Types of Set Structure

Reps x sets x weight = volume.  This is the basis of all weight lifting workouts.  As volume increases overtime you earn results.   

Most people think of lifting heavier weights as the primary factor in increasing volume.   While increasing weight over time is important, there is a limit to overall strength.  Eventually every fitness enthusiast hits a weight ceiling.  This fact makes set structure important.  If you start to hit a weight plateau, adding more sets and reps is the best way to increase your overall volume.  

Changing your reps x sets x weight structure is also a way of strategically organizing your workout to target different muscle fibers.  This will  develop overall muscle mass, strength, and endurance over time.  Utilizing a variety of set structures from workout to workout is the best way to become a well-rounded athlete.  

In addition, adjusting your set structure will not only help you continually improve, it can help you maximize your time in the gym, prevent injury, and keep your workouts fresh.  


Straight sets is the standard method for weight lifting.  This method is perfect for beginners, but should be used by every weight lifter.    Straight sets require the same number of repetitions for each set with a uniform rest period in between.  The format of your sets depends on your goal.  For example, typical workouts would look like this:

Muscular strength - sets from 3-10, reps of 1-5, rests 1-2+ minutes

Muscular growth - sets from 3-10, reps of 6-12, rests 30 seconds-2 minutes

Muscular endurance - sets from 2-4, reps of 13-20+, rests 30 seconds-1 minutes.

Straight sets are an efficient way to steadily reach your goals.  Straight-sets in a well-developed periodization program is the gold standard for a weight lifting program.  


In pyramid sets, also called ascending pyramids, you change the reps and sets as you progress though your workout.  For example:

5 sets - 15 reps with 35 lbs, 12 reps with 40 lbs, 10 reps with 45 lbs, 8 reps with 50 lbs,    6 reps 55 lbs

Pyramid sets are great because they warm-up the muscle.  This is a great technique to use in the beginning of your workout.  Pyramids are also a high-volume training technique.  You ultimately do a lot of sets, ensuring that you stimulate adaptation.   An important key to pyramiding is to never take your warm-up sets to failure.  After you reach failure your strength is compromised on the following sets.  Failure should be saved for the last set.  For this reason, ascending pyramids are best for strength and endurance gains.  


Reverse pyramids simply reverse the ascending rep scheme: 

5 sets - 6 reps with 55 lbs, 8 reps with 50 lbs, 10 reps with 45 lbs, 12 reps with 40 lbs, 15 reps 35 lbs

Reverse pyramids are best for muscular growth.  Unlike ascending pyramids, descending pyramids (or reverse pyramids) let you reach muscle failure more often.  Reaching failure, the point where your muscle is unable to complete any more reps, in the 6-12 rep range stimulates IIb muscle fibers and growth hormone.  

In terms of recruitment, as you lift slow twitch fibers (Type I) are recruited first, followed by Type IIa.  Only when both Type I and Type IIa are fatigued will IIb fibers be challenged.  In terms of hypertrophy, IIb fibers have the most potential for growth.  This intensity mixed with high-volume makes reverse pyramids a perfect recipe for muscular growth.  


Super sets pair two exercises together with no rest in between.  Your rest comes after the two exercises are complete.  There are three main types of super sets:

  1. Agonist: pairing two exercises that work the same muscle group - this strategy can help fatigue a muscle without completely reaching failure.  You can also pair a high rep exercises with a power exercise to hit different muscle fibers

  2. Antagonist: pairing opposing muscle groups together, for example quads and hams or back and chest - this strategy lets one muscle group fully recover while another muscle group works.  

  3. Upper/Lower: pairing an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise.

All superset methods allow you to perform more work in less time.  This technique also lets you train your cardiovascular system by reducing your rest time.  This technique is perfect for the busy fitness enthusiast who wants to maximize their time and results.  


Trisets and Giant sets use the same method as super setting.  Trisets combine three exercises together with no rest, giant sets combine 4 or more exercises with no rest.  


Drop sets add volume and push your muscles by adding more reps after your muscle reaches failure.  For example, instead of finishing a straight set at the 10th rep, you would immediately drop your weights and rep out as many more as possible. Once you reach failure again with the lower weight you drop your weight again and repeat.  This method is perfect as the last set of your biggest lift, or your last 1 or 2 sets of a workout.  

Utilizing all these techniques within your program will help you train all three muscle fibers, make you a well-rounded athlete, and maximize your results.     STF workouts use all these methods to create a well-rounded, balanced program that ensures injury prevention and maximum gains.  Join the STF VIP MEMBERSHIP program today to start achieving your best!