This week I'm getting away from dietary supplements and turning my attention to resistance training itself. After all, nutrition and training are like two wheels on a bike; without one, you won't be very successful in reaching your destination.
Single- vs. Multiple-Set Resistance Training: Recent Developments in the Controversy Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2004, 18(3), 660-667 D. Galvao and D. Taaffe
High Intensity Training VS. Periodization
The optimal way to resistance train is a controversy that has existed for decades. The high intensity training (HIT) proponents say that one set is all that is necessary for optimal growth, why others recommend periodization where the number of sets actually varies. The truth is that both types of training can be beneficial; it really depends on your goals, time, and training history and experience.
Many of you are probably familiar with the late Mike Mentzer, who was probably HIT's most vocal leader. His writings were more on the extreme ends of HIT, whereas others recommend more of a balance between both lifting protocols (e.g., sometimes reduce the volume, but not to the extreme of training just a few sets for an entire body part every few weeks).
This review discusses the available research on resistance training and the effects of various protocols. It is difficult to compare many of these studies because they all use different exercises, protocols, etc. Therefore, there are a lot of assumptions made when interpreting this area of research.
However, many similarities arise from studies, allowing researchers to draw sound conclusions and not make leaps that are too far off the beaten path. From the research reviewed in this particular manuscript, the researchers have drawn the conclusion that in general, multiple sets are more effective than single-set protocols.
Remember too that the authors make a great point in their article that the number of sets is just one component of an overall training protocol. It is also crucial to consider the exercise selection, training speed, goals, etc.
They noted that from the available research, multiple set programs do in fact result in a superior gains in muscle strength; particularly older adults. However, another consideration is time, which may be an issue for many people. In this case, a single-set protocol may be a consideration.
One thing to keep in mind is that a majority of individuals over train; therefore, cutting back on training frequency and volume may be "just what the doctor ordered" when trying to add some variety.
To add a little personal touch to this; I have experimented with HIT in the past. I was surely one of those individuals who was overtraining. I was young, naïve and thought that the more time I spent in the gym, the better.
This is a horrible mistake that many novice lifters (and seasoned veterans) make. My strength exploded through the roof on every movement; I was training 2 times per week for literally 15 minutes/session. However, just like all programs, my body grew accustomed to that protocol and I needed variation.
The moral of the story is that all programs will work for some time. The reason is that our bodies quickly adapt to what we give them; always do 10 pushups and never shoot for more and you are not challenging your body.
If you have never tried HIT, give it a whirl for a change. I can guarantee that many of you out there are overtrained. Go ahead and take one week off; you'll more than likely come back to the gym stronger than ever and ready to move some iron.
Finally, remember that all individuals are unique. What works for your friends may not work for you. You must experiment with different training paradigms and always add variety, whether it's through the exercises you choose, sets you do, rep speed, rest intervals, etc.
There are a million variables that go into a successful training regimen and the options are endless-if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. And, since I have a difficult time writing without mentioning nutrition, remember that sound nutrition is more than half the battle when trying to have successful recovery.