On Trial: Straight Sets vs. Supersets

Find out which method lead to maximum muscle
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OPENING ARGUMENT

Defense: Supersets and trisets involve doing two or three exercises back-to-back without any rest. The lack of rest puts a lot of stress on the targeted muscle.

Prosecution: In straight sets, you rest one to three minutes before doing each consecutive set. This recovery time can keep your strength up on the later sets.

EVIDENCE

  • For four weeks, Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) researchers had untrained males perform an upper-body workout three times per week, which consisted of dumbbell lateral raises, dumbbell curls and lying triceps extensions as either straight sets of 10 reps per set or as trisets, also for 10 reps.
  • The subjects who trained with straight sets gained over 40% more strength on the curls and 60% more strength on the lateral raises than those using the triset method.
  • Those using straight sets also gained 70% more muscle in their arms than those using trisets.

VERDICT: STRAIGHT SETS

Beginners should not step up to doing high-intensity techniques, such as supersets and trisets until they have a minimum of six months of training under their lifting belts. It appears to be too stressful for novice muscles, and does not provide the same type of results that straight sets can provide beginners. Apparently, untrained muscles require more time to recover between sets to stimulate optimum strength and mass gains.

SENTENCING

  • Stick to straight sets, if you have fewer than six months of consistent weight training.
  • Perform approximately three sets per exercise.
  • Rest approximately two to three minutes between sets.
  • Perform approximately six to 12 sets for larger muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders, legs) and three to nine sets for smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, abs, forearms, calves).
  • Keep reps for most exercises in the eight-to-12 range.

— Jim Stoppani, PhD

Reference: D. Landin and A.G. Nelson, “Early phase strength development: A four-week training comparison of different programs,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(4):1113-16, 2007.

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