Single set vs. multiple sets


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In the HST articles this article reports a test done on previously trained subjects, which conclude that doing a single set is just as good a strength gainer as multiple sets are.
Does anyone know if the same goes for hypertrophy?
Any article will be much appreciated.. Especially if the case involves trained subjects - this is much more valuable evidence than most tests which are done using untrained subjects. Almost any type of workout will show an effect on an untrained person.

Reviews done on the majority of studies do show that additional sets can lead to greater hypertrophy and strength, but the rub comes with the need to lower frequency with higher volume workouts. The main reason for the lower sets is inferred from the study showing "one set 3 times a week superior to 3 sets once per week". It seems that increased frequency adds more to the stimulus than increased volume does. Volume is the component that 'wears' on the CNS rather than the common beliefs of intensity and/or RM being the culprit.
[b said:
Quote[/b] (NWlifter @ Nov. 18 2004,11:42)]Volume is the component that 'wears' on the CNS rather than the common beliefs of intensity and/or RM being the culprit.
Hmmm, I read different at the link you gave me (The Weight Trainer). I thought intensity wears on the CNS more, and it's better to train below failure but with more volume to provide more TUT and generate more mitochondria.

So in that case multiple sets below failure would be better than a single set to failure. But that site may be wrong...and in that case I wasted 3 hours of reading...

Hass, C. J., Garzarella, L, de Hoyos, D., & Pollock, M. L. (2000). Single versus multiple sets in long-term recreational weightlifters. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32, 235-242.

The effects of increasing training volume from one to three sets on muscular strength, muscular endurance, and body composition in adult recreational weight lifters (N = 42) was investigated. When athletes in heavy training perform auxiliary strength training, in many respects their responses are equivalent to recreational weight lifters. Ss had been performing one set (8-12 repetitions) of nine exercises in a circuit for a year. Ss were divided into two groups: one performing one and the other performing three sets of the exercises three times per week for 13 weeks.

Both groups improved in 1-RM performances and muscular endurance on the training exercises, and in lean body mass. No differences between the groups were exhibited. The one-set group still improved, despite having trained for a year before the study. An increase in lifting volume did not produce any added benefits.

Implication. For the development of strength in adults, one set of strength training exercises is as effective as three sets. For athletes who strength-train as a supplement to greater volumes of more specific training, one-set training regimes might be sufficient and the use of three-sets could be unnecessarily fatiguing as well as providing no added benefits.

Teixeira, M. S., Silva, E. B., Santos, C. B., & Gomez, P. S. (2001). Effects of resistance training with different sets and weekly frequencies on upper body muscular strength in military males 18 years of age. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(5), Supplement abstract 753.

This investigation evaluated the effects of combined frequency and sets of resistance training programs over eight weeks in male military recruits (N = 94). Six experimental groups were formed. Three groups trained three times a week, one group performing one, another two, and the third three sets. Three more groups trained fives times per week, each differentiated by one, two, or three sets of repetitions. A non-exercising control group was also formed.

All exercise groups gained significantly over the eight weeks. The five days per week, three sets group was significantly stronger than the three times per week, one-set group. There were no differences between groups performing the same number of sets whether for three or five times per week. Essentially, the results showed that one set of strength training exercises is as effective as three or five sets in strength training.

Implication. One set of strength training exercises is effective for strength development. Three times per week is as effective as five times per week.

I am not sure I understand how this conclusion was drawn given the published results!


Strussi, C., Freitag, K., Hauenstein, B., Wydler, K., Eigenmann, P., & Boutellier, U. (1998). Effect of non-exhaustive vs. exhaustive strength training on maximum strength. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 1219.

A comparison was made of the effect of non-exhaustive and exhaustive strength training on maximum strength (1 RM). Matched groups of males (Exhaustive N = 8; Non-exhaustive N = 10; controls N = 8) trained 3 x week for eight weeks. Exhaustive training consisted of 15 repetitions of 15 RM. Non-exhaustive consisted of 2 x 6 of 10 RM.

The workload of both training groups did not differ significantly. There was no significantly different effect between each method.

Implication. The degree of muscle fatigue does not determine the effect of strength training on 1 RM. Strength training for athletes or rehabilitation does not need to be exhaustive.

Pollock, M. L., Abe, T., De Hoyos, D. V., Garzarella, L., & Hass, C. J. (1998). Muscular hypertrophy responses to 6 months of high- or low-volume resistance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), Supplement abstract 661.

It was found that one- and three-set resistance training three times per week for 25 weeks produced similar increases in muscle thickness in both lower and upper body sites.

