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New to this - Amount of sets per exercise?

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  • New to this - Amount of sets per exercise?

    Hi all,

    I just received 'The Primal Blueprint' yesterday in the mail and have started reading. I have been training with weights for 20 years and completely agree with Mark's comments about overtraining, etc. I will start my 80% primal eating plan in the coming days but want to simplify my weight and fitness training to the following:

    Week 1 - two heavy workout days (with weights) and one day of sprints.

    Week 2 - two days of body weight training and one day of sprints.

    I have a very good body weight training routine but my main question relates to the heavy training days in week one. How many sets does Mark recommend when it comes to training chest for example? I currently do pyramid training (increasing weight each set) with 4 x sets of 10, 8, 6, 4 reps of heavy - flat B/B bench press, incline D/B bench press and D/B flyes. If I just simplify the chest part and only do flat B/B bench press, how many sets (as Mark suggest keeping the reps low, say 10 or under)?

    Thanks very much in advance.

    Last edited by Glenn70; 06-27-2012, 05:14 AM.

  • #2
    Have a read of Body by Science from Doug McGuff MD and John Little. You're looking at a maximum of one high intensity workout every five days or so to start with and decreasing to one every couple of weeks. Each exercise set should take 50 - 90 seconds with one rep every 10 - 15 seconds in perfect form with no holding of the breath to push out harder.

    I've just read the book and will be giving it a go.
    Why use a sledge hammer to crack a nut when a steam roller is even more effective, and, is fun to drive.


    • #3
      You'll get a ton of recommendations for things like Stronglifts and Starting Strength. The bottom line is keep it simple. Do big lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press) and other compound work that might not be as "big" (push press, pull-ups) and something like 3-5 sets of 5 reps. Lift heavy, but make sure your form is correct to avoid injury.
      The Champagne of Beards


      • #4
        Originally posted by RichMahogany View Post
        You'll get a ton of recommendations for things like Stronglifts and Starting Strength. The bottom line is keep it simple. Do big lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press) and other compound work that might not be as "big" (push press, pull-ups) and something like 3-5 sets of 5 reps. Lift heavy, but make sure your form is correct to avoid injury.

        Starting out, it's really all you need.
        Josh Vernier, CPT

        My Journal

        Evolution Revolution Fitness

        "The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."

        -Ayn Rand


        • #5
          Thanks guys for this info. I will enquire about this book, Nigel.

          RichMahogany & EvRevFit - thanks also. I always lift strict with proper form as I am a firm believer in never allowing the weight to control you, better if you control the weight. So you are saying 5 reps of 3-5 sets only of each exercise for each body part. That could be only 15 reps in total for chest, etc in a week? I guess it's enough if lifting very heavy and besides, eating correctly is 80% of it. I was considering chest (flat B/B bench), biceps (standing B/B curls), legs (squats) on one day (Tue) and back (pull downs), shoulders (seated press) & triceps (standing pushdowns) on day two (Sat) with a sprint session in between (Thu). Every alternate week would be 10 sets of a body weight only circuit (push ups, pull ups, dips, etc).



          • #6
            Glenn, BBS is a HIT. With your lifting experience you'll be able to get what you need from the videos VIDEOS . I do have the book BTW.

            the basics to BBS: do the Big 5 (leg pressing, bench pressing, rows, pullups, and military/shoulder press) for one set to failure. The workout should take 15 minutes once every 5-10 days.

            Does it work? Yeah, but since the body adapts to stress you will still reach a plateau. At which time you'll likely want to add more sets/volume.

            The best muscle gain I ever made was doing Ellington Darden's HIT. Since it was me and friend this is an N=2. The goal in the routine was to degrees the time doing the workout. We got it down to 40min.

            It was basically a full body workout 3 days per week consisting of the following (working from largest muscle group to smallest). Your goal to fight to get the max number of reps un-added along with some forced reps added, and then add 10% more weight for that exercise on the next workout. Except for squats all exercises were from 8-12 reps.

            Legs:2 set of deep squats 15-20 reps (obviously lighter weights but was brutal). 1 set of leg extension 8-12 reps, 1 set of leg curls 8-12 rep, 1 set of calf raise 8-12 reps.

            Back: 1 set each Pullups and rows.

            Chest: 1 set Bench Press. IOW only 3 total sets in one week at max effort each workout. It was the first time I got over a 300lb bench press.

            Arms: Triceps extension and curls.

            Results: My body weight went from 202lb to 216lb in 6 weeks. I gain 14 pounds of muscle. You could see the gains. My friend gain more body weight. We both went way up on our lifts.

