Nutrition science is a relatively new discipline, and it’s rapidly changing. We’re still finding out new things about all the different nutrients and food components that affect our health. This isn’t surprising, since we’re only in the early stages of discovering all the many ways that food affects our health.

In a world where the word “more” is used to describe almost any type of food or drink, it’s easy to think that there is no end to the amount of more that can be consumed. However, when we reach a point where we are consuming more than we require to maintain a healthy lifestyle, then that may be enough. In other words, more isn’t necessarily better.

In this blog post, I will review the research behind the “more is better” diet paradigm – and show why the evidence is not sufficient to support a “more is better” approach. Specifically, I will show that a more is not better approach will fail in the long-term, because it cannot maintain weight loss.. Read more about what is the value of review articles and let us know what you think.

Have you ever wondered whether going to the gym is a waste of time?

Yes, you’re wasting your time (and possibly theirs, unless they’re federal auditors) if you regularly argue other gym members on the efficacy of government spending on economic recovery during your exercise. But I’m not talking about blatant time wasters; I’m talking about squandered sets. I’d want to know:

What is the bare minimum of sets I need to see strength and muscle mass gains?

I figured I’d start with a contentious topic since I haven’t done a “training” review in this column. High intensity training, or HIT, is a strength training method that most of you have undoubtedly heard of (not to be confused with high intensity interval training, aka HIIT, which is a cardiovascular training technique). HIT’s fundamental principle is to exercise with a modest volume yet to push each session to extreme exhaustion or “failure.” While this isn’t the standard for HIT, in the most severe instances, just one set per exercise is used, and that’s what I’ll be looking at in this study review.

Question for investigation

There have been numerous studies comparing single vs many sets, but none have maintained as many training variables constant as this one. Six out of seven training factors were kept the same in this study: exercise selection, exercise order, frequency (how many times per week), load (aka intensity), repetition, and rest. The loading volume – i.e. the number of sets – was the only thing that varied. Researchers may compare the differences between one set and three sets in this manner.

Egeland W, Kvamme NH, Refsnes PE, Kadi F, Raastad T. Rnnestad BR, Egeland W, Kvamme NH, Refsnes PE, Kadi F, Raastad T. In untrained individuals, one- and three-set strength training had different impacts on strength and muscle mass increases in the upper and lower body. 2007 Feb;21(1):157-63 in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Methods

This study employed 24 untrained males with an average age of 26.5 years. Strength training was described as exercising less than three times per month as “untrained.” The fact that these men were untrained is critical, and it will almost certainly influence the study’s result – more on that later.

The majority of training research use untrained individuals. This may be attributed to one of two factors. For starters, it’s far simpler to recruit untrained volunteers since they make up a greater proportion of the population. (Unfortunately.) Second, individuals who have been taught are considerably less likely to alter their current training in order to follow the study’s recommendations. Most trained people have become used to a certain kind of training program, and they are hesitant to attempt anything new that may restrict their development or be seen as inferior.

Over the course of 11 weeks, all of the research participants performed three exercises. Over the course of 11 weeks, the number of repetitions (reps) varied.

2nd and 3rd weeks: 10 reps/set 3–4 weeks: 8 reps/set 5–11 weeks: 7 reps/set

(I calculated 10 weeks total ([email protected] reps, [email protected] reps, and [email protected] reps) based on the authors’ report.) In any case, throughout the course of the training, there was a trend of fewer reps and rising load.

Each participant was randomly allocated to one of two groups: 1L-3UB (1 lower body set – 3 upper body sets) or 3L-1UB (3 lower body sets – 1 upper body set) in order to compare one set against several sets. The following is a diagram of the tasks that the two groups had to complete:

Exercises Breakdown of the 1L-3UB set Breakdown of the 3L-1UB set
Leg press 1 set 3 sets
Extending your legs 1 set 3 sets
Leg curl 1 set 3 sets
Press your chest while seated. 3 sets 1 set
Rowing while seated 3 sets 1 set
Pulling down on the latissimus dorsi muscle 3 sets 1 set
Curl your biceps 3 sets 1 set
Pressing your shoulders 3 sets 1 set

The concept behind this design is that each group will have an identical load volume, which means that if you double the amount of repetitions, sets, and load for each exercise and add them up, you’ll get an equal number of reps, sets, and load for each exercise.

For instance, 1000 kg Equals 10 repetitions × 1 set x 100 kg (load).

It’s the total amount of weight moved throughout a workout session. Because most individuals can move more weight with their legs than with their arms, the research included additional upper body workouts to ensure an equivalent load volume while maintaining the same number of sets and reps. For the first weeks, this worked quite well: 1L-3UB had a total training load volume of 9,201 kg, whereas 3L-1UB had a total training volume of 9,676 kg. For the last weeks, there was no change in load volume.

