Single vs. Multiple Sets for Building Muscle

Although this topic is not weight loss related, I wanted to briefly mention this.  Some of you may be aware of a study I recently published, which showed that multiple sets of resistance exercise were associated with superior increases in muscle size compared to single sets.  In the discussion section, I made the following statement:

It is known that mechanical loading stimulates protein synthesis in skeletal muscle, and increasing loads result in greater responses until a plateau is reached.  It is likely that protein synthesis responds in a similar manner to the number of sets (i.e., an increasing response as the number of sets are increased, until a plateau is reached), although there is no research examining this.

I then went on to make this statement in the Practical Applications section:

Future research should also focus on the effects of resistance training volume on protein synthesis and other cellular and molecular changes that may impact hypertrophy.

Fortunately, we now have such research, and it supports the results of my meta-analysis.  Stu Phillips is a colleague of mine, and we worked together as members of the Protein Advisory Council for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.  Stu has done quite a bit of research on protein metabolism and resistance exercise.  His lab recently published a study showing 3 sets per exercise to produce superior increases in protein synthesis and anabolic signaling compared to 1 set.  The increase was not only greater in amplitude, but also duration.

Also, some of you may know that I am the editor of Journal of Pure Power (JOPP), an online magazine dedicated to bringing science to strength and power athletes.  The latest issue of JOPP includes a summary article on my meta-analysis.  You can download the PDF version of the article here.

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7 years ago

What’s up James?

It’s my understanding that it’s sets per exercise and not sets per muscle. 3 vs 1 sets per exercise were associated with about a 46% greater improvement. I just wanted to ask how many exercises per muscle was it and how many TOTAL sets per muscle?

Clearly, 3 sets per exercise are better than 1, but exactly how many exercises per muscle are doing and how many sets per muscle in total?

Steroids UK
13 years ago

First time I’ve heard of the Journal of Pure Power (JOPP), have u been trying to keep it a sceret 🙂

Neal W.
Neal W.
13 years ago


Is the JOPP $22.46 for the whole year (4 issues) or for each issue?

13 years ago

How does this relate to high intensity training, where you lift to muscle failure? Should you lift to failure, rest for a minute, and lift to failure again?

13 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

This seems like the best available evidence. I will modify my training regime, which previously has been based on one set. Do you have opinions on the optimal rest time between sets?

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