Set Training Methodology

A set consists of a series of repetitions. For example, a lifter may refer to performing “three sets of 10” repetitions for a particular exercise. This means they will perform 10 repetitions of the exercise and then stop, which counts as one set. After resting for a prescribed period or performing another exercise, the lifter will perform another 10 repetitions which counts as set two, and so on.

“Tech-talk” around the gym usually deals with using various set methods in a workout to achieve a desired goal. When just starting out, or when getting serious about lifting, it can be confusing. What the heck is the difference between a super-set and a giant-set anyway?

“Can’t I just go into the gym, lift some weight, and go home bigger and stronger?”

Sure, at first, but then you will find yourself stagnating and not making any progress. But by manipulating how you work with the weights, you’ll be able to push past any plateau. Here is a short list of the basics.

Straight-set

This is the classic form of weight lifting. You select an exercise and then determine how many sets and repetitions you need to achieve your goal, such as 3 sets of 10. Between sets, the lifter will rest for a prescribed rest period.

If the goal is endurance, you’ll generally go with low weight, a high number of sets (6 to 8), and a high number of repetitions (20 to 30).

If the goal is physique, growth, or “gains”, you’ll generally go with medium-heavy weight, high number of sets (4 to 7) and a mid range (12 to 15) of repetitions.

If the goal is pure strength, you’ll generally go with very heavy weight, low number of sets (1 to 2), and low number of repetitions (1 to 8).

Super-set

A super-set pairs exercises for opposing muscle movements (agonist and antagonist), such as the biceps and triceps, into one continuous exercise. This is done by selecting two different exercises, one for each muscle, and doing one set of each back to back with as short a pause as possible between them. Super-set training reduces the recovery time needed between sets as well as the amount of time needed to complete a workout. However, super-sets generally use low weight and high reps, making them better for size and physique training than strength training.

Remember that a super-set specifically deals with opposing muscle groups. Many lifters will confuse a super-set with a combo-set, where any two exercises are combined in a single set and performed without a break in between them, such as push-ups followed immediately by squats.

Compound-set

While a super-set trains opposing muscle movements, compound-sets use two different exercise to work the same muscle group. An example of this is a set of biceps curls followed immediately by a set a hammer curls with little to no pause between the sets. After completing one compound-set, the lifter will take a short break before continuing with the next set. Compound-sets allow for a lot of flexibility in exercise choice and are commonly used to target to different sections of the same muscle group. They also enable high intensity workouts to be conducted in a shorter amount of time.

Tri-set

A tri-set is simply an extended compound-set. Where a compound-set uses two different exercises for the same muscle group, a tri-set would use three.

Giant-set

A giant-set just extends even further on the compound-set theory and uses four or more exercise for the same muscle group. It helps to think of giant-sets as a form of circuit training where you complete on set of each exercise and then take a short break before going through the circuit again. The difference is that you’ll have a series of exercises arranged into separate giant-sets for each muscle group that you want to work.

Complex-set

A complex is a fast-paced form of weight training where you perform a sequence of back-to-back exercises without ever allowing the weight to hit the floor. Commonly referred to simply as a “complex”, the set will usually consist of 4 to 5 different exercises that all work the same muscle group or pair of muscle groups. They’re great to use at the end of a routine to shock the muscle, or to stack multiple together to form a complete workout routine.

Drop-set (or strip-set)

A drop-set isn’t really a set by itself, but rather a series of sets where you reduce the amount of weight being lifted for each set of the same exercise. For example, you might do three sets of 10 biceps curls starting with 35lbs on the first set, 30lbs on the second set, and 25lbs on the third set. Another method is to start with lower weight and high reps, and drop the number of reps between each set while increasing the amount of weight lifted. Drop-sets are a great way to pump the muscle being worked full of blood, and to push for muscle failure after completing other standardized sets.

These are just the basics that everyone lifting weight should know.

You will most certainly hear a lot of different terminology around the gym and in fitness magazines, but these are almost always nothing more than marketing terms for different variations of the basics. Get to know the basics well first, then try the fancy, gimmicky stuff once you have a solid base of muscle, form, and knowledge.