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Do you need 30 sets in a workout to get results


30 sets of this, no problem!

Life is strange! In less than 2 weeks of me posting an article about using abbreviated training to get better results, someone I know sends me an email asking me for my views on his high volume workouts. This guy is about my age, 30, and is re-starting his workouts. He asks me for my views on his program, which is training 5 days a week, working one bodypart a day, and doing a total of 30 or more sets each workout! Wow! I mean, even if someone has not read most of my writing, the fact that this guy must have read my article just 10 days ago or so, and then sends me a program like this asking for my views, it's just simply mind boggling for me.

And this is supposed to be a workout for someone who trying to "get back" in shape. I wonder how many sets he expects to do, if he does actually get back in shape. Maybe a 100 sets?? Now I do agree that my article on abbreviated training was aimed at those seeking mass and strength gains, however, whether for fat loss or for mass gain, if your strength training workouts cannot get you results in a total of 20 or less sets, then your program sucks! No, I am not talking about the sets that you do in your finisher circuit/complex with lighter weights, I am talking strictly of the strength training part that you do prior to your cardio/finisher.


But Arnold did it, and so do many other professional bodybuilders? Cool, so from now when someone is about to fight his first ever amateur fight, lets put him/her against the Mike Tysons's, Randy Coture's and the Fedor Emilianeko's of the world. Look, there is a time and place for advanced and pro level workouts, but that is when you do actually get to an advanced stage, and not when you are just starting out.

30 plus sets workouts, and workouts longer than an hour can be done when you are very close to your major goals. For eg, lets say that you started out at 245 pounds, and your goal is 165 pounds. Then after many workouts over a period of time, you have come down to 175-180 pounds, and are very close to your goal. At this stage, workouts longer than 60 minutes or consisting of 30 plus sets, might be needed, since now your body would have become highly conditioned and will require the extra work. Although, even at this stage, many can still progress without doing more than 25 sets, however trying to do 30+ sets when you are 245 in this case, and are 80 pounds away from your goal is simply crazy!

Recently top trainer, John Alvino wrote a great post on how training and eating programs are more dictated by emotional insecurities rather than intelligent planning. And frankly speaking, he has hit the nail on the head with the post. I can understand that when someone is passionate/desperate about a goal, then they are willing to work really hard to achieve it. But, in life, just working hard by itself does not automatically equal to great success. Working smart is also very important. Trying to push yourself to the limit in each and every workout, done for a high volume, while not caring about longetivity and joint health is not smart!

And the reason why I know very well that this 30+ sets workout thing does not work, is because I have been guilty of doing it in the past. Luckily for me, I was in my teens and got away without any injuries, but I still had no results to show for it, and workouts started turning into a nightmare, rather than a pleasure. Now, I rarely do strength workouts consisting of more than 15 working sets. Have I become too lazy? Maybe, but hitting PR's faster than ever, and being relatively injury free are enough to convince me that I am on the right path, and that I do not need crazy workouts of 30+ sets.

Ultimately 2 factors, which are workout intensity and workout quality, matter a lot more than quantity, when it comes to maximizing results. 10-15 quality sets done with good intensity will give you much better results (and avoid injuries), when compared to 30+ sets with low intensity and poor form. Let's try and understand these two factors a bit better.

With strength training, intensity is generally gauged by how much you lift. Thus a set of 10 squats with 150 pounds is considered to be more intense than a set of 10-15 squats with 50 pounds. And the intensity of your training is inversely proportionate to the length of your workout. Lets say if your max squat for 10 reps is 200 pounds, then you wont be able to do 4-5 sets of 10 reps with 190-200 pounds. You will be able to do 1-3 sets of 8-10 reps with about 180-190 pounds. However, you will probably be able to do 5-6 sets of 10-12 reps with 100 pounds or less. So you can see how lowering the intensity, which in this case is the poundage, allows one to do more number of sets. Similarly, even in your overall workout, the total number of sets counting all the different exercises will be much lesser when your intensity is high, compared to the number of sets you can do when intensity is low.

And just like working with intensity is crucial, so is working with good form. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people boast of big numbers, only to find out that what they do is just a heavy partial, or using excessive momentum in lifts where they should not using momentum, or simply relying on the spotter to do the work for them. A good set should target the muscles, without straining the joints, and involve a full or effective range of motion. A jerky, partial range set is not going to get you the same results.

Besides the fact that 8-20 sets done with good form and at a challenging intensity delivering better results when compared to 30+ sets, there are also other factors to consider. First is overtraining. When you start/restart working out, you are fresh, and generally injury free. At this stage you can really push yourself, since you have abundant energy. But very soon, the overly long workouts, start wearing you out since you recover much lesser between workouts. Soon, your energy levels start dropping, you start dreading going to the gym, and the excitement that you had when you began, is history. On the other hand, 12-15 sets a workout remains a lot more fun to look forward to even after months of training.

The time taken for 30+ sets also needs to be considered here. These days with life becoming more and more busy and stressful, is spending more than 60 minutes for your workout really in your best interest? Sure, if you are in school and have a lot of time to train, then its ok, but would that also work for someone with a business/job, and with a family that they need to look after? Of course, there are many for whom spending hours in the gym is vital since what goes on in their life outside the gym is not in their control, and the gym is their only "getaway". But, if this be the case, then do keep in mind that your "real" world problems do not go away after spending 2 hours in the gym, and your best bet in dealing with those problems is to work on them, and not try to run away.

In the end, all I can say is that I hope that this madness for doing excessively high number of sets in a workout, by people who are not advanced nor at a pro level, comes down, if not totally eliminated. Remember, more is not always the better. Read the writings and check out the workouts created by top coaches, trainers from all over the world, and I can assure you that you will be hard pressed to find programs asking you to do more than 20 sets in a single workout. So if the best in the world do not suggest it, then why waste time and energy doing it?



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