Ryan Powers

Entrepreneur, Fitness Enthusiast, Strength Coach

Giant Sets For Giant Gain

What if I told you that there is another way to stimulate muscular growth? A not so secrete weapon that has been utilized for generations by top athletes in various metric driven sports. Think of it like controlled interval training with weights where you retool the energy expenditure and your body is forced to adapt and therefore improve. This installment explains the philosophy of giant sets for giant gains.  

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A little background...

A giant set, can come in many forms and flavors. It may be to train off a muscle group, align with the same muscle group, or even the same or near same exercise (ie double drop set). You may get to a point where you will eventually architect your own approach. A simple way to classify this is as an intensifier method to a particular movement, muscle group, or even workout. Much like a drop set is to a working set. The difference is you are planning this ahead of time over the course of multiple sets throughout the entire exercise or even workout.

Other methods that are affective include a buildup to one non-stop interval of max effort set.  (hence giant set) By building up to this single moment - you would perform up to 4 (traditional) sets back-to-back with descending weight and (normally) ascending rep ranges. 

Full disclosure there are many articles floating in the ether that describe a giant set as a circuit where multiple and many times opposing muscle groups are performed with little to no rest in between. We feel this is where the line becomes blurred and the term circuit or HIIT is better suited for this style of workout. That is not by definition a giant set although we certainly respect the greats who disagree with us. None the less, this article was not written to explore the vernacular differences, but to focus on the core strategy when performing a giant set on the same muscle group as well as a great buildup method on a particular movement. 

How to perform a giant set?

Before we explain, you must know your tolerances very well as this takes some planning mentioned above. That said, we recommend intermediate and advanced athletes only attempt this with some trial and error utilizing a partner and/or a familiar spotter. 

In any giant set method there is almost no scenario in which the first set doesn't begin with a very powerful compound movement. This movement would be very heavy and only after being warmed up. The following 3-5 sets are then performed right after and are congruent in there function to stimulate a particular muscle while providing just enough time off certain angles. 

Example: Flat Bench Press :: Weighted Dips :: Dumbbell Incline Press :: Standing Cable Fly

Another great example of a giant set is within the same exercise itself and requires loading sets (medium load working sets). We recommend 2-3 loading sets in the 60-70% 1 rep max range. During this build up you are getting your nervous system and muscles primed for a dog fight. Keeping in mind a few of those sets are intended to be working sets so muscle simulation will occur after all so be aware of energy expenditure. 

The final "giant set" we recommend a starting with a template similar to a  5 - 8 - 10 - 12 split on reps with overall weight being reduced by 25% each split. In old school terms we called them "peelers" or more commonly known as double drop set. Yea, this has been around for awhile, but todays youth forgot about this one. 

For ideal response, you should have someone unloading weight while you focus on getting a little bit of oxygen before your next set. 

If performed the set correctly and you are in semi-quality cardiovascular shape, your muscles will have a stingy annoying burn that makes you want to stop. Don't stop. This level of stimulant hypertrophy is what we are going for here. 

Why even do it?

Think of your body as an input output machine where it's entire job is to do perform that task you are giving it to the best of its ability time in and time out. Each passing time it sees and recognizes that particular workload and improves upon itself making it as physically steady and ideal as possible to perform - brining balance again. Therefore, your body will change and adapt to best suite the task given. 

We want to disrupt this stagnant harmony. We want to take the body outside of its comfort zone by simulating and overloading the muscle in ways it's not use to, forcing change.  

By interrupting that status queue and creating this forced stimulation we hope to promote muscular improvement and growth. Your body will release more growth hormone which will aid in the synthesizing of protein in your diet. 

The Cons...

First and foremost, it takes some planning and flexibility amongst the gym if you plan to be at multiple stations at your local gym. 

It's also hard. It takes focus and fortitude that most don't care to do because there isn't much of a fun factor involved unless you are a glutton for punishment, like myself. 

I will put anther cautionary clause in here to say that if you aren't aware of your own bodily thresholds, weight ranges, and are not well trained this may not be for you yet. This can be somewhat injury or tendentious prone at high volume. 

SUMMARY

Giant Sets create the new stimulus your muscles need to promote change, improvement, and growth. There is just one catch. It's hard.  

The Angle 

Giant Sets is a bit of a loose description of a couple of different approaches, but have universally adopted as a great intensifier method.. 

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