Implication. One full-effort strength training set yields the same benefits as do three sets. Performing fewer sets has the added benefit of stimulating less fatigue than the larger volume of training.
More than one set is a waste of time for gaining muscle strength!
Proposition for Debate - by Andrew Burne

Considering the lack of difference observed between one set and multiple-set programs found in the majority of the literature presented, it seems a single set of 8-12 repetitions represents an efficient method of developing muscular strength, endurance, and body composition regardless of the fitness level of the individual. This is important for individuals who desire the health and fitness benefits associated with a well-rounded physical fitness program but may not have the time to devote to multiple-set resistance training programs.

There is minimal evidence in the literature to suggest that the response to single or multiple sets in trained athletes would differ from that of an untrained individual. There is also no evidence to indicate that a single set of an exercise would be less productive than multiple sets for people in the general population or specific populations, such as the elderly, cardiovascular and orthopaedic patients who perhaps, should not or will not perform each exercise to the point of muscle fatigue.

No studies have shown a significant difference in strength development when comparing one versus two sets of exercise. These studies clearly indicate that single-set training promotes significant improvements in strength of both the upper and lower extremities and postural muscles and that these improvements are comparable with those attained from a higher volume of training. The majority of these studies were 8-12 wk in duration using previously sedentary adults and single isolation exercises. Whether more compound multi-joint movements respond similarly to low and high volume training warrants further investigation.

American College of Sports Medicine (1998)
The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness in healthy adults. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise 30:975-991.
Carpinelli R N and Otto R M (1998)
Strength training: Single versus multiple sets. Sports Medicine 26:73-84.
Coleman AE (1977)
Nautilus vs Universal Gym strength training in adult males. American Corrective Therapy Journal 31:103-107.
Ciriello VM, Holden WL and Evans WJ (1982)
The effects of two sets kinetic training regimens on muscle strength and fibre composition. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, pp. 787-793.
Feigenbaum M S and Pollock ML (1997)
Strength training: rationale for current guidelines for adult fitness programs. Physician and Sports Medicine 25:44-64.
Fleck SJ and Kraemer WJ (1997)
Designing Resistance Training Programs (2nd ed.) Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, pp.131-163.
Hass CJ, Garzarella L, Dehoyos D and Pollock ML (2000)
Single vs multiple sets in long term recreational weightlifters. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32: 235-242.
Hurley BF, Redmond RA and Pratley RE (1995)
Effects of strength training on muscle hypertrophy and muscle cell distribution in older men. International Journal of Sports Medicine 16:378-384.
Kramer JB, Stone MH, O'Bryant HS, Conley MS, Johnson RL, Nieman DC, Honeycutt DR and Hoke TP (1997)
Effects of single vs. multiple sets of weight training: impact of volume intensity, and variation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 11:143-147.
Kraemer WJ, Newton RV and Bush J (1995)
Varied multiple sets resistance training programs produce greater gains than single set programs. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 7:195-200.
McArdle WD, Katch FI and Katch VL (1996)
Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance (4th ed.). Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.
Miller JP, Pratley RE and Goldberg AP (1994)
Strength training increases insulin action in healthy 50-60 year old men. Journal of Applied Physiology 77:1122-1127.
Ostrowski KJ, Wilson GJ, Weatherby R, Murphy PW and Lyttle AD (1997)
The effect of weight training volume on hormonal output and muscular size and function. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 11:148-154.
Pollock ML (1998)
Prescribing exercise for fitness and adherence. In Dishman RK (Ed): Exercise Adherence: Its impacts on public health. Champaign: Human Kinetics, pp. 259-277.
Pollock MH, Graves JE and Bamman MM (1993)
Frequency and volume of resistance training: effect on cervical extension strength. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 74:1080-1086.
Ryan AS, Pratley RE and Elahi D (1995)
Resistive training increases fat-free mass and maintains RMR despite weight loss in postmenopausal women. Journal of Applied Physiology 79:818-823.
Starkey DB, Pollock ML, Ishida Y, Welsch MA, Brechue WF, Graves JE and Feigenbaum MS (1996)
Effect of resistance training volume on strength and muscle thickness. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28:1311-1320.
Stone MH, Fleck SJ, Kraemer WJ and Triplett NT (1991)
Health and performance related changes adaptations to resistance training. Sports Medicine 11:210-231.
Stowers TJ, McMillan J, Scala D, Davis V, Wilson D, and Stone M (1983)
The short-term effects of three different strength-power training methods. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal 5:24-27.
Treuth MS, Ryan AS and Pratley RE (1994)
Effects of strength training on total and regional body composition in older men. Journal of Applied Physiology 77:614-620.
You go O&G
, I think this is the first time I EVER saw you posting studies. And dang a flood of em to boot. Only thing I see though is that they are strength related, not hypertrophy. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of studies adressing TUT and Hypertrophy, so sad.

