Multiple Sets Vs Ramping to a Top Set
Well it doesn't have to be quite as dramatic as one or the other :) But I'm curious as to people's opinions here. This is what I mean:
Multiple Sets Across
Back Squat 135lbs x 5 (WU), 220lbs x 5 (WU), 265lbs x 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
Ramping to a Top Set
Back Squat 135lbs x 5 (WU), 185lbs x 5 (WU), 220lbs x 5 (WU), 315lbs x 5
Obviously both are used and will continue to be used by people, but I'm interested in what people think are the benefits of each. In terms of what they offer, how they play in with weekly volume, how they interplay with overall intensity. How they play out at different strength and experience levels, etc etc.
I like a ramping style both for warming up the muscle and controling the heavy weight. Prep the CNS.
For me I go streight into it ( I used to ) the top weight feels 2X's as heavy right off the bat in the first set, unlike working into it (ramping up ) the top weight only feels a bit heaver than the last set and my control is better.
I think that they're both good and I incorporate both. When performing a new exercise, or at least a variation on one I'm familiar with, I usually work up to a max-ish set. For example today I did high box squats and worked up to a big single. This gives plenty of volume as you work the way up the weight. However, I also find it beneficial to work at sub maximal weights for sets across to really hit home the intensity and volume as each set is tough.
I find the latter better for a more linear style of progression, or if not then one based around set percentages where the weight being performed is pre-determined by 1 rep maxes and the like.
For example, when I'm training with someone, I like to have them work up to a heavy single, possibly a PB or fairly close. Then I have them drop back and hit 5x5 with around 80% of what they achieve. This way you get the best of both worlds. Obviously this is just a one off, but it gives you a slight idea of what I mean. Ish.
I think the straight sets have value for beginners and intermediates, as some of the work is helping to build muscle and tendon/ligament strength. But for the highly experienced/late intermediate I do have to question the value of the straight set, lower intensity approach.
Currently I am not a fan of doing sets that are not:
A) Heavy for the purpose of building strength.
B) All out, for the purpose of building muscle. (Not to failure; but rather near failure)
I spent 18-24 months stagnating on bench and squats, and tried everything you can image. Keep in mind that this stagnation was occurring in the 80-85% of 1RM range and below. I was no longer able to go from 5 to 6 reps on a lift. I tried moving squats from a 405x5 for nearly 18 months and never gained a single rep from all the various things I tried.
One thing I found out is that I was wasting a lot of work. Instead of doing intense work (90%+), I was still trying to play the simple progression game, which involved adding reps to a lower frequency set/rep structure, or adding weight to a lower frequency set/rep structure. Neither worked for me at all at this point.
I believe at some point in our training most of us simply won't add much strength knocking out set after set of 5 reps. As one gets stronger, the game changes and this simply is not the best way to challenge the body and add strength. (This excludes the training of weak areas using certain lifts, as they are probably still responding to simple progression quite well)
Certainly the game is different for everyone, but I personally feel at some point lower intensity rep-training can be a huge waste of effort.
I think the intensity has to be there as some point. Which method is most effective - Westside, 16 week periodization, whatever, is debatable. But 90%+ training has to be there at some point.
As an intermediate I never found value in doing straight sets. It was always easier, and more challenging for me to try and move from 5 reps to 8 reps with a weight, than to stick with a 3x5 or 5x5 and add weight each week.
I simply don't think weekly weight additions are the best approach once you leave the beginner stage behind. Some of the sets can be soft, meaning not challenging, and I would prefer to try and push on every set.
That's just me. I hate wasting sets. I would rather do 3 sets and push for max reps than to do a 5x5. As an intermediate I wanted to leave the gym every workout knowing I pushed progression to the limit.
All this is merely my personal experience. Mileage may vary. Please consult your physician before engaging in frequent physical activity. If an erection lasts longer than 3 hours, contact your local ER. I reserve the right to be wrong.
I typed something up, but my thoughts were very scattered and as I read it, I couldn't make sense of it myself so I think I'll just sum it up without as detailed of an explanation.
I think straight sets are best for making more "permanent" and manageable strength gains. The increases may be smaller and take longer, but will ultimately keep you healthy and strong.
When I use ramping sets, its generally for big increases to 1RMs or 5RMs. I find them to be very useful in terms of breaking mental barriers, to help you free up some potential physical strength you may not have known you had. I find that while they're very useful, the intensity can be so high that its hard to keep it consistent and eventually leads to being burned out. I may do very high intensity and PR breaking singles or sets for several sessions or weeks in a row. And while the pay out may be significant, the result is getting burned out if left unchecked.
When I was making my best gains overall, I was using a variation of Texas Method. Which as some of you may know, is a mix of straight sets and ramping.
However, as I type this, I realize that never in my time of lifting have I tried manageable ramping sets. IE, lifting up to a high intensity set or 5RM and then repeating that lift week after week before increasing it again. Any time that I do ramping sets I go for big increases every time, instead of working with very high intensity single sets week after week. If that makes any sense at all...
@BTB, the last paragraph threw me for a loop...hahaha
In my experience, I found that both styles work well for MYSELF, but not well for others and this could according to a person's strength levels, injuries, and whatnot. Example, I have a client who responds well to this format (ex.135x5, 135x5, 145x5, 145x5, 155x5) still a 5x5 but with progression. Also I have a client that responds better to just 135x5x5 across the board.
Basically, I agree with Hazz, Rich, and BTB
Each style has it's purpose in the long run and it works well to just switch from time to time.
I think both have value and both can be used at the same time.
Ramp up to a top set, then decrease and use sets accross for a drop set.
Ramp up to a top set, then use sets accross for an assistance lift.
Use ramping one day a week, and sets accross on another day of the week.
Great posts thus far.
In my oversimplified view of the two methods: ramping pushes maximum strength in the rep range that is trained while sets across build up the work capacity and volume from which max strength rests upon. In the context of a pyramid, ramping pushing it higher while sets across widens the base. There is obviously cross over, but one is better at its task than the other.
Probably best for beginners and some intermediates to use mostly sets across as it helps develop a greater capacity for work with a greater volume of heavier weight. Sets across also don't change, this is obvious, but in a movement that the lifter is still learning or attempting to master its important to keep the stress the same or very similiar for each of the working sets. From set 1 to set 3 - 5, the lifter knows what to expect and more importantly leverages don't change on account of the weight. This allows for "easier" learning of the lift with a decent amount of weight.
For higher skilled intermediates and above, the lifts are more than likely mastered or performed consistently regardless of weight on the bar. From there it would be a better option of pushing strength through higher intensities which would be accomplished by ramping up to a top set. Aside from strength, working to a very heavy set builds confidence with heavier loads and further improves the efficiency of reps at high intensities.
Some type of "volume" stimulus is needed by