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Can one set per body part put on muscle?

Can one set per body part put on muscle?

For anyone who has taken up weights to help put on a little muscle you end up going through a progression of methods. Most people start off with a very basic program of one set per body part given to them by the local gym instructor.

If they get serious about the gym, they talk to some of the local gym rats and perhaps read a Muscle and Fitness magazine. They split their routines – shoulders and arms one day, chest and back the next, legs the next. Four sets per exercise, usually 3 exercises per body part.

Then there are super sets, tri sets, pre exhaust, double split routines.. et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Now the big problem with all this is that it actually ends up being counter productive. These routines that you’re following because Muscle and Fitness magazine says they work and put them next to pictures of the bodybuilding star of the day don’t work.

If they work for the star in question it’s because his steroid stack is huge, but reality is that even he isn’t training the way the article says he’s training.

I realised long ago that the volume of training claimed by these articles was counter productive for me. For years (when I still went to gyms) I would be the guy that would walk in and some guy in the corner would be doing chest. I would get changed, workout, get changed back into my street clothes and the guy in the corner still hadn’t finished chest.

Over the years I have progressed steadily from 8 sets per bodypart to 6 and then to 4-5.

The barrier to me though was always one set. You can’t do one set and progress. Not possible. I know Mike Mentzer (a top contender in the bodybuilding world) and Dorian Yates (6 time mr Olympia) said it could work. I just had a barrier to belief. It was simply not possible. Beginners did one set.

Well actually so do experts. You come full circle. You arrive back at your beginning, but now with a much deeper understanding of things.

I finally tried 1 set per body part. Does it work? Well yes and no. If your exercises are things like tricep kickbacks and biceps curls, that’s a no.

However with the right exercises, that’s a big YES. Heavy compound exercises, like squats, bench press and bent over rows.

I will write more about this routine soon.

How well did it work? Exceeded all my expectations. put on 7 Kilograms of muscle in a 6 week period. Added a 1/2 inch to my arms without any direct arm work.

Why does it work? Well simply because it doesn’t tax your recovery capacity too much. There is no doubt about weights are hard on the nervous system. You can’t tax it too much. One set doesn’t. The workout is over before fatigue sets in. Next day you always feel fresh as a daisy.

That to me is the magic ingredient. For weights, less is more. Even the old notion to go to failure on a set is just that; an “old” notion. Look away from bodybuilders and instead to powerlifters and you will see that the stronger these men get, the less they do.

There is a chap by the name of Jim Wendler. He has done a 1000lb (about 450Kgs) squat. He has a program called 5/3/1. That is for your main exercise (eg squat or bench press) do one set of 5, one set of three and on set of 1). That’s nine reps total. Quite clearly, low volume work gets results, so underestimate it at your peril.

About The Author


A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

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