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I recently read somewhere that a massive superset composing of all muscle groups,each working the muscle until fatigue is more effective than multiple sets of the same variety(without fatigue) or multiple sets for different muscle groups, in one day or throughout the week. Which approach is actually better for strength gain, and which is better for size gain(more nonfunctional size)? Citations to prove your answer are expected.

What I mean by massive superset, is exercising all major muscle groups one after the other in a rep range to fatigue, without any rest.

  • I find the claim that multiple sets with rest builds strength better than a "massive superset" so basic that I'm offended that you expect citations. Unless you mean something different by "superset"? Or maybe I misunderstand what you intend to describe in your extended set of possibilities (multiple same sets, multiple different sets, one day or throughout the week)? – Dave Liepmann Apr 18 '15 at 2:48
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For most trainees, the best way to develop strength is to perform a few high-quality reps of compound lifts at a high percentage of the maximum you can lift in that exercise. There are many confounding factors but that's the foundation. Therefore, most strength programs emphasize 1-5 repetition sets where the amount lifted is close to your repetition maximum for the number of repetitions you executed, and where you rest significantly between sets.

Supersetting is basically not recommended for pure strength development. There are plenty of reasons to use supersets, and it can certainly drive strength gains, but it is not an optimal approach for developing strength as opposed to other attributes.

For size gain, both supersets and rested sets can be appropriate, depending on the trainee's overall programming.

It's unclear what part of this requires citations, since this covers a wide breadth of sports science.

  • "There are plenty of reasons to use supersets," Really? Highly doubtful. The novice "trainee" (thank you), by virtue of being able to do one set could get noticeable results with a superset. But the problem is the novice should do multiple sets to start with a less than maximal set until they gain stability. – Misunderstood Apr 19 '15 at 22:00
  • @Misunderstood Supersetting is orthogonal to number of sets. When I say superset, I am not conflating (as the OP seems to) supersets with "one massive superset". I do multiple rounds of supersets all the time. And there are plenty of training goals for which supersets are valid, e.g. general fitness, cardio, hypertrophy. And as you note, novices can use them to good effect. – Dave Liepmann Apr 19 '15 at 22:08
  • If you think I've phrased my point poorly, then I'm perfectly willing to rephrase. But what I meant was that there are scenarios where supersets are effective. If you disagree with that, then present your evidence that supersets are an inferior method for all trainees in all scenarios. – Dave Liepmann Apr 19 '15 at 22:11
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Multiple sets that follow a proven training schedule.

"Massive strength gains" are what every professional athlete and training team are looking for. The bros on bodybuilding.com and lurking in gyms across the world constantly think that they have unearthed the secret sauce to sick gainz, forgetting that there really are professional athletic organizations that make a science out of strength.

It's a long topic, but strength gains basically consists of constantly overloading yourself, balancing on the knife edge of too little (not enough adaptation) and too much (exhaustion / over training / injuries).

If you want to to bench 315 or squat 500, the training programs that they follow are very clear cut. There are differences, but they have a lot in common with each other. It's really shocking how very few people in gyms know anything about training.

Check out Westside Barbell's Program, the Texas method, or Madcow 5x5 if you're an intermediate lifter. Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5x5 if you're not hitting intermediate strength standards yet.

Honestly, if pyramid's/supersets/down-the-rack's or whatever else was a critical link in the chain to the Olympics or international records, you'd see those athletes making it a core component of their training. They simply don't have the time of flexibility to add non-essential "stuff" into their training.

Body builders, dudes on juice, and your general gym rat are a whole different ball of wax, but that's not the pursuit of pure un-adulterated strength.

  • @DaveLiepmann thanks for that, I'll revise: I mis-read. – Eric Apr 18 '15 at 3:00

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