September 18, 2011

How Tri-Sets/Giant Sets Provide The Best Of Both Worlds (Size And Strength!)

Training to build muscle is all about recruiting and fatiguing as many motor units as possible, which is best accomplished by lifting as much weight as possible (to recruit), for as long as possible (to further recruit and fatigue), and repeating that over and over again within reason (to further fatigue). One of the best methods to accomplish all of this (in the least amount of time) is to chain multiple exercises together in the form of a tri-set, or giant set (4 or more exercises chained together). Doing so ensures that the muscles are exhausted from multiple angles, which contributes to maximal fiber recruitment and stimulation to promote optimal growth.

A large contributing factor to the results that come from training are credited to the hormonal response that is invoked from your training methods. The two most anabolic (muscle building) hormones are growth hormone and testosterone, both of which are spiked in response to varying degrees based on the stimulus placed upon the body. Heavier weights combined with greater rest intervals are generally responsible for the greatest testosterone spikes in response to training, while lighter weights combined with incomplete rest intervals are generally responsible for the greatest growth hormone spikes. The degree to which these hormones are spiked in response to training is debatable and varies, but at the end of the day even the slightest increase will have nothing but positive benefits when it comes to building muscle.

Tri-sets and Giant sets vs. Traditional sets

Traditionally a set consists of performing a single exercise with a certain amount of weight that allows for a certain number of reps, all of which is predetermined based on your goal (ex. increase strength, or size).

If the goal is to increase strength, the weight generally is relatively heavy and only permits a limited amount of reps to be performed. The level of muscular and metabolic fatigue is generally minimal, which is why a greater amount of sets are needed, to make up for the lack of volume.

If the goal is to increase size, the weight generally is relatively light and permits for a greater amount of reps to be performed. The resulting effect is greater levels of muscular and metabolic fatigue, and this undoubtedly negatively effects subsequent performance, therefore less sets are needed to prevent overwhelming the body with too much volume.

The beautiful thing about tri-sets and giant sets is that they combine the benefits of traditional training for strength and size, without the drawbacks (less volume is needed than traditional training for strength, and a greater level of muscular and metabolic fatigue is accomplished than traditional training for size) by permitting the usage of heavy weights for the first exercise in sequence, with minimal rest between exercises, resulting in prolonged times under tension, from various angles and ranges of motion, with enough rest to repeat efforts as best as possible. All of which basically maximizes the hormonal response of both primary anabolic hormones!

Tri-sets and giant sets are also very effective plateau busters, as anything that is different than what you have been doing will likely promote a positive adaptation.

If you have any questions about the tri-sets, or giant sets, and which exercises are best suited for you in a certain order, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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