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Set Types Part II of II: Keep Training Safe, Challenging, and Productive

Set Types Part II of II: Keep Training Safe, Challenging, and Productive

*This is Part II of this edition of the BDP newsletter, and some passages are repeated. Part I was previously released on December 29, 2003.


What’s a set, and why does it matter?

A set is composed of multiple reps, or cycles, of an exercise performed consecutively. Most people who are into weightlifting know there are multiple types of sets that can be performed and are almost certainly familiar with doing warmup sets, straight sets, and failure sets, even if they don't know what to call them.

If you’re doing some kind of resistance training, understanding the different set types will enable you to improve your sessions by making them safer and more varied in terms of intensity, timing, and technique. Just as importantly, it’ll keep your sessions interesting. After all, it becomes extremely hard to keep achieving gains in your physique or physical capacities if you’re doing the same tired exercises and set types every time you train.

Please note that these six set types in Part II are a bit more advanced and would probably be used less frequently than those in Part I. They’re listed in alphabetical order for simplicity.



AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible)
A timed set in which you perform as many reps of an exercise as possible before time is up. AMRAP is a form interval training that is good for improving your cardiovascular endurance in particular, and your strength to a lesser degree. This is because the focus of AMRAP is performing a massive number of repetitions, which means the load needs to be moderated. (Vitality, 2020) Although there are no built-in rest periods, if you rep until failure with time still remaining, you are permitted to rest briefly during the set and then resume repping as soon as you recover enough energy to do so. (MasterClass, 2021)

Sample AMRAPs:
●Cycle of 5 pullups + 10 pushups + 10 squats + 5 sit-ups for 10 minutes
●Maximum possible reps of seated leg extensions within 90 seconds

Cluster Set
A set in which you perform a predetermined number of reps of an exercise, pause during the set for a moment (generally 10~45 seconds), and then perform another predetermined number of reps. This creates a clustered pattern of reps, called a subset, within a single set, which typically has at least two or three such pauses. (Tzur & Roberts, 2022) Importantly, the pauses are not necessarily taken at the point of muscular failure but rather after you perform the predetermined number of reps, regardless of whether you have repped until failure or not.

The key characteristic of a cluster set is the interruption of accumulated muscle fatigue while the set is in progress, which allows you to resume repping with greater power (i.e., explosiveness) than would be possible if you were performing the entire set with no pauses between reps. Due to mitigated muscle fatigue, you are also able to maintain better form throughout the entire set, handle heavier weight, and perform more total reps per set than when performing a straight set. (Cheung N., 2022) However, cluster sets provide no significant advantage in terms of achieving gains in strength or muscle size compared to compared to straight sets. (Davies, Tran, Hogan, Haff, & Latella, 2021)

Sample cluster sets:
●9 total reps of bent-over dumbbell rows divided into 3 subsets (3 reps each) with 10-second rest intervals in between
●16 total reps of squats divided into 4 subsets (=4 reps each) with 15-second rest intervals in between

Drop Set
A single exercise you begin performing until failure at a relatively high amount of weight, and, without taking a break, adjust the weight lower and continue performing until failure. Ideally, maintain the cycle of adjusting the weight lower and repping until failure each time until you have no choice but to stop and rest.

Drop sets also allow you to pack more exercises into a shorter time frame on days when your time is limited or when you want to increase the density of a workout.

Sample drop sets:
●Barbell curls at 30 kg, 20 kg, 10 kg, and 5 kg, repping until failure at each weight
●Seated dumbbell shoulder presses at 26 kg, 22 kg, 18 kg, 12 kg, and 6 kg, repping until failure at each weight

Failure Set
A set in which you keep performing reps until concentric failure, which is the limit at which you can no longer complete another rep with the correct form. (Lee, 2023) Simply put, you keep repping until you have no choice but to take a rest.

Important: Have a spotter assist you when performing a failure set of an exercise where you might drop the weight on your body when you fail (e.g., bench press, squat). Broadly speaking, doing a failure set on a machine can be safer because most machines are designed to prevent the weight from collapsing onto your body.

