training.
1. One set of strength training exercises is effective for strength development.
2. Three times per week is as effective as five times per week.
RESISTANCE TRAINING INCREASES IGF-I
Borst, S., De Hoyos, D., Lowenthal, D., Vincent, K., Garzarella, L., Pollock, B., & Pollock, M. (1998). Six months high- or low-volume resistance training increases circulating insulin-like growth factor. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 1556.
Since there are equivocal research findings concerning the relationship between physical activity and circulating insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), this study attempted to determine the effects of resistance training on IGF-I and IGF binding protein (IGFBP-3). Ss (N = 11) participated in 25-week resistance training programs of low- (1 set) or high-volume (3 sets). Blood was sampled pre-, mid- (13 weeks), and post-training.
IGF-I increased similarly with both training intensities (34% low; 30% high). However, IGFBP-3 increased slightly but not significantly in both groups.
Implication. Resistance training increases IGF-I irrespective of training intensity. IGFBP-3 is unaffected by resistance training.
ONE REP BEYOND: TAKE YOUR STRENGTH AND SIZE GAINS OVER THE EDGE WITH THESE SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN FAILURE TACTICS
Bodybuilders are usually failures, while powerlifters usually are not.
Before you take offense at that statement, hear us out. What we mean is that most powerlifters do not routinely train to muscle failure. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, tend to focus all their training on muscle failure.
Who′s right? Who′s wrong? And if failure is the way to go–how much failure is enough, and how much is too little? Here′s the scoop on how to fail for success.
THE FORM PRINCIPLE
How muscle failure is defined can vary from one person to the next. Extremists consider it to be the total inability to move a weight. This is exemplified by either the guy in the gym who uses contorted body English to complete his reps until he literally can′t budge the bar (sometimes he gets pinned under it during a bench press gone horribly wrong) or the one whose spotter totally lifts the weight for him.
Don′t be either–in the first scenario, you risk injury and, in the second, you only piss off your spotter for no appreciable gain.
As a bodybuilder seeking muscle growth, the kind of failure you want to reach should be defined as the point at which you can no longer perform another complete rep with proper form. Going to failure this way will properly fatigue the muscle and not put you or your spotter at risk for injury. Sure, go ahead and finish that last rep with less than stellar form–but stop there.
One note: if you train solo, then failure has a different definition by necessity. For you, muscle failure is the point at which you know you won′t be able to complete the next rep with good form. If you can′t complete it with good form, there′s a chance you won′t be able to complete it at all.
If this happens during a barbell bench press, squat, leg press or shoulder press, it could leave you open to a serious injury. Stop the set there before you even attempt that rep, and consider it a set done to failure.
Most powerlifters don′t train to failure. They usually stick to a tight regimen of a certain number of reps per set and never do more than that prescribed for the day′s workout. If a set feels light and they can get more than five reps (or whatever that day′s workout calls for), they still stop at five and simply add weight during the next workout. Recent research, however, should have most powerlifters thinking about changing their training strategy.
Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport (Canberra) have discovered that training to failure is important for maximizing strength gains. The scientists performed two different studies to address the failure question. In one case, they set out to determine whether training to failure was necessary for gaining strength.
They had athletes perform bench-press sessions for six weeks, doing either four sets of six reps (with failure being reached during the last set) or eight sets of three reps (without ever reaching failure).
Each workout was done three times per week. At the end of the study, the failure group had an increase in strength of 10%, while the group that never trained to muscle failure had a strength increase of only 5%. In other words, by training to failure for just one set of bench presses, the athletes doubled their strength gains as compared to the group that never reached failure.
In another study, the Aussies investigated how much failure was required to maximize strength. They had three groups of athletes perform bench-press sessions for six weeks. Group one trained with four sets of six reps, going to failure for all four sets. Group two trained with eight sets of three reps, reaching failure for the last two sets. Group three performed 12 sets of three reps, training to failure for the last three sets.
Separating the athletes this way allowed the scientists to compare the number of sets the athletes took to failure; it also allowed them to analyze the effects of different numbers of sets and reps. Despite the differences in the number of sets and reps performed for the bench press and in the number of sets performed to failure, all groups had a 6% increase in bench-press strength at the end of six weeks.
When both studies are compared side by side (see the “Fail to Gain” sidebar on page 120), there is a clear trend in regard to training to failure for strength. Training to failure for one set per exercise elicits twice the strength gains as not training to failure. Increasing the number of sets taken to failure from one set to two, three or four provides no more benefit than doing just one set to failure.
