Strength gains seem to slow down after a year of training; thus, increasing sets may provide a greater stimulus to induce strength gains to make continued gains in strength and muscle mass.
A NEW STUDY REVEALS HOW MUSCLE STRENGTH PLATEAU [ MORE IMPORTANTLY, HOW TO BREAK A PLATEAU] SUMMARY
- Muscle strength plateau often occur with long term training.
- After one year of training, strength gains slow down substantially.
- Lifters may need to adjust the volume by adding more sets to increase neuromuscular adaptations to strength training.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VOLUME AND MUSCLE GROWTH
Untrained lifters can substantially increase strength and muscle mass gains with as little as one set per week. For intermediate and advanced lifters, you will need more volume (i.e., sets, reps, and weight) than a beginner. A lifter will gradually need to increase the number of sets, reps, weight, etc., in their training cycle to keep making gains in muscle growth. Increased volume is especially important for advanced lifters.
The body becomes remarkably adaptive to resistance exercise; a higher exercise stimulus threshold will be needed for muscle growth. Multiple sets increase muscle protein synthesis and anabolic signaling pathways in muscle. Studies have found a positive correlation between volume (i.e., sets) and muscle protein synthesis.(1, 2) Similar to protein synthesis; anabolic signaling pathways are increased after multiple sets compared to single sets.(3)
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SETS AND MUSCLE GROWTH
Baseline levels of muscle mass predicted beneficial responses to higher volume training. In this study, subjects were assigned to low (1 set) and moderate volume (3 sets) over a 12-week training study. Moderate volume led to larger increases in muscle growth, strength, and type II fiber-type transitions. These changes coincided with greater activation of anabolic signaling pathways controlling muscle growth and greater induction of ribosome synthesis. This suggests that trained athletes need a greater set/rep stimulus than novice lifters.
Multiple sets are superior to a single set for strength gains, muscle endurance, and arm growth.(4) One of the most compelling arguments for multiple sets for enhancing muscle growth is a meta-analysis by James Krieger, in which he found that muscle growth was the greatest in those that did 2-3 sets versus 1 set. He also found that the 4-6 sets had a slightly better increase in muscle growth than the 2-3 sets.
The meta-analysis showed that doing more sets leads to more muscle growth than a single set.(5) The same author later conducted another meta-analysis and reported a linear relationship between sets and muscle growth. Less than 5 sets per week resulted in the least muscle growth (5.4%), whereas more sets, 5-9 sets (6.6%), and 10+ sets (9.8%) resulted in greater increases in lean muscle mass.(6)