Ok, if you workout by doing the same stuff you find on all websites: forget about all that, it’s bullshit. I mean it may work but it’s obsolete and inefficient. You need to train smartly basing your action on science and research rather than recommendations of popular gorillas. When you look like him you are on the right path:
Apart from the 1-set to failure workout method, heavily described in this post, the reading of scientific literature brought up a few potentially even better methods. They are all based on different hypothesis that can be incompatible…another problem to solve later. Let me start by reminding the One-set-to-failure Method so I can link it to newer stuff.
#1 : One-set-to-failure Method
Process: Warm up well, do one set to failure at 8RM of each exercise, full body workout, stretch after each exercise. Target 1 more rep until you reach 12RM and add load to get down to 8RM. One workout every 4 days with plenty of water. Sleep well. Don’t supplement. Just eat well.
Advantages: It takes only 30 minutes every 4 days and results are great and fast.
Problem: You can only see your 1RM progress once every 3 to 5 month when you reach 12RM. Not very motivating although you see your number of reps increasing => Must find a way to estimate the 1RM of each exercise at EACH WORKOUT => 2 sets needed (cf. Two-set 1RM estimation)
#2 : Two-set-to-failure Method
Process: Same as the one-set-to-failure method, except that you do two sets, at different RM values. Meaning for example one set with a heavy load (say 6RM) and one at a lighter load (say 12RM). Then using the Two-set 1RM estimation, you can track your 1RM at every workout!
Advantages: Motivating, because every exercise’s 1RM can be tracked for each workout.
Drawbacks: Each workout takes twice as long, so about 1 hour.
#3 : Three-set-to-failure Method
(involves hypothesis to be validated)
It is suggested in “Exercise Physiology” that when attempting to perform a 1RM, you never are at your best at the first try. Doing consecutive tries increases each time your 1RM load. It converges after 3 tries so 3 tries are enough to really express you 1RM potential. Although it would invalidate the above-mentioned proposals, this finding gives another great opportunity to optimize resistance training methods. ASSUMING that is true (Hypothesis 1 : H1) and that the same works with submaximal load (H2), it would take 3 sets to really perform the maximum amount of reps you can do with a given weight.
Process: Same as 1-set-to-failure methodology, except that what is important is the 3rd set only. So instead of putting your 8RM first, you may start the first set with 7RM. The second set would yield a better performance, so with the same weight you would do 7.5 reps, then the third hopefully 8 reps. In other words what you though was your 7RM weight is in fact your 8RM weight. Hit the gym with intention of doing one more rep than the previous workout.
The days you reach 12RM (after 3 tries), you want to try a different load to assess your 1RM using the Two-set 1RM estimation.
Advantages: Motivating in that you know that each time you are lifting the very best you can do.
Drawbacks: Each workout takes now 3 times longer than the single-set method, so if you don’t have a lot of time you may want to do less exercises.
#4 : Periodic 1-set-to-failure Method
(involves hypothesis to be validated)
Sometimes, although you have the firm intention of performing one more set, you just can do it. Maybe doing more sets as suggested in (H2) would help. But I came to think about another hypothesis to explain and counter this plateau linking to what I had read on Progressive Training (see Restimulating Progress by changing exercices on ExRx.net).
Process: Same as 1-set-to-failure methodology, except that you are not linearly trying to transform to move from 8 reps to 12 reps with the same load. Here, you want to oscillate from 9RM, to 6RM, to 3RM an backwards, while trying to move that all to say 12RM, 7.5RM, 4RM. It’s a bit more complex to plan and understand, but it may work especially for advanced sportsmen that have reached a plateau.
The day you finally perform 12RM with what was initially your 8RM load, you want to try a different load to assess your 1RM using the Two-set 1RM estimation.
Alternating loads brings more change in your workout and that is more fun. It also can be a source of great satisfaction as it would help you go beyond you plateau limits
On average it takes even less time than the single-set method.
This method could be combined with Method #3 + Method #2 for extremely optimized training. Frequency would have to be reduced and greater preparation would be critical. It would indeed 4 sets to fatigue per exercise (3 to reach maximum potential + 1 with different to estimate 1RM).
Drawbacks: Maybe having to integrate loads that are below 8RM which can be tough on the joints of fragile trainers.
- (H0) Heavy load (low-reps) generates more FT fibers, and low load (high-reps) generates more ST fibers.
- (H1) Several consecutive attempts of 1RM yield better performance each time and converge after 3 tries.
- (H2) Hypothesis (H1) is valid and works for submaximal loads.
- (H3) Alternating programs significantly help unlock plateau performance