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Weight Lifting Tips

At least at this point, my research indicates that it’s better to perform full body workouts focusing on compound movements, 8 to 10 sets per workout, 1 to 3 times per week.  This is a radically new direction, at least for my own training practice.  I was initially inspired to change my opinion after reading Clarence Bass’s “Challenging Yourself” and various articles of Master Trainer by Richard Winett.  I have to say that I owe a lot to Dr. Winett.  He has brought to my attention many publications of interest which further support this view.

After further research, I came to the conclusion that this new way of training seemed to be the most effective and efficient way to train the body with respect to muscle growth and fat loss.  Even now the American College of Sports Medicine is embracing this view; this change is a radical departure for the old high volume (15 to 25 sets per workout) recommendations from the past.

I’m not the Albert Einstein of Exercise Physiology; I’ll be the first to admit that.  My approach to finding the best exercise program for my clients has more to do with looking at research studies, and less to do with interpretation of exercise physiology.   In other words, I determine if an exercise program is better than another by reviewing a research study that compares one exercise program to another.  For instance, “this program is better than that program based on our findings…” Or “this aspect of a program is proven given this research study.”  I’d much rather see a research study, then hear an opinion from an author who is interpreting exercise physiology.

In many ways I’m just a middle man.  A middle man between scientists and researchers and the general public.  So, my approach is to find institutions like the ACSM and/or various research studies, review their findings and relay that message in a simplified manner to the general public.

Let’s discuss for a second what much of the fitness world has to say about exercise programs.  In the world of body building, you can read authors (whom I have great respect for) who are well versed in Exercise Physiology, and from their findings I created an exciting new workout program that will deliver results.  This statement is typical for most of the fitness industry…  “My program is the best because (fill in the blank)….” And then they go into some complicated Physiology explanation…  Ok, that’s nice, but confusing, especially if you don’t have a PhD.

What I would prefer to see for my own clients is less interpretation of Exercise Physiology and more focus on research studies.  Remember, a research study compares two or more programs and concludes which program is the most effective.  When you see the same type of studies done over and over with the same results, then you have found at least an iota of truth in the world of fitness.  I prefer to have an open mind and to use this type of approach for many things in life.

So, if someone says that their program is the best.  My feeling is “Prove it”.  Let’s see a research study comparing your program to another type of exercise program.

“So Shawn, why should I follow your program?”

Good question…  Below are a variety of research articles that I believe you will find interesting.  If you’ve made it this far, not only do you want to know “How” to change your body, you also want to know “Why does this program change my body?”


Weight Lifting

One set vs. multiple sets per exercise: “I need to do 15 to 20 sets per workout and at least 3 sets per exercise.  Isn’t this the best for muscle growth?”

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 148 -154, 1997

Goal: Test the effects of weight training with respect to volume (more sets or fewer sets per workout) on hormonal output and muscular size in experienced trainees.

Description and Findings: 35 Males with 1 to 4 years of experience with weight lifting were assigned to one of three training programs (one set, two sets, or four sets per exercise).  The program was as follows: six free weight exercises 4 times a week for 10 weeks.  They changed up their rep range every few weeks.  For instance, week 1- 4 (12 reps), week 5 – 7 (7 reps), and week 8 – 10 (9 reps).  3 minutes were used in between sets and all participants pushed themselves to the point-of-exhaustion for each set.

1st group performed 6 sets per workout<p>

2nd group performed 12 sets per workout<p>

3rd group performed 24 sets per workout

They concluded that the high volume ( the 3rd group, four sets per exercise for 24 sets) may result in a higher cortisol level and lower testosterone, which would suggest overtraining.

The 1st group, or the one set program (one set per exercise for 6 total sets per workout), resulted in an increase in muscle size similar to the other 2 programs (12 set and 24 sets) with a lower possibility of overtraining.


Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Supplement 1998

Goal: To examine strength and size and to compare one set vs. three sets for 8 to 12 reps training 3 times a week for 5 exercises.  So, one group would train a total of 5 sets in a workout, the other group 15 sets in a workout.

Description and Findings:  The 5 exercises used were bench press, row, leg extensions, arm curl and leg curl.  The researches found that both groups showed almost the same increase in muscle growth.

“But Shawn, Advanced trainees need a lot more sets…”

The ACSM stated in its 2006 guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription that “currently there is little scientific evidence to indicate that the stimulus for improving muscular strength and muscular endurance in resistance-trained populations is different than for the untrained healthy adult populations.”  In other words, advanced trainees, do not need 20 sets per workout compared to a novice.  The only trainee that can perform 20 sets per workout 4 to 5 times per week and grow without overtraining is one who is either on steroids and/or has an unbelievable genetic recovery time.  The ACSM guidelines further recommend 8 to 10 sets per workout 2 to 3 times per week, full body workouts.  They go on to say that “the preponderance of evidence report similar response of muscular strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance between single and multiple set resistance training programs”.

Bottom Line: Performing fewer sets are much more time efficient, meaning less time in the gym with the same or better results, and a lower likelihood of overtraining.  Overtraining for athletes and recreational bodybuilders is one of the most common problems in fitness.