In fact, taking more than one set to failure may actually blunt strength gains. Take-home message: for strength, do no more than one set to failure per exercise. No more, no less.
So what about training to failure for gaining mass? After all, being stronger is great, but only if it accompanies more muscle. The bad news is that research studies haven′t looked directly at how muscles grow due to muscle failure. There are few research studies in general on muscle growth. That leaves us with research that primarily looks at muscle strength or hormonal responses and trying to extrapolate it to muscle growth.
Looking at the Aussie studies, we could easily say that training to failure is important for muscle growth. Anecdotal reports from bodybuilders over many decades would support this contention. The question, however, is how much failure is optimal for muscle growth?
Indirectly, the Australian research suggests that taking at least one set to failure per exercise may be important for stimulating size increases. Another indirect answer comes from a study performed in Finland. It examined forced-rep training (in which an athlete takes a set to muscle failure and a spotter helps to finish two more reps). When forced reps were performed during all eight sets of a leg workout, levels of growth hormone (GH), an important anabolic hormone involved in muscle growth, were about three times higher than when eight straight sets were performed.
The point to be gained from this study is that you need to train with high intensity to boost your GH levels. Training to failure every set can help keep your training intensity high and boost your GH levels at a time when it′s most critical–after your workout.
Of course, overtraining can be an issue with continuous high-intensity training. Overtraining can lead to suppressed levels of testosterone, GH and insulinlike growth factor-I; raised amounts of cortisol (catabolic hormone); and many other disturbances within the body that can sap muscle and strength gains.
One study reported that subjects who consistently trained to failure and also with forced reps for six weeks showed early signs of overtraining. Clearly, training to failure every set is something you want to limit.
What′s the take-home message for training to failure for muscle mass? Train to failure for all sets (after being warmed up) for a limited time–six weeks. Then back off by training to failure for just the last set of each exercise for another six weeks. Keep your approach staggered in this manner to maximize muscle mass while preventing overtraining.
Beginners (those with less than a year of training experience) should spend at least the first 12 weeks going to failure for just the last set of each exercise. During the next six-week stretch, take every set to failure; then, back off again for 12 weeks, going to failure for just the last set of each exercise.
Follow this pattern until you have at least a full year of training experience before stepping up to the advanced cycle presented in the “Failure Cycle” sidebar on page 119. Following this plan, you may be failing in the gym a lot, but you won′t be feeling like a failure when you flex all of your newfound muscle.
As for that misinformed guy at the gym who is flailing under an overloaded bar for his ill-advised bench press, go ahead and lift it off him. After all, bodybuilders, powerlifters and our fellow iron warriors in between are all brothers. Some of us just understand the finer points of failure better than others. Now you do, too.
* E.J. Drinkwater et al., “Training leading to repetition failure enhances bench press strength gains in elite junior athletes,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2):382-88, 2005.
* E.J. Drinkwater et al., “Repetition failure is a key determinant of strength development in resistance training,” American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2004.
* M.H. Stone et al., “Training to muscle failure: Is it necessary?” Strength and Conditioning, 18(3):44-48, 1996.
BY JIM STOPPANI, PHD
RELATED ARTICLE: FAILURE CYCLE
Here is a sample cycle of failure training for beginners and advanced bodybuilders. The values in the three columns represent the number of sets and the rep ranges per exercise.
TRAINING EXPERIENCE WEEKS 1-6 WEEKS 7-12
Beginner (< 1 year) 2-3 X 8-10* 2-3 X 6-8*
Advanced (> 1 year) 3-4 X 8-10 ([dagger]) 3-4 X 5-6*
TRAINING EXPERIENCE WEEKS 13-18
Beginner (< 1 year) 2-3 X 10-12 ([dagger][double dagger])
Advanced (> 1 year) 3-4 X 10-12 ([dagger]**)
* Go to failure only for the last set of each exercise.
([dagger]) Take all working sets to failure.
([double dagger]) Repeat the program, starting over from weeks 1-6.
** Repeat the program, starting over from weeks 7-12 and ending with
FAIL TO GAIN
NUMBER OF SETS TO FAILURE PER EXERCISE INCREASE IN STRENGTH
* Research shows that the best option for strength gains is training to
failure for just one set.
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