Lifting Definitions 2: Set Variations

Straight Sets

The most simple kind of Set, 'Straight Sets' take on this structure; Set - Rest - Set - Rest - Set - Rest - Set. In a 4 set approach in Straight Sets there will be 3 standard length Rest Periods during the approach. For Upper Body and Calf Training the Rest Period is maximum 30-45 seconds. For Leg Training maximum 60-90 seconds. If the Rest Period is much longer, you risk the full recovery of your muscle fibres, which reduces workout 'Intensity,' the No.1 factor involved in muscle adaptation. Straight sets will usually be the most common Set variation you will perform at the gym.

Pyramid Sets

Pyramid Sets minipulate Rest Periods, Reps and Resistance all within a 4 set period. A 'Pyramid Set' can either be 'Ascending' or 'Descending' - according to the Rep count performed each set; 'Ascending' Pyramid Sets Start with a lower number of Repetitions and increase over a 4 set period, e.g. 6 Reps - 8 Reps - 10 Reps - 12 Reps. They also start with long Rest Periods which decrease over a 4 set period, e.g. 90 secs - 60 secs - 45 secs - 30 secs. During Ascending Pyramid Sets the weight gradually decreases as well during the 4 set period, e.g. 60kg - 50kg - 40kg - 30kg. 'Descending' Pyramid Sets act much the same way but start the opposite way round. One can do an Ascending Pyramid followed by a Descending.

Drop Sets

A 'Drop Set' can involve 2 or more sets and refers to the decrease in resistance during the exercise approach. In a Drop Set there are no Rest Periods until the end, they follow this structure; Set - Set - Set - Set - Rest. The reason Sets can be performed consecutively with no rest in-between is because the resistance is 'dropped' down each set to an amount where Repetitions can continue to be performed. Having No Rest Period(s) increases the Intensity and thus the resistance can often be reduced by some margin throughout a Drop Set approach while still causing appropriate stimulation. Drop Sets are best used for small muscle groups such as Shoulders and Arms.

Super Sets

A 'Super Set' involves 2 exercises, usually involving the same muscle group, although can involve antagonists (mechanical opposites, e.g. Biceps + Triceps). A Super Set involves 2 sets, one set per exercise with no Rest Period between the 2 Sets; Set 1 - Set 2 - Rest - Set 1 - Set 2 - Rest... etc. This approach is useful to maintain tension of particular muscles from two different angles, e.g. Lateral Dumbbell Raises combined with Front Raises. OR if used for opposing muscle groups, improve the time effectiveness of a workout.

Staggared Sets

A 'Staggered Set' is much like a Drop Set. The first Set is performed followed by a very short Rest Period of 10-15 Seconds, then a secondary set is performed on a slightly reduced weight, then a full Rest Period occurs. It follows this structure; Set - Short Rest - Set - Regular Rest - Set - Short Rest - Set - Regular Rest... etc. After each Staggared Set comes a regular Rest associated with Straight Sets of that muscle group, e.g. 30-45secs Upper Body and Calves, 60-90secs Legs. Staggared Sets are best used for Lower Body Training instead of Drop Sets as slightly more recovery is required for Leg muscles.

Tri-Sets & Giant Sets

A 'Tri-Set' approach is much like a Super Set, except instead of 2 exercises, 3 different exercises are permormed consecutively with no Rest Period until 3 Sets have been completed; Set - Set - Set - Rest - Set - Set - Set - Rest. They usually also involve the same muscle group, with the aim of increasing Volume and Intensity. 'Giant' Sets take on the exact same structure except they involve 4 or more exercises before Resting. The same muscle group can be involved or different muscle groups, depending on the type of workout.

Rest-Pause Sets

'Rest-Pause' Sets are an advanced Set Structure. They use one exercise and can involve 1 or more Sets. Much like a Staggered Set the first set is permormed followed by a short rest of 10 seconds and then another set is performed but without a drop in weight. They follow this structure; Set - Short Rest - Set - Regular Rest - Set - Short Rest - Set - Regular Rest... etc. Rest-Pause Sets can be effective for all muscle groups, especially for those that do not tire easily.

Pre + Post-Exhaust Sets

These sets involve Isolation exercises combining with Compound exercises for the same muscle group. 2 sets are performed before resting. During a 'Pre-Exhaust Set' the Isolation exercise is performed first followed immediately by the Compound Exercise. A 'Post-Exhaust' is the other way around. They follow this structure; Set - Set - Rest - Set - Set - Rest etc. These sets by nature involve the exact same muscle group and are designed to exhaust the muscle through different forms of contraction without tiring auxillary muscle groups. E.g. Chest Fly combined with Chest Press.

Stretch-Pause Sets

As one of the most advanced set structures, 'Stretch-Pause' sets must be performed with extreme caution. These sets are designed to increase both the Tension and length of the set by holding a prolonged stretch of the target muscle at the end of each Set. The resistance is then reduced and another set is performed immediately with again another prolonged stretch at the end, followed by a further drop and stretch; Set - Stretch-Pause - Set - Stretch-Pause - Set - Stretch-Pause - Rest. This is usually done at the end of the session when the muscle is already tired, so heavy weights are not used. The Stretching of the muscle may last 15-30 seconds and involves flexing the antagonist muscle while still holding the resistance. Start low and work up to longer periods.


All Set Variations are designed to exert varying levels of Intensity on particular muscle groups, some of them vary in difficulty and if unsure about the exact way to perform a set then please consult an exercise professional before attempting them. Please exercise safely, Liftness will not be responsible for any injuries experienced as a result of performing these Set Structures as described.

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