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The Ever Controversial "How Many Sets?"

In the strength training and the fitness world, you are viewed as a bit of an outcast if you recommend the performance of only one set per strength training exercise.  Over the past 14 years, I have had clients, coaches, physical therapists, physicians, bodybuilders, athletes, and a myriad of fitness professionals tell me that in order to reap the maximum benefit from strength training, you need to perform multiple sets of an exercise.  Indeed, the default recommendation seems to be: Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.  Interestingly, the research does not support this long held axiom.   Two scientific journal articles published over the last two years address this very topic.  The authors of both articles, Dr. Ralph Carpinell from Adelphi University and James Fisher from the United Kingdom, performed a critical examination of a recent meta-analysis (a meta-analysis is a statistical tool that allows a researcher to pool multiple studies together to look for a collective conclusion) published in a popular strength and conditioning journal.  In their separate publications, Carpinelli and Fisher examined each study that was included in this particular meta-analysis.  Both researchers concluded that the studies included in the meta-analysis did NOT support the assumption that multiple sets are superior to single sets.

Take Home Message: To be sure, the debate over single sets versus multiple sets will continue.  However, the preponderance of scientific evidence continues to support single set training as every bit as effective as multiple sets for improving muscle strength and size.

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