Giant sets – the term sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? You might envision grunting and moaning as you struggle to lift a “giant” weight that’s too heavy for you to handle. Don’t worry! That’s not what giant sets are all about. In fact, you’ll typically use weights that are lighter than what you usually lift when you’re training the standard way.
Giant sets are really a type of superset. What makes giant sets so compelling is the way they work your muscles in a different way to help you avoid plateaus. Your muscles adapt to the movements you impose on them over time. Because they’re an advanced training approach, giant sets can help you break out of a plateau or avoid one entirely. Your muscles need to be challenged in new ways to continue to make gains!
Giant Sets: A Time Expedient Way to Train
What exactly is a giant set? It’s an approach where you do three or more exercises in a row with minimal rest in between. You’re probably already familiar with supersets where you complete two exercises in sequence, targeting either agonist or antagonist muscles, with minimal rest in between. Well, giant sets up the challenge even more by adding additional sets to the superset. You can theoretically do five, or six exercises in sequence as part of a giant set. So, they’re like “super” supersets and a bit more challenging than traditional superset training.
You can approach giant sets in several ways. You can choose exercises that work only specific muscle groups or use giant sets to blast all the muscles in your upper or lower body. Once you have your exercises lined up for a giant set, cycle through the exercises in the specified sequence with little or no rest between exercises. After completing the exercises one time through, take a break of two to three minutes and then complete another set. All total try to cycle through the exercises in giant sets between three to five times. If you include four exercises in each giant set and you cycle through four times, you’ll do a total of 16 sets – and you’ll probably be exhausted as well!
The goal of giant sets is not to max out on the weights. Because you’re not resting between sets and giving your muscles time to recover, you’ll use lighter weights of 50% – 70% of your one-rep max. With giant sets, you’ll fatigue the muscle due to high volume rather than by lifting extremely heavy weights. But, don’t go too light. Your muscles should be thoroughly fatigued at the completion of each round.
An example of an upper body giant set with four exercises would be something like this:
· Push-ups (12 reps)
· Bent-over rows (12 reps)
· Biceps curls (12 reps)
· Overhead presses (12 reps)
A lower body giant set might be something along these lines:
· Forward or backward lunges (12 reps)
· Squats (12 reps)
· Calf raises (12 reps)
· Deadlifts (12 reps)
If you’re targeting a particular muscle group with giant sets, you would choose exercises that work that muscle group via different angles. For example, a biceps giant set might consist of standard dumbbell curls, preacher curls, barbell preacher curls, and standing hammer curls.
If You Do Giant Sets, Here Are Some Recommendations
Giant sets are an advanced training method and one that places more stress on your muscles and your body, so don’t do them until you’ve been training at least six months. You should build up a certain level of baseline strength and competence and know how to complete the exercises you’ll be doing using good form. Any time you use a more advanced training strategy, you’re at higher risk of injury.
But, using more advanced approaches can also potentially lead to greater gains. Giant sets are simply another way of placing progressive overload on the muscles you’re working to boost gains. They’re a variety of other approaches that do this as well, such as drop sets and negatives, etc. But, these are all strategies to employ once you have mastered the basics.
Don’t forget to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes by doing a dynamic warm-up before tackling giant sets. Never try to perform these moves with cold muscles. After finishing, do a cooldown. You deserve it! Giant sets are tough and with toughness comes change. Also, be judicious with how often you do them. Once or twice a week should be the max as they place additional stress on your muscles and you need more recovery time.
What Are the Benefits of Giant Sets?
As mentioned, giant sets work your muscles in a manner they’re not accustomed to, which is helpful for avoiding plateaus. Plus, with giant sets, the training density is high because you pack lots of sets into a short period of time. That’s time expedient but it also creates a greater stimulus for fat burning. You’re working muscles to exhaustion, so you’re activating lots of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Is their effectiveness proven? You can extrapolate from studies with supersets that giant sets have benefits. For example, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that supersets create a greater after-burn effect than training in a traditional manner. That means you burn additional calories after the workout is over when you train in this manner.
The Bottom Line
Now, you have another way to structure your workouts and an advanced strategy to help you make greater gains. Include them judiciously in your workouts, but don’t overdo it. Any time you use an advanced training strategy where you expose your muscles to a higher level of stress, you need more time between such sessions. So, once a week is often enough to get results without overtaxing your muscles. You can also alternate giant sets with other advanced training strategies. It’s fun and challenging to train in a different way, so take advantage of all that this training approach has to offer.
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 2010 – Volume 24 – Issue 4 – pp 1043-1051 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d3e993.
J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1043-51. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d3e993.
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