One of the tenets of strength training is you have to, over time, change things up. The strength training workout you did three months ago is yesterday’s news since your body has already adapted to it. You want your body to adapt since without this ability it can’t change. Without adaptation, you’ll never get the toned, strong muscles you’re looking for. You just don’t want it to adapt to the point that it doesn’t work as hard and no longer “feels the burn” when you work it. Changing your workout or changing one or more training variables keeps this from happening.
Using Giant Sets to Jump Start Growth
What are giant sets and how can they help you get fitter? It was Joe Weider who came up with the term “giant sets.” With a name like that, you know they must be effective – and they are. You’re probably familiar with supersets – two exercises performed back to back with minimal rest in between. Giant sets take supersets a step tougher by adding an additional exercise. So, you do three exercises or more in a row with little rest between.
In fact, some versions of giant sets add several more exercises for a total of four or more exercises in a row. If you do three, it’s called tri-setting whereas four or more is giant setting. Each exercise in a giant set works a single group of muscles. So, there’s no switching back and forth between upper and lower body. You want the muscle group you’re working in a particular giant set to be exhausted by the time you finish. Doing three to four exercises back to back targeting the same muscle group is a good way to accomplish that.
Once you’ve completed the set of three or more exercises, you may rest one or two minutes and move on to the next giant set. As you can see, due to the lack of rest between exercises, giant sets are a time-efficient way to work out but, most importantly, it’s a different way to structure a workout, challenge your muscles, and get new muscle growth.
How much should you rest between each exercise within a giant set? As little as possible, typically no more than 20 seconds. No stopping to stand around or stretch. One of the benefits of giant set is you move from exercise to exercise at lightening speed, making it a time-expedient approach to training. The rapid-fire movement from exercise to exercise elevates your heart rate more, boosts your metabolic rate, and triggers a greater anabolic response.
What Exercises Work Best for Giant Sets?
Giant sets work best with compound exercises that target large muscle groups, for example, the thighs, chest, and back. When you focus your giant sets on large muscle groups, you also boost the calorie burn and your heart rate more than with traditional training. As you might expect, it’s challenging to do three or four exercises in a row that target one group of muscles – so be prepared for a challenge! Of course, challenge brings change. You can also get benefits doing giant sets with isolation exercises, like biceps curls, but the calorie burn and anabolic effect are likely to be less pronounced.
What Does Science Say?
Giant sets might sound effective in theory but what does research say? There aren’t a lot of studies specifically looking at giant sets. However, a few studies have focused on supersets, but you might assume that if supersets are effective, giant sets would be as much if not more so. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed supersets are superior to traditional resistance training in terms of increasing energy expenditure. In this study, reciprocal supersets led to a greater increase in blood lactate as well as a more pronounced after-burn. Research suggests that supersets and giant sets are comparable to high-resistance circuit training.
Getting Started with Giant Sets
If you haven’t done giant sets before, you may only be able to do two complete giant sets in a workout but keep working at it until you can do four. If you’ve done supersets before, you have a taste of the challenge you’re encountering. You’re adding one or two more exercises to a superset to create a giant set.
It’s also best to make giant sets part of a periodization scheme. They’re too exhausting to do every time you work out. A week or two of giant sets is an effective way to break out of a plateau. However, always warm up thoroughly beforehand. You’re working big muscles and you want your entire body to be warm and flexible enough to avoid injury.
Giant Sets as a Plateau Buster
Muscle growth is easier for some people than others. If you’re a slow or hard gainer, adding giant sets to the mix may be just what you need to boost muscle growth. You’re also getting more fat-burning benefits than you would get from training due to the shorter rest periods. The lack of rest creates metabolic stress that contributes to muscle growth. It’s not the ideal approach for building raw strength since you’re not giving your muscles enough time to rest to maximize how much you lift on the next set. Instead, you get a workout approach that helps build muscle size and get you leaner.
Of course, if you’re a hard-gainer, focus on nutrition as well. Although stale training and plateaus is one reason for lack of muscle growth, so is inadequate calories and protein. No matter what type of training you’re doing, nutrition matters.
The Bottom Line
Giant sets are challenging but effective, especially when you’re short on time or have the goal of burning more body fat as you build muscle size. It’s also a plateau buster and a way to add variety to your workout. Your muscles need periodic change but so does your brain. Doing something different helps keep you challenged and motivated. Don’t be afraid to try your hand at giant sets. It could pay off with a leaner, more defined body.
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 2010 – Volume 24 – Issue 4 – pp 1043-1051 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d3e993.
Fitness Republic. “Everything To Know About Drop Sets, Supersets and Giant Sets!”
On Fitness. November/December 2016. “Giant Setting”