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The Optimal Number Of Sets To Get Stronger

I watch how people in the work out. In many ways, I am like a gym version of the late Dian Fossey or Jane Goodall. They watched primates, I also watch primates. They observed the primates picking ticks off of each other, I saw primates picking tics off of each other – at least from the occasional gym.

Anyhow, what I have noticed is that lifters almost universally think that the more you lift, volume-wise, the faster you will develop the muscle mass desired. They are the people you see at your gym when you work out at night and then see again a few hours later when you go back to see if anyone has turned in your lost set of keys.

Poor misguided guys, because a group researchers has recently proved what a lot of us already knew: more isn’t always better. To be exact, they discovered that when it comes to performing squats or any lower-body exercises in general, doing around 18 sets a week will make you significantly stronger than performing 24 sets.

How They Discovered the Best Number

Researchers are always studying training variables like rep tempo, intensity and exercise selections, but probably no variable has gotten as much attention as volume has – usually defined in the studies as the number of sets that are performed per muscle group each week.

And while some of this volume research has discovered a relationship between max strength and volume adaptations in untrained people, they have not clearly established the same relationship for trained people.

Unfazed by prior inconclusive results from other studies, the Tampa/Sao Paolo researchers recruited 35 weight-training experienced males between the ages of 18 and 35 to find the effects that volume had on muscle strength, along with the effects it had on muscle mass/thickness and strength-endurance.

The males were split into three different groups. All three trained two times a day using squats for two months. The first group did a total of 12 sets each week, the second did 18 sets each week, and the third group performed 24 sets each week.

Surprisingly, all three groups had grown pretty much the same amount of muscle mass, but the 18-set each week group got much stronger than the other two groups did:

  • 12 sets per week: 11.3% increase
  • 18 sets per week: 16.2% increase
  • 24 sets per week: 5.4% increase

Surprisingly, the group that had done the most work got the least amount of results, at least when it comes to strength.

The other surprise? Despite their improvements in increased strength, the 18-set each week group, unlike the groups, failed to boost muscular endurance – the number of repetitions to failure using 70% of 1RM.

Author: Scott Dowdy

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