Very true on strength vs. hypertrophy Dan. However, the Hau study did measure the impact on LBM as noted below:

Single versus Multiple Sets in Long Term
Recreational Weight Lifters

Chris J. Haus, Linda Garzarella, Diego De Hoyos, and Michael Pollock
Center for Exercise Science, Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida


HASS, C.J.,L. GARZARELLA, D. DE HOYOS, and M.L. POLLOCK.. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 235-242, 2000. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine he effects of increasing training volume from one set to three sets on muscular strength, muscular endurance, and body composition in adult recreational weight lifters. Methods: Forty-two adults (age 39.7 ± 6.2 yr; 6.2 ± 4.6 yr weight training experience) who had been performing one set using a nine-exercise resistance training circuit (RTC) for a minimum of 1 yr participated in this study. Subjects continued to perform one set (EX-1; N=21) or performed three sets (EX-3; N=21) of 8-12 repetitions to muscular failure 3 d*wk-1 for 13 wk using RTC. One repetition maximums (1-RM) were measured for leg extension (LIE), leg curl (LC), chest press (CP), overhead press (OP), and biceps curl (BC). Muscular endurance was evaluated for the CP and LE as the number of repetitions to failure using 75% of pre-training 1-RM. Maximal isometric knee extension/flexion strength was also measured. Body composition was estimated using the sum of seven skinfold measures. Results: Both groups significantly improved muscular endurance, 1 RM strength (EX-1 by: 13.6% LE: 9.2% LC; 11.9% CP; 8.7% OP; 8.3% BC; and EX-3 by:12.8% LE; 12.0% LC; 13.5% CP; 12.4% OP; 10.3% BC), (P< 0.05), and maximal isometeric strength. Both groups significantly improved lean body mass (P< 0.05). No significant differences between groups were found for any of the test variables (P> 0.05). Conclusion: Both groups significantly improved muscular fitness and body composition as a result for the 13 wk of training. The results show that one-set programs are still effective even after a year of training and that increasing training volume over 13 wk does not lead to significantly greater improvements in fitness for adult recreational weight lifters. Key Words: RESISTANCE TRAINING VOLUME, RESISTANCE TRAINING, TRAINING VOLUME, STRENGTH

NCES Comments:

This is yet another study that provides scientific evidence to support the validity of "one-set" strength training programs and further illustrates the needless performance of multiple sets. Carpinelli and Otto (1998), and Carpinelli (2000) have previously published a reviews of ~ 50 studies comparing one set to multiple sets and found that the research in this area overwhelmingly supports that one set training programs are equally effective to multiple sets program.

A strength of the present study is the use of isometeric strength testing using the MedX testing tools to further corroborate the data obtained from one-repetition maximum testing. MedX isometeric testing is the only accurate and valid muscle strength testing tool and methodology. Use of this testing in the study reduces, if not eliminates, the possibility that the increases in strength demonstrated can be attributed to some ambiguous cause such as skill improvement.

Also important is the fact that this study used only subjects who had been exercising continuously for one year or more. Therefore, these results cannot be attributed to "beginners" adaptation. Further illustrated is the fact that one-set programs continue to work long-term. The one-set group simply continued to perform their standard program and continued to gain strength and lean mass. The 3-set group, despite the dramatic increase in volume of training, did not experience a faster or greater strength and lean mass increase than the one-set group. This suggests that, contrary to the claims of multiple set advocates and others, that a change in the training protocol, and/or volume, and/or type of exercise used, is NOT necessary to stimulate continued strength increases over the long-term. If the intensity of effort is high enough to exceed the body's threshold for adaptation, a strength increase stimulus will be achieved regardless of the exercise volume or the use of typical and familiar exercises.

Finally, it is important to note that the positive changes experienced by the study subjects was not limited merely to strength increases. Significant and equal increases in lean body mass was also experienced by both groups. This result refutes the claim by multiple set advocates that: "one-set programs can increase strength, but multiple sets are required to increase lean mass". Clearly, as evidenced by this study and many others, one-set programs are equally effective as multiple set programs for increasing lean mass.
[b said:
Quote[/b] (Old and Grey @ Dec. 05 2004,5:18)]Dan, take a look at the third study on this site which addresses hypertrophy:
Thanks, I skimmed it so far but will look into it more in the near future I appreciate it there guy. Hope you don't mind that I saved it :D .