Many of you may be thinking, “Why don’t we simply have one group do one set of everything and another group do three sets of everything?” After all, isn’t that how people train? However, a design like that — equal sets for every exercise – would result in enormous volume and load disparities. Because of the impacts of sets and volume, the findings would be confused. Sets and volume are distinct, even if it’s a little one. As a result, volume (particularly, load volume) has to be the same to determine the significance of sets.

Results

Researchers looked at a number of factors:

  • On all exercises, do 1 repetition maximums (1RM).
  • The cross-sectional area of a muscle (a measure of hypertrophy, aka muscle size increase)
  • Body fat percentage
  • Fat mass

DEXA was used to determine both lean and fat mass (dual x-ray absorptiometry).

Here are the outcomes.

  1. Over the course of training, all individuals improved their % of 1RM in both upper and lower body activities (0 week compared to 11 week). In other words, they grew in total strength.
  2. In comparison to 1L-3UB, the 3L-1UB group showed smaller body increases in 1RM. Lower body 1RM rose by 41% in the 3L-1UB group, compared to 21% in the 1L-3UB group.
  3. In upper body workouts, there were no differences in 1RM increases across groups.
  4. A bigger increase in thigh (knee extensor & flexor) muscle cross section area in the 3L-1UB group compared to 1L-3UB group.
  5. Participants increased lean body mass (approximately 6% increase) while losing fat (about a 10 percent change).
  6. There was no change in total lean body mass or fat mass across groups, despite the fact that only 5 people from each group took part in the examinations.

Three sets of lower body exercises (3L-1UB) seem to be superior than one set of lower body workouts (1L-3UB), with the 3L-1UB group gaining greater muscle and strength. However, when three sets of upper body exercises were compared to one set, the same effect did not happen. In such instance, there was no difference between 1L-3UB and 3L-1UB in terms of muscle growth or strength.

Multiple sets seem to be “better” for lower body workouts, but not for upper body activities, according to one research. Weird. Isn’t a muscle just that? Isn’t it true that one muscle reacts the same manner as another, regardless of its location?

The authors provide a few possible explanations:

1. “Effects of daily life training”

Leg muscles are more often used than upper body muscles, therefore they are well-trained. The “untrained” individuals’ daily walking, standing, and stair climbing may have resulted in a degree of leg muscle training that altered how the lower body reacted to exercise. As a result, trained individuals/muscles react more favorably to additional sets, according to the study. That’s all right. While I think that a trained muscle responds better to increased volume, I’m not sure how much I believe that anybody in a “trained” condition is challenged by contemporary everyday life.

The function of hormonal receptors and hormones in upper and lower body muscle is discussed in the following two explanations.

2. Androgen receptor variations

The androgen receptors in upper body muscles are higher than those in lower body muscles. Lower body muscles are more responsive to sets than upper body muscles, according to the researchers, since lower body muscles have less androgen receptors.

Hmm, I’m not sure about this. According to the scientists, the muscles that are most susceptible to androgenic hormones are also the least responsive to repeated sets. What is the relationship between these two variables? Could you claim that since the upper body is closer to the brain, it has more neurological drive and is more effective at muscle recruitment, making several sets less effective? I perhaps, but I don’t believe there is any link between the two. Simply because something is true does not imply that it is relevant to the experiment. This theory does not explain the differences across groups, in my opinion.

3. Hormone reaction

Last but not least, three sets of lower body exercise produce a greater hormonal reaction than one set, and these hormones “spill over” to the upper body. 3 sets of lower body work may release more anabolic hormones than 1 set of lower body work, and 3 sets of upper body work may release more anabolic hormones than 1 set of upper body work. I believe this is the most probable scenario. Three rounds of lower-body exercises would raise anabolic hormone levels (growth hormone and testosterone), resulting in greater upper-body strength and hypertrophy. As a result, the resemblance between 1 set and 3 sets in upper body workouts is due to the lower body sets, not the upper body activities.

While this is accurate, it ignores one issue: the fact that upper-body gains are not proportional to lower-body increases. If the lack of difference between 1 and 3 sets is due to hormonal factors, you should anticipate proportionately similar increases to those observed in the lower body.

Conclusion

Even in untrained people, 3 sets are better than 1 set for hypertrophy and strength when exercising the lower body if everything else is equal. However, for some reason, 1 set appears to be equally as efficient as 3 sets for upper body training in untrained people — at least for the first 11 weeks.

If you’re untrained and short on time, you can get away with one set of upper body exercises, but three sets of lower body exercises are recommended.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a good research review?

A good research review is one that is thorough, well-organized, and makes a convincing argument for the use of the reviewed product.

Why is research review important?

Research review is important because it helps to ensure that the research being done is reliable and valid.

Are research articles more important than literature review?

Research articles are more important than literature reviews.

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