Set Performance

Let’s explore ways to add variety into your program just by changing around how we do sets. 

If you remember, a set is a group of repetitions. If you do 10 reps of biceps curls and then stop you just did one set. 

The above example is of a straight set. Often what we think about when we think about sets. We perform 8-12 reps then we stop, rest for a bit and when ready perform another set. 

There are other types of sets that are often performed in exercise programs for various reasons. Sometimes it is to save time, others it is to increase overall mechanical stress and tension to a muscle or group of muscles. Sometimes these set variations are used to increase variety and decrease boredom in a program. 

Straight sets are the simplest type of set but you can still modify them. Think about how much time you rest between sets, 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 2 minutes, do you even time yourself? Manipulating your rest time on straight sets is a great way to increase fatigue on a muscle. 

Let’s look at some other types of sets that you can incorporate into your program. 

Supersets and giant sets 

Two or more sets are combined with little or no rest for the same or different muscle groups. Supersets maximize efficiency and increase intensity. Same muscle group: Cable chest crossovers are followed immediately by barbell bench press. Opposing muscle groups: Leg extensions are followed immediately by leg curls. 

Drop sets (also known as rack running or strip sets) 

The load used for a given exercise is reduced when exhaustion is reached to permit continued exercise. By reducing the load, stress of muscle fibers can continue beyond the point that was possible at the starting load. Biceps curls with 20 lb dumbbells, then 15 lb, then 10 lb, and so on.

 Pyramid sets 

Multiple sets are combined in an ascending or descending (or both) fashion. By modifying the load and reps completed, both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers may be stimulated more completely. Combination of sets of the following reps: 15, 10, 8, 6, 4, 6, 8, 10, 15. 


Superset that stimulates the upper half of the movement, the lower half of the movement, and the full range of the movement. By splitting the movement, weak spots in the strength curve can be reduced. Biceps curls using the lower half of the movement for 7 reps, the upper half of the movement for 7 reps, and the whole movement for 7 reps, for 21 reps total in the set. 

Staggered sets

 A set or exercise is performed between sets for a particular muscle group. Using this downtime maximizes efficiency and allows more to be accomplished during the session. Performing a set of abdominal crunches after each of three sets of shoulder presses.

Circuit training 

Sets of resistance, cardiorespiratory, and flexibility training are combined in a circuit with little or no time between sets. Maximizing use of time allows more volume of training. Completing one set of each exercise and repeating a full circuit three times: chest press, seated row, 2 min jump rope, biceps curl, triceps extension, crunches, 2 min jump rope, leg extension, leg curl, and 

Slow sets 

By increasing time under tension, slow training dramatically increases either the concentric or eccentric (or both) parts of the rep. Increased time under tension has been shown to be safe (momentum may be almost zero) and effective. Tempo of 5:0:5:0 or other combination that reduces momentum.

The above are a few examples on how to add variety into your program just by changing up the type of sets that you use. 


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