3 sets of 8-10...sound familiar? How much money has been spent on muscle magazines claiming to have the newest workouts to unlock that hidden muscle potential that we apparently all possess?
In a fitness industry that is full of as many ideas on how to gain size and strength as there are people actually working out it can often become very confusing on which program you should try and how effective they all might be.
The typical recipe for muscle strength is to aim for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps at weights that are greater than 80% of your one rep maximum. The recipe for hypertrophy (muscle growth) tends to hover around 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. Having used these personally I have seen the results that follow and have spent up to 2 hours per workout and going to the gym 4-5 times a week (yeah, 8-10+ hours a week). This had been great and then reality sets in at time and workouts get cut short, or skipped entirely, and everything I had been working so hard for leaves....it has also happened that the harder I appear to work and the more workouts I did didn't produce the results I thought they should. I had to figure out a reason as to why that could be.
Arthur Jones (creator of Nautilus) proposed that for building both muscle strength and size to rely on single set exercises for each body part to sheer exhaustion. Along with this he recommends only training that specific body part once a week and twice at the absolute most. I can already hear the questions being asked...."Really? That's it? How am I supposed to get bigger and stronger with such little work?" In this case, less appears to be more. Here is why.
In his book Body By Science Dr. Doug McGuff further looked at single set exhaustive training. His rationale for not using multiple sets is that contain normal quick movements of the weight is that while you fatigue the muscles you only fatigue two of your three major fiber types. Without an extremely fatiguing set you never reach your fastest twitch fibers that allow for stronger contraction and added muscle growth. With multiple set workouts your oxidative (slow twitch) fibers and your fast-oxidative (moderate twitch) fibers have a chance to recover and you never reach true muscle fatigue.
So how do I workout? There are a couple different recommendations in how to achieve complete muscle failure during this type of workout.
Muscle Damage Protocol: 1 set per body part (training each body part no more than 2 times per week). Lower the weight for a 10 count and raise it in a 4 count for as many reps as possible. It is suggested that you use weight that allows you to reach the 8-12 range if possible.
Ocaam's Protocol: 1 set per body part and if possible focus on multi joint movements. This protocol entails a 5 second lowering of the weight and 5 second raising of the weight and a rep goal of 7 reps.
The bonus of these workouts is that they only take between 20-40 minutes to complete due to the extreme muscle fatigue inflicted and takes your time at the gym down to as little as 1-2 hours a week while still getting results.
Caution: These protocols are not the meant to feel good and the last reps should be a struggle and when you finish a set you should not be able to think about completing another repetition.
Good luck and feel the burn.