When it comes to getting big it is pretty undeniable that volume is king.
Density is Queen and Intensity is the Mistress.
From being around for quite a while I’ve found that those who are the biggest often go down the route of metabolic stress/metabolite production for their gains.
That being said, they still understand that you can’t build decent size with piddly weights.
Then again on the opposite side of that coin you can’t get in enough volume if the loads are too heavy to amass the required volume/fatigue to cause an adaptive response.
Not enough stimulus = no change
Too much stimulus = no change, just survival at any cost
It’s known as the Goldilocks effect.
Things have to be just right, and as such it brings up the classic ‘it depends’ and ‘find what works for you’.
Those two statements really do irritate me.
Not for any other reason than people fall back on them when they don’t want to admit the fault is theirs.
It’s easy to hide behind ambiguity after all.
So how many sets is too many?
If you look in to the science you’ll find that it states anywhere from 3-30 sets can be optimal for hypertrophy.
For the love of all that is holy, that doesn’t help anyone, especially when it’s combined with “Well it depends.”
No, fuck you, fuck off, people don’t want that bullshit, they ask a question for an answer that will yield some useful info they can apply, or confirm a bias.
Hey, you can’t win them all.
Here is what I’ve found from personal & professional experience for the majority of lifters
^^ The majority being beginner to intermediate at best.
Sets can go out of the window for now as they will vary base donate reps/load.
Reps/Load are the key factor for most people.
Utilising a good 12RM for 2-6 sets will leave you feeling pretty done.
I know 2-6 seems low, however these are WORK SETS.
This means each one takes a good amount out of your tank and you need to recover from the set.
Same is true for an 8RM, or 6RM, essentially anything that you are actually lifting the amount you should on.
This doesn’t include warm up sets or perhaps a couple of back of sets for pump (if you need that feeling, which some do, and that’s cool).
Say you’ve got 3 warm up sets, 3-4 working sets and 2-3 back off sets, that will give you at the top end 10 sets.
That is provided you’re using the land you should be using and that is the hardest part to get right.
If your absolute 6RM with near perfect from on Press is 60kg you have couple of options on how to work with it.
1 – Do a set of 6, rest 3-5min, repeat 2-3 more times.
2 – Do sets of 4, rest 2-3min, repeat 4-6 times.
Same load, very different levels of intensity.
The first option will be more optimal for people who know their body well, the second is better for those that find auto-regulation difficult.
As mentioned above, this is based on my own personal/professional experience.
If you have the weight right then 2-6 total working sets on your main lift (not including warm up or back off sets) is sufficient.
The same goes for secondary lifts and accessory ones.
I’ve found 2-6 for the secondary tends to go well with the main, and of the accessory 2-3 sets if often enough for most.
Think about that for a second, if we have the top end of all the sets thats 6+6+6 (tow accessory lifts), 18total sets.
Wait…. 18…. That falls right in between the 3-30 mark.
Holy shit, the science was right?!
Indeed it was/is, however it’s how you apply it that matters.
Most people look at the science and don’t know how to apply it or what it really means, as such they just want simple answers and this is what leads to the ambiguity.
Plus the majority will go in straight at the top end of the amounts of sets, this isn’t wise.
Picking an RM to work with and allowing your body to tell you when enough is enough is key, however it’s not an easy skill to learn.
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
That being said, here is what I would advise you to try moving forwards if you need guidance.
Main Lift: 2-4 working sets
Secondary Lift: 2-4 working sets
Accessory Lift*: 2-3 working sets
*Typically you pick 2-3 accessory movements, and just one main/secondary lift.
Remember those are working sets, the money makers if you will, as such you want to aim to use as close to a true RM as possible.
^^You find each set, if you have the load right there is a 2.5% drop off in performance each set, which equates to 1 rep (or 1.25kg), if using a true RM, or a slightly slower speed, I will go over this another time.
So, how many sets do you really need?