The true foundation of any training session (workout) is established with the “set.” The training session is nothing but a construct of multiple sets, yet seldom does one deconstruct the workout in to its individual components (sets) when reviewing its effectiveness. So often I’ve read or witnessed a person regaling the wonders of a given workout or training session. “Wednesday’s workout was awesome or “I was so strong on Friday” are the kinds of things I hear daily. When is the last time you heard (if ever) some one say…………That set was perfect I got just what I needed out of it?
My guess is not very often if ever! Why is that…………… because to get just what you need you must have a “preconception “of what that is! That’s correct you actually need to think about the goal of the set before doing it! Thinking in this manner unlocks opportunities and conceptual tools most of you never considered could exist!
1. The Set is The Foundation Of The Training Session and Includes:
1. Set Focus or Purpose
2. Set Vehicle
3. Set Volume/Intensity
4. Set Duration
5. Set Form and Style and Pace
The set focus is the PURPOSE or intension of the SPESIFIC set being (about to be) performed. A lifter embarking on a well conceived workout should have a “preconception” of what each and every set should be and do! The idea of mindless haphazard work achieving world class results is laughable! The determination of the set focus can preordain some of the parameters for the fallowing variables. A set with the focus of a maximum single effort by definition will have only one repetition and take a minimum of time. Some sets however are far more liquid and “designable”. You could set forth with a focus of doing 60 seconds of work by performing as many reps as you can with a given weight then doing partial reps and forced movements for a total of 60 seconds. The number of foci you could develop if you are clever is unlimited and largely unexplored!
The set vehicle is simply the chosen exercise to be performed (chosen because it will achieve the set focus). Whether it is a bench press, squat or low cable row, these exercises are simply vehicles used in a set to “arrive” at the destination (the Set focus!). Barbell machines, cable or bodyweight, isn’t the issue…………….choosing the vehicle that will most efficiently deliver you to your destination (set focus) is the issue!
Set Volume / Intensity
There are two major factors or variables in training that produce significant responses from the body when used in the appropriate combinations. One is volume, which is utilized by body builders who desire to accumulate muscular size. The other is intensity, which is emphasized primarily by power lifters and strength athletes. Volume is the total weight lifted (sets x reps) in your workout. For example, if you bench pressed 200 pounds for 5 sets of 8 repetitions each, your total volume would be: 200 lbs. x 8 reps x 5 sets = 8,000 lbs. The accurate definition of intensity is the average weight lifted during a training session. Intensity would be measured by dividing the volume by the total number of repetitions performed.
Set 1 250 lbs. x 10 reps = 2,500
Set 2 300 lbs. x 6 reps = 1,800
Set3 3501bs.x 4reps= 1,400
Total Volume =5,700 lbs.
Total Intensity =5,700 lbs. / 20 reps = 285 lbs (average intensity)
Set Duration is just that, the amount of time you intend a set to “last”. Set duration is often a factor that is over looked in program design. Many sets have a predefined duration based on some other “set aspect” such as set volume or set intensity. For instance a set of 10 reps with a one second up and one second contraction and a one second down cadence would by definition have a duration of 30 seconds. You could however set forth with a duration based goal such as how many reps can I do in 30 seconds or can I hold this weight in the contracted position for 60 seconds.
Set Style and Pace
The debate over strict technique verses heavy weight has raged for nearly 100 years now! The debate is complicated because the debater often forgets to focus on the desired goal.
In weight training it is paramount to keep our goals in proper perspective. Too often an athlete gets “caught up” in the minute details of training and loses sight of what they are really trying to achieve.
If an athlete uses strict form, he can target and apply training to a specific muscle group and reduce the risk of injury. However, he is forced to significantly compromise the amount of weight he can use. In doing this, the intensity of the training session may decrease below a threshold level. On the other hand, if an athlete uses an excessive amount of weight, he is forced to compromise his style. His body tends to recruit other muscle groups to assist in performing the task. The workload or stimulation is no longer specifically targeting the intended muscle group. This compromise of form also increases his risk of injury. Neither of these techniques would describe the optimal set.
Before clarifying the proper relationship between the two, let’s first understand the difference between strict form and style.
• Style: Simply means performing the exercise using correct biomechanics. In other words, style would consist of positioning hands, wrist, feet, etc. and also the path and range of motion that the bar or machine goes through. All these are designed to focus the stress or stimulation to the target muscles (achieve the set focus).
• Form (strict/loose): Refers to the quality in execution of the exercise. This sounds a bit vague and ambiguous, so let’s use an example of the barbell curl to illustrate this point.
Proper style would entail foot positioning at approximately shoulder width, knees slightly bent, upper torso perpendicular to the ground and an underhand slightly wider than shoulder width grip on the bar. The bar is curled toward the shoulders, while not allowing the elbows to travel forward. A very strict form of execution would entail no bouncing off the thighs and absolutely no swaying of the upper torso as the bar is being curled upwards. A loose form would entail a slight bounce off the top of the thighs and a slight backward lean as the weight is coming up. This would allow more weight than the strict form.
Loose form would entail a strong bounce from the thighs creating momentum, an exaggerated backward lean and possibly a bounce with the knees to allow the weight to come up. Even though more weight can be used, this is poor form actually compromising the proper style of the exercise and the target muscles aren’t necessarily receiving the extra stress. At this point, the risk of injury has significantly incased. Since our interest is muscular development and not creating “picture perfect” repetitions, the critical factor is applying maximum imitation to the target muscles.
In training for maximum muscle growth, you never want to be at the sloppy end of the spectrum nor do you want to remain at the strict end either. For maximum effectiveness, you should begin your set with a strict form. When the repetitions become impossible to perform, loosen up your form slightly to continue the set (never go into truly loose form). You can see that this is a dynamic process which allows you to begin on one end of the spectrum when the set is initiated, but you don’t have to remain there.
• Pace: Refers to the cadence or timing of the individual reps in a set. For instance “touch and go” reps would have a much different PACE than “paused” reps in a set of bench presses! Accentuated negatives or super slow positives would also radically alter or determine the PACE of a set!
Different techniques to consider for varying Pace would be (but not limited to)
No lock our reps
½ reps (top or bottom)
Rest-pause style training
High velocity reps (speed training)
Super –slow training
Negative only training
The addition of a set extension technique (*see explanation*)
*Set Extension Techniques*
When you are performing a set and have reached relative voluntary muscular failure (the point at which you no longer are able to perform any more repetitions), you can begin to use set extension techniques in order to achieve a higher level of stimulation to the target muscle or group (achieve the set focus). These techniques generally require the assistance of a good LIKE MINDED training partner.
1. Forced Reps - Have your partner give you just enough help to get two or three more repetitions.
2. Cheating Reps “Loosen up” your form and cheat two or three more repetitions out of each set.
3. Descending Set - Once you achieve the momentary exhaustion in a set, quickly (without any rest) select a lighter weight and perform a few more reps.
4. Partial Reps - Perform several partial or quarter reps with the weight
5. Negative Reps - Once a set has been completed, perform two or three negative-only repetitions.
6. Compound Set - Upon completion of a set, immediately begin performing another set using a different exercise that works the
*Very advanced lifters can (and do) implement multiple techniques in one set!
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