Also the 4th and 5th BTW.
I have been cutting for the last 3 months... lost strength on a few exercises as i guess is expected...

i'm going to go ALL out and record EVERYTHING.

i'm tinkering with the idea of one set only. it appeals to me for 3 reasons.

1.) Faster workout
2.) More Energy For Growth
3.) It keeps the Progressive load constant.. (What if you push it too hard on a second set early on in the cycle ? (if you know what i mean..)
Nah, Ecto. At least not from me. I think HIT is dangerous to do from a muscle injury as well as CNS standpoint. Nor do I personally subscribe to the "one set per bodypart" theory. I typically, in a 4 times per week workout, will do 1 set each workout of 3 DIFFERENT exercises for large muscles and 1 set each workout of 2 different exercises for smaller muscles. I may be a bit of a dinosaur but I still believe that muscles should be hit from different angles to be aesthetically symetrical. One fallacy I have seen in all of the studies that I have come across is that they concentrate on one lift per bodypart and then test the relative strength for that bodypart using the same lift. I haven't found any studies that compare doing 1 set of 1 exercise to 1 set of more than 1 exercise for hypertrophy.

In summary, I believe, but cannot provide proof, that 1 set each of 2 or 3 different exercises is superior to doing 1, 2, or 3 sets of the same exercise. Additionally, I believe that 1 set of 3 exercises provides as much benefit as doing multiple sets of those same 3 exercises.

I do vary from the above in my last week of 5's using HST in that I then generally add drop sets aimed at getting me an addtional 10 to 15 reps. However, my reason for doing that is not that I believe multiple sets are superior but, rather, to provide a metabolic response to my system. This would not be accomplished by just doing another 2 or 3 regular sets because of the rest required to be able to handle the same weight again.
hitting the muscles from different angles can make the muscle grow in different ways ?
does that support regional hypertrophy ?

that's interesting about using 1 set of diff. exercises. obviously another set would do a little bit more. but doing 1 set of each seems more efficiant.

i think the reason frequency is so important is 'cause doing zero as opposed to one has a much greater impact than doing one as opposed to two, or two as opposed to three.
that idea kind'a ... fits with the 1 set per exercise.
[b said:
Quote[/b] (Old and Grey @ Dec. 06 2004,8:54)]Nah, Ecto. At least not from me.
Me neither.

1. I am too firmly entrenched in the idea of more TUT= More Growth in more advanced trainees, within reason of course IE DO NOT SACRIFICE LOAD AND FREQUENCY FOR TUT, and am too old, stubburn and haven't seen enough convincing evidence to change, even with all the Great Info O&G posted :D

2. I do not think that HIT is the supreme way to train, as O&G said too much injury potential, their own devotees prove this.

3. I believe any weight training will induce growth. It comes down to sustainability, can one continually use all out weight and remain injury free?, can one continually overtax the CNS and not expect it at some point say "hey, that's enough STUPID."?
Y, each muscle group, for instance the pecs, is made up of thousands of fibers. Some are fast twitch, some are slow twitch and the majority somewhere in between. Every type of movement recruits different fibers in different ways. For instance, if you were to do only one pec exercise for your entire life, say the flat bench press at 85% of your 10 rep max for 10 reps, you would not maximally recruit those fibers that would respond better to different exercises such as the dip or incline bench press, different rep schemes or different tempos. Further, if you restricted that bench press to a machine that allowed for no sway in the movement, you would recruit even less fibers. That is why most people believe that free weights are better than machines in fully developing a muscle.

Does that support "regional hypertrophy?'" No, but it is saying that to fully develop a muscle, you have to recruit all fibers in that muscle. There is no exercise that I know of that, for instance, allows you to exercise the lower chest ONLY while excluding the upper and middle pecs. You can emphasis one over the other but not totally exclude it. Perhaps it could be done electrically but I not sure that our nervous system allows us to be that selective.

Thai is why I believe in the 1 set but multiple exercises regime. However, even that has its limitations as each successive exercise is becoming less efficient. I think that I set of 1 exercise is the most time efficient way to hypertrophy. However, 1 set of 2 exercises is better, but not 100% better. Additionally, I think that 1 set of 2 exercises is better than 2 sets of 1 exercise but not 100% better. In my opinion it becomes a choice of how best to utilize the time you have available to exercise. If you do nothing but train and eat and sleep, by all means 40 sets per bodypart will be somewhat better, but less time efficient, than 1 set of 1 to 3 exercises. Personally I would be bored silly.