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Single vs multiple set training for muscle growth, review

PainSci » bibliography » Krieger 2010
Tags: exercise, classics, self-treatment, treatment

One article on PainSci cites Krieger 2010: Strength Training Frequency

PainSci commentary on Krieger 2010: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

[This study has been superceded by a newer one, Schoenfeld 2016, with roughly similar conclusions.]

If you’re trying to build muscle size (hypertrophy), how many sets should you do? One set? Two sets? (Red set, blue set?) This is the best review of the evidence to date. While it can’t conclusively settle the issue until there’s more data, it does strongly suggest that “more is better,” and yet at the same time it reaffirms that “less is still actually pretty good.” Single sets will get the job done, which is ideal if your goal is bang-for-buck. If you want to be “hyooge,” though, definitely go with more sets.

Alas, there wasn’t that much data to review, just 8 studies, and only 2 of those included higher numbers of sets. That’s not a lot to work with. But the results are consistent with the more complete data about strength (see Krieger’s 2009 review, Krieger), and strength and muscle size do tend to go together.

Carpinelli, a critic of much exercise science, did not like this paper, but Krieger defended himself quite persuasively on his blog, Weightology.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Previous meta-analyses have compared the effects of single to multiple sets on strength, but analyses on muscle hypertrophy are lacking. The purpose of this study was to use multilevel meta-regression to compare the effects of single and multiple sets per exercise on muscle hypertrophy. The analysis comprised 55 effect sizes (ESs), nested within 19 treatment groups and 8 studies. Multiple sets were associated with a larger ES than a single set (difference = 0.10 +/- 0.04; confidence interval [CI]: 0.02, 0.19; p = 0.016). In a dose-response model, there was a trend for 2-3 sets per exercise to be associated with a greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.09 +/- 0.05; CI: -0.02, 0.20; p = 0.09), and a trend for 4-6 sets per exercise to be associated with a greater ES than 1 set (difference = 0.20 +/- 0.11; CI: -0.04, 0.43; p = 0.096). Both of these trends were significant when considering permutation test p values (p < 0.01). There was no significant difference between 2-3 sets per exercise and 4-6 sets per exercise (difference = 0.10 +/- 0.10; CI: -0.09, 0.30; p = 0.29). There was a tendency for increasing ESs for an increasing number of sets (0.24 for 1 set, 0.34 for 2-3 sets, and 0.44 for 4-6 sets). Sensitivity analysis revealed no highly influential studies that affected the magnitude of the observed differences, but one study did slightly influence the level of significance and CI width. No evidence of publication bias was observed. In conclusion, multiple sets are associated with 40% greater hypertrophy-related ESs than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects.

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