Sample failure sets:
●Set of chin-ups, repping until failure
●Set of leg curls, repping until failure

Giant Set
A set of four exercises targeting the same muscle that you perform in succession with little to no rest in between. Performing giant sets acutely fatigues the muscle, burns fat, and improves your cardiorespiratory fitness. (Schildhouse, 2022) Due to the lack of recovery time between exercises, giant sets are not conducive to maxing out the amount of weight you’re lifting and increasing your strength, but rather more effective for achieving hypertrophic gains. (Dale, 2022) As such, they’re good for increasing the size of a muscle that is underdeveloped and correcting imbalances in your physique.

Sample giant sets:
●5 reps of back squats + 10 reps of walking dumbbell lunges + 10 reps of leg extensions + 5 reps of leg presses (muscles targeted: quadriceps)
●12 reps of preacher curls + 10 reps of pronated barbell curls + 10 reps of chin-ups + 7 reps of spider curls (muscles targeted: biceps, brachialis)

A set of three exercises performed in succession with little to no rest in between. You can target a single muscle group, opposing muscle groups (i.e., antagonistic pair), or two different parts of the body when performing a tri-set. Like giant sets, tri-sets are more effective for achieving hypertrophic gains than increasing strength because they focus more on training volume than maximizing weight. They can also raise your cardiorespiratory capacity, muscle endurance, and the intensity of your workout because you’ll pack more exercises into a shorter time frame on days when your time is limited or when you want to increase the density of a workout. (Endres, 2020)

Sample tri-sets:
●10 reps of pullups + 12 reps of lat pulldowns + 10 reps of seated rows *for single muscle group (back/lats)
●10 reps of incline bench presses + 10 reps of inverted rows + 10 reps of flat bench dumbbell flies *for opposing muscle groups (chest and back)



Cheung, N. (2022, May 12). Cluster Sets: What Are They? How To Use? (Complete Guide). Retrieved December 12, 2023, from powerliftingtechnique.com: https://powerliftingtechnique.com/cluster-sets/

Dale, P. (2022, September 16). Giant Sets for Building Muscle: What, Why, and How to Use Them. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from fitnessvolt.com: https://fitnessvolt.com/giant-sets/

Davies, T., Tran, D., Hogan, C., Haff, G., & Latella, C. (2021). Chronic Effects of Altering Resistance Training Set Configurations Using Cluster Sets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Auckland, NZ: Sports Medicine. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01408-3

Endres, L. F. (2020, August 28). What is a Tri-Set? Retrieved December 12, 2023, from wegetfitdone.com: https://www.wegetfitdone.com/post/what-is-a-tri-set#:~:text=Updated%3A%20Dec%208%2C%202020%20A%20tri-set%20is%20a,an%20adequate%20rest%20between%20tri-sets%2C%20usually%201-5%20minutes.

Lee, K. (2023, June 29). What Does Failure Mean In Exercise? Retrieved December 12, 2023, from faq.keleefitness.com: https://faq.keleefitness.com/what-does-failure-mean-in-exercise/

MasterClass. (2021, October 30). AMRAP Guide: What Is an AMRAP Workout? Retrieved December 28, 2023, from masterclass.com: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/amrap-guide

Schildhouse, J. (2022, September 23). 3 Big Moves: Drop Sets, Supersets and Giant Sets. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from oxygenmag.com: https://www.oxygenmag.com/training-tips-for-women/drop-sets-supersets-giant-sets-10196/#:~:text=Giant%20sets%20increase%20the%20intensity%20of%20a%20workout,to%20burn%20fat%20and%20boost%20the%20cardiorespiratory%20response.

Tzur, A., & Roberts, B. (2022, October 10). What is a Cluster Set? A Complete Guide. Retrieved December 12, 2023, from sci-fit.net: https://sci-fit.net/cluster-set/

Vitality. (2020, July 22). What is an AMRAP workout and why is it so good for you? Retrieved December 28, 2023, from vitality.co.uk: https://www.vitality.co.uk/magazine/what-is-an-amrap-workout-and-why-is-it-so-good-for-you/


*This newsletter has not been authored in whole or in part by any artificial intelligence tools.
*No content on this site, regardless of source or date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.


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