            Soooo......what's the problem? We were both shot in the ass and overtrained by the end of 6 weeks. BBS trys to get around this by cutting back on the exercise and the number of workouts per week. But I think your body will still reach a plateau if you don't break up the training year in to blocks.

            As far as doing a HIT primal workout. The most brutal thing I've ever done was team tug-of-war. Get a dozen evenly mached people, a thick rope, and using shovels dig deep depression for each member to brace their feet in. 5 minutes of that will wipe you out and give you rope burn if you aren't wearing a heavy shirt. I'd only do this about once or twice per month.
            Would I be putting a grain-feed cow on a fad diet if I took it out of the feedlot and put it on pasture eating the grass nature intended?


            • #7
              I too have been training for over 20 years. I train utilizing high intensity training which is what newer incarnations such as Body By Science are based on. In this approach you do one all out balls to the wall set to complete muscular failure. This has been the foundation of my training for many years now. I used to do the whole pyramid thing and it is an over training scheme for the vast majority of people out there. That is of course if you are training all out to failure. I highly recommend the book Body By Science. It will completely change how you look at exercise in general. If you hit it right, all you need is one set. In fact, any more is a negative then. Its like hammering a nail into wood. Once its flush with the wood you wouldn't then keep bashing away at it denting the f@#k out of the wood. That is what people are doing when they choose some arbitrary number of sets. Hit it right once. Then you have dug only so much into your limited recovery abilities.

              I'm 47 and I train probably less than 30 minutes week and there are few my age that can remotely keep up with me. Other than that I am active in general and that is it.


              • #8
                Thanks guys very much for this info. I have just spent the last hour watching You Tube videos about Body By Science and lectures from Doug McGuff (thanks Scott F for link). He seems to have a great knowledge and background with this method of training. Although the videos of him training (and others training using his methods) seem to be lifting extremely slow reps without failure. I am somewhat confused. I was under the impression that his method was one set per exercise per body part of very high intensity/heavy to failure. For example - flat bench press very heavy for around 8 - 12 reps (or until failure).

                Forever Young - you stated you train less than 30mins a week. May I ask what exercises you perform and how many reps/sets for each? I really want to spend less time training to get the same or even better results, so this is very imprtant for me.

                Thanks again.


                • #9
                  Hey Glenn,

                  First of all the training in those videos is indeed intense!! And they are going to failure. It may not look it but try it and you'll know. They are doing a 10/10 cadence which is super slow. You basically pick a weight that you'll be able to sustain at that pace for 50-90 seconds. The point of going so slow is that there is absolutely no momentum or cheating on the form. It is constant tension on the targeted muscles. Done properly it will effectively exhaust all of the muscles fibers in one brutal set. Believe me these workouts will leave you wanting to lay down afterwards for a while.

                  As to me, I vary the rep speed. Some sets I do super slow and some I do in a more 4/4, 5/5 range. I may do super slow for a month or so then the slightly faster for a month or so or combine the two.

                  I also utilize free weights and machines and at times combine the two. At the moment I do,

                  close grip underhand pulldowns
                  Incline bench presses
                  Low cable row
                  Dumbbell overhead presses
                  Leg presses

                  All sets taken at least to failure. I will add extenders such as rest/pause, or static holds at the end of some of the sets. Too much of that can really affect your recovery so it must be done cautiously. As to reps, I work in the 4-8 range but I only count reps when I'm using faster reps. At 10/10 I mostly use time under load (TUL). In any case I strive for no cheating/momentum on each and every rep. I go from one exercise right to the next with little rest. This is important for metabolic conditioning. It takes about 12-15 minutes depending on which workout I'm doing. Other than that I will do a HIIT session which is usually about 4-6 sprints done up a very long steep hill. That is it. Then I'm just active in general. I'm stronger and leaner than I've been in about 15 years. I have zero health problems and take no medications of any kind. It works for me.


                  • #10
                    Thanks Forever Young. That is great. I am going to try this very slow method. I appreciate your replies and time.

                    Just for your interest, one training method I usually do every 3-4 months is supersets. I choose only one exercise per body part per day.

                    In other words:

                    LEGS - free squats
                    BACK - seated cable rows
                    CHEST - flat B/B press
                    SHOULDERS - seated B/B military press
                    TRICEPS - standing cable pushdowns
                    BICEPS - standing B/B curls

                    I then start off lighter with about 12 reps, increase the weight and reduce the reps by two every set. So it would be 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps increasing the weight every time. At two reps, the weight is extremely heavy and I can only do two reps anyway. I then lighten the weight each set and go back up to 12 again - 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. By then it's the same weight I started at and your muscles are trashed. I only allow 30-40 secs between sets and the rep is done with the strictest controlled form and relatively slow pace (but not as slow as you suggest in your training or in the above mentioned book). As you can see, it's 11 sets per body part, except biceps that are a lot smaller muscle (I start at 8 reps instead of 12, but still continue down to 2, then back to 8 again). Training this way should take no longer than 15 mins and that's why I do it 5 days straight, starting off with the largest body part legs and finishing up with biceps. This has really worked well for me and I will most likely still keep doing this twice or three times a year just for something a little different and to mix it up.


