Muscle building - one set just as good as 3. What are your thoughts?

There is a very large website about weight training, health, and stuff. The link was given to me by another Doper in another thread… I can’t find the link here (but I have it at home though)

Anyway. It says that for a high intensity weight routine there is no extra benefit from doing any particular excercise more than once (i.e. one set of 8 or 10 reps)
What I want to know is… is there any harm in doing the extra sets (assuming I don’t overstrain)

I would like to do enough to at least feel tired and have done a good workout… even though the actual muscle-increasing aspect of the extra two sets is negligable?

Wouldn’t doing the extra reps be a benefit to calorie burning?

I’ll chime in that I am interested to hear opinions from the dopers regarding the OP. This is a hard topic to research on the internet because of all the advertising for gimicks, and all the good intentioned by wrong advice.

I thought static training might work, but it didn’t for me. I would love to know that I only had to do one hard set for each muscle group, and then could go home.

Is it a site targeted at giant overblown roiders?


Researching fitness subjects on the internet can be very difficult, because everyone seems to have their own opinion of what works and often times different websites can contradict each other. A few months ago I started getting serious about strength training and muscle building, and I started reading up on different topics on the web. There is one website that has helped me out a lot. It’s called Zen and The Art of Self-Resistance. Here is the URL:

I’ve been doing these excercises for a few months now, and I really like them. And I can definately tell a difference in my strength and size. The website is great. For one thing, he doesn’t try to sell anything; it’s just a site this dude started to share his muscle-building technique with others. There is also a forum where you can talk to others about your progress and such.

For my own personal routine, I do some of the bicept, tricept, chest and ab excercises on mondays, wednesdays, and fridays, and I try to at least do some number of pushups (usually just 5-10 on days in between workout days) and basic breathing and stretching and stuff everyday. You can pretty much customize the program however you like, and my favorite part is they can be done anywhere and don’t require any equipment. I do a lot of mine at work.

It’s a very interesting program. I spent a lot of time just reading over everything trying to get more familiar with this Zen practice and stuff. Check it out, you might like it.

I found the link…

Justin that site looks good, I’ll have a good look through it.
edit: Apparently, the queen follows at least one of the excercises :smiley:

This gets complicated. There are two extreme viewpoints on volume: the high-intensity folks, who maintain that low volume is superior, and the high-volume folks, who maintain that high volume is superior. They both have scientific support and success stories. But, devotees of either method would probably make significant progress if they switched to the other one. There’s an old saying that floats around the strength training community to the effect that they best program is the one you’re not doing right now, and there’s a lot of truth to that.

This sort of picks up on what ultrafilter is saying, but it has started to dawn on me as I get a little older. . .

ALL fitness programs work if you stick to them and work hard. But, they all get marketed like there’s some secret they discovered and you gotta do it their way, or you’re doing it wrong.

Some guy has his athletes train in style “X”, and they perform well, so he sells a book about how style “X” is a proven method.

Then, some other dude has his athletes train in style “Y”, and they perform well, so he sells a book about how style “Y” is a proven method.

As long as you go to the gym all the time, lift, and do some cardio, you’re going to be in shape. Focus on the aspects for you r specific goals.

As to the OP which seems to be about “muscle building”. Calories are work units. You do 3 sets of everything compared to a guy who did one set of everything, you did more work. Simple. You’re going to burn more fat. Supposedly you are going to build more muscle mass. Mayebe there are diminishing returns.

Every now and then, you get a study where a researcher randomly assigned one group to perform one type of exercise (long periods of cardio, say), and another group to perform another (lots of short high energy bursts, say). That is really the only way to get to the heart of the matter about exercise claims, and even those seem to have problems.

But, I think that it is easiest to just boil it all down and say, “they all work”. My philosophy has basically become, “Work out a lot. Occasionally do very high intesity.”

I’ve been lifting for a few years now and I’ve found that I enjoy some kinds of the high rep exercises like dips, and some high intensity exercises like bench press. I alternate them every week or two. If I did heavy 6 rep bar bench press last week, then this week I’m gonna do very slow and controlled 10-12 rep dumbbell chest press. No idea which one of the two does me more good, so I figure better get a bit of both.


I’ve been doing just that for a few years now. My workout time is limited, and I’m mostly there for the cardio, so I want to get in as much weight training as I can in a limited time. I had read that you get about 85% of your weight training benefit (sorry, no cite - something I read a few years back) from the first set, so I started doing one set of a few different excersises, alternating upper and lower body, to maximize the training I could do in a short amount of time. I try to rep out at about about 10. If I get to twelve consistently, I increase the weight.

I don’t really have the physique to build muscle (one summer in college I lifted like a demon, but never really got big), but I have (I think) fairly good definition for a 45 yr old that is really starting to slow down a lot. My weight shot down quickly when I first started, then climbed a bit as I gained some muscle mass. YMMV of course. I’ve been meaning to ask a similar question (about one set and maximizing cardio in a set time), but I never got around to it. Thanks for asking.

One of the important points in high intensity training is to train to failure, if you do this for a 12 -14 exercise workout without taking too long (1-2 min.) between sets you’ll find that’s all the cardio you’ll want.

I don’t lift anymore but spent about 10 years each training high-intensity, and more conventional style. My experience, FWIW, is that both work; the real key to training, IMO, is hard work. If you can find some articles by Bill Starr or some of the books from Ironmind enterprises, there’s lots of good information without wading through sales pitches and pseudo-science.

