Is adding more sets the best way to keep growing?
written by Philip Stefanov | DECEMBER 7, 2021
Training volume is often touted as the most crucial variable for muscle growth. The simplest and most reliable way to progress is to do more work. But is that always the case?
Adding More Sets Means More Growth, Right?
Research certainly finds a dose-dependent relationship between the amount of work we do and the growth we can experience. For example, a 2019 paper by Schoenfeld and colleagues found that more volume leads to superior hypertrophic outcomes.
So, there we have it, right? If you want to grow better, do more sets. That is certainly one way to kickstart progress, but the method won’t work forever, and you can run into issues. For example, we must remember that doing more work leads to more fatigue, which prolongs recovery. You might find yourself in a state of under-recovery and gradually declining performance.
Doing more volume also means spending more time in the gym, which not everyone has. Plus, more work means more stress on your joints and connective tissues, which can lead to injuries down the road.
While a practical way to kickstart progression, adding extra sets is one of many ways to optimize your training for hypertrophy. Let’s take a look at other factors.
5 Considerations For Hypertrophy Training (That Go Beyond Number of Sets)
Good effort on each set is necessary because pushing yourself allows you to recruit more motor units and cause a significant enough disruption for growth. The problem is, many people take the idea too far and perform each set to failure, which isn’t ideal. Training to failure causes too much fatigue that can disrupt our performance, resulting in less overall growth.
Instead of pushing to failure, you should always leave between one and three repetitions in the tank. That way, you can work hard and stimulate your muscles enough without getting too tired.
Our muscles are capable of three types of contraction:
- Concentric - as we lift a weight, causing our muscles to shorten
- Eccentric - when we lower a weight, making our muscles lengthen under load
- Isometric - when we contract our muscles and keep them in that state for a period
Effective weight training is about utilizing all three types of contractions without exaggerating them. To do this, we need to pay attention to tempo. As a rule of thumb, I recommend lifting and lowering the weight for the same period (one to three seconds) and holding the top contraction for a second.
Proper training form is essential because it allows us to train the correct muscles and keep ourselves safe from injuries. Contrary to popular belief, it’s better to use good technique and lift lighter weights than focus on the load and sacrifice your form.
Proper tempo is one piece of good technique, but you also need to pay attention to:
- Training through a full range of motion
- Using the correct muscles to control the weight at all times
- Avoiding compensatory movement patterns that put you at risk of injury
- Feeling the right muscles working during an exercise
4. Recovery Between Sets
Adequate recovery between sets is important because it allows you to do more work and cause a more significant stimulus. Research suggests that resting too little between sets leads to worse performance and poor hypertrophic outcomes.
I recommend resting for:
- 6 to 10 reps - 2 to 3 minutes
- 11 to 20 reps - 1.5 to 2 minutes
- 20+ reps - 1 to 1.5 minutes
Aside from training well, you also need to pay attention to your habits outside the gym. Often, people struggle to build muscle, not because of their training. Instead, poor sleep, low calorie intake, and a lack of protein are to blame.
Maintain a slight calorie surplus of 200 to 300 calories and gain up to a pound of weight every two weeks. You also need enough protein to make growth possible - around 0.8 grams per pound of weight. Aside from that, you should sleep for at least seven hours per night. If possible, aim for eight.
I recommend paying enough attention to each detail. Adding more sets is a simple and practical way to promote growth, but focusing on it alone won’t be the productive way to go. For example, before adding more sets, ask yourself:
- Am I training hard enough on each set?
- Are my tempo and technique on point?
- Do I recover well between sets to maintain good performance during each workout?
- Is my lifestyle setting me up for muscle gain?
Until next week,
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