                    • #11
                      Nothing wrong with mixing things up. I occasionally will do a WO every other day. Each one being 2-3 total sets high intensity style. It would look something like this,

                      Chest and back-pulldowns, chest press, rows
                      Day off-walking, cycling, hiking, moving etc.
                      Legs-leg presses, calf raises
                      Day off-walking, cycling, hiking, moving etc.
                      Shoulders and arms-presses, curls, pressdowns
                      Day off-walking, cycling, hiking, moving etc.
                      HIIT-sprints or other interval methods
                      Day off-walking, cycling, hiking, moving etc.

                      Its as usual one set to failure and some beyond. I'll do this for a month or two. It does become a grind and extra days of rest need to be inserted as you go along. But I've found it to be good for overall conditioning and fat loss. After that I will go back to a less frequent protocol allowing more rest days in between workouts. Its all a matter of keeping it fun and adjusting things so as to avoid over training and ultimately burnout.


                      • #12
                        The thing about slow reps is that it as I said eliminates any cheating when done properly. One way to ensure this is to make the first inch or so of the rep last about 3 seconds then start pushing harder. You'll be amazed how difficult it becomes and that is what you want. We don't want to make the set easier and that is what your brain and body are trying to do. It is natural to do what is needed to make every task as easy as possible. This goes against that completely. After a rep or two you will be pushing as fast as you possibly can and it will be barely moving! It is a whole different feel and it will take time to learn to really push past a certain point.

                        The most important thing about slow training though is that it is far safer over the long haul. The wear on your joints is greatly reduces. There is no throwing, jerking etc. Its only one set too. You don't even warm up with SS. You go right to the first set. The first rep or two become the warm up as you are slowly recruiting fibers. Each subsequent rep further recruits even deeper and you are completely warmed up by its completion. So the workout literally takes minutes.


                        • #13
                          If you ever get a chance to use Home - Exerbotics Strength Systems you'll like them. There is no weight stack. Instead the machines use a computer controlled hydraulic system. Basically, your goal is to push/pull as hard as you can through the entire range of motion. Since the speed of the machine is set so you control the resistance by who hard you push. The LED flat screen's graph tells you how much resistance you are producing. You have to sustain a lot of mental effort to produce maximum effort through all 8 reps. Similar to Nautilus, the machines end up being a variable resistance workout in that there are no sticking points. If your efforts get 1 lb weaker the machine is sensitive enough to back off that amount.

                          In the concentric negative portion of the movement you attempt to stop the bars movement. The graph always show you stronger int he negative then in the positive portion

                          Here's a video Muscle and Fitness Training Optimization: Exerbotics - YouTube
                          Would I be putting a grain-feed cow on a fad diet if I took it out of the feedlot and put it on pasture eating the grass nature intended?


                          • #14
                            Thanks once again guys.

                            Forever Young - good advice and I like that WO you suggested.

                            Scott F - that system does look interesting and quite possibly they way weight training may very well go in the future. It does seem to make it easier on your brain allowing you to concentrate just on the weight.


                            • #15
                              You're welcome

                              It's too bad more gyms don't have exerboticx for those who like to do HIT. You don't need a spotter while at the same time each rep is max effort. As you get to the end of the set you can really see your strength decline on the graph.

                              I'm sold on infrequent lifting. In my late 40s (I'm now 55) I got my best bench press of 365. I was working out 3 days per week on a split routine of chest, shoulders, and triceps on one day. Legs on second day, and back on the last day.

                              On the exerbotics (at 55) I got a peak contraction of 416lb on the positive/eccentric and 467lb on the negative/concentric. However, since those machines are down right now I switched to B/B bench and only got 300lb for a single rep.

                              All that said, Nothing comes as close to team tug of war completion if done right were both sides are closely matched. Forever Young, since you like HIT if you know some others who also like HIT get a rope and experiment with it. I've run 15K and came away feeling wiped out. 5 minutes or more of tug of war left me feeling just as exhausted and hypoglycemic.
                              Would I be putting a grain-feed cow on a fad diet if I took it out of the feedlot and put it on pasture eating the grass nature intended?