Doing only one or the other is probably not that great for the long run. Your body has a tendency to adapt to routines, so no matter what you do you’ll start to plateau after a while. Generally, the kind of training you’re asking about is worked in as part of a cycle, as part of a plan to prevent overtraining while continuing to work out, without taking an actual break. It’s usually done by intermediate to advanced athletes, who know their limits, and can make the most of a limited set of exercises.

Going by this and other threads you’ve started, you’re pretty much a raw beginner. That means that there are several things about a high intensity, low volume program that will be a problem for you. You don’t know how much you can actually lift for any given exercise, and you’re, “only doing one set,” so you might be tempted to overload the bar. That’s tempting injury right there, especially when your form might not be all that great.

There’s the reverse problem too. “Intense” for a beginner may not actually be intense. Doing only one set with a weight that’s not particularly challenging will get some benefit, for sure, but it’s also quite easy to undercut your progress by not actually pushing yourself enough.

Since you are a beginner, no matter what you do you’ll probably make some progress. That’s one of the great things about just starting out. I just think that this protocol is probably not the best for you right now. If you had a trainer or coach, someone experienced who could supervise your form for at least a few sessions and give you good feedback on progression, I wouldn’t have so many reservations. The fact that you’re coming here for help tells me that you’re doing this on your own. That means that you should probably go for training methods that are not as unforgiving as a low volume program.

My personal trainer (when I had one) said one set was almost as good as two, and there was not much point in doing three at all. If I got through one set without working hard she had me add weight.

She had me start out with 10 minutes of cardio (I used the rowing machine), then do the weight routine, then after the weights, at least 10 more minutes of cardio, more being better.

I wasn’t trying for weight loss as much as toning & strength, and it worked.

Somebody else hit it, though. If you go to the gym 3 times a week and do almost anything (other than sitting in the sauna reading a magazine) you will get results.

I asked about it here, recently, and didn’t get too much feedback, but I’ve been pretty intrigued by the “CrossFit” technique. It looks like it focuses on full body workout, range of motion, strength, and cardio. And, the workouts aren’t long.

I’m currently training for a specific sport, but I’ve started working on some of their workouts that I think can benefit me. Check the FAQ.

Hey, ultrafilter and I answered! Two high intensity answers are better than twenty little ones! :smiley:


I didn’t mean to disparage your remarks. I thought I might get feedback from someone who has been doing it a while.

youTube “crossfit” or check out the videos at the site for some good stuff. Decent message board over there, too.

I didn’t take it that way, just cracking a joke. :slight_smile: A friend in Austin does CrossFit religiously, I’d ask him to comment but I’m pretty sure his answer would just be “it’s awesome, you should totally do it.”

I’ve been doing Crossfit for a while. It’s my main thing now, actually. I only get about 3 or 4 workouts a week in, so I’m not in such incredible shape as the people usually featured on the site. Even so, the weights I’m lifting are way higher than when I was doing regular old weight lifting and aerobics.

After several months of less ambitious exercises, I did a weight routine called MaxOT for about a year, year and a half when I was getting back in shape. That worked all right for building mass, but I wasn’t progressing all that well in strength. I got stalled for weeks on some exercises, and I couldn’t make progress on my bench for a couple of months.

I found out about Crossfit about a year or so ago and started doing some of the workouts. (I scale the weights to about 80% of the prescribed weight, but my goal is to do unscaled workouts by the end of this year.) After doing mostly Crossfit stuff for about 6–8 weeks, I did my first Crossfit Total workout, which is 3 max lifts: deadlift, back squat, and shoulder press. I also threw in bench press just for fun.

I hadn’t even done any bench press for about a month or more, and I completely shattered my old personal best. I expected improvements in the other three exercises, since you work those lifts or analogs of them in most Crossfit workouts, but, damn, I was shocked when I tried my old max weight for the bench and it felt too light. I kept putting on weight and lifted singles until I got to a new max that was over 15% more than I’d ever done before. My regular workout weights for deadlift, squat, and shoulder press are more than my old max lifts now.

You don’t do all that many long runs, mostly short runs mixed with calisthenics or other lifting. When the long runs did come up, I tried them and found that I could not only do them, but get halfway decent times on them. I’ve since run a few 5 ks. I haven’t run that far since I was in high school. I did my last one in about 23 minutes. When I was doing weights and your usual 60–80% of max heart-rate cardio workouts before, for over a year, the best I could do was about 3 k in 20+ minutes.

So yeah, I’d totally recommend Crossfit if you want to get in great shape. They’re not particularly concerned with aesthetics, the focus is on performance. The varied routines they do help a lot since you never get bored; every day is something different. The workouts can be scaled to fit most levels of fitness. Brand X Martial Arts message board posts scaled workouts. I self-scale, but sometimes use their tiers for guidelines.

The only caveat I have is that it’s not all that newbie friendly in some ways. I’ve done sports where you have to be really conscious of form (gymnastics and springboard diving) and I’d done some weight lifting before, so I didn’t have many problems picking up the Olympic lifting. But even I wish I had a real trainer around to critique me. If you haven’t done O-lifting before, I would HIGHLY recommend seeking out a qualified coach or trainer for a few sessions at the very least. They have tons of videos on the Crossfit site that show proper form and highlight danger spots, but it’s not the same as having someone experienced to help you.

That’s not a show-stopper, though, since there are lots and lots of their workouts that don’t depend on Olympic lifts, and you can learn those lifts relatively safely by yourself if you’re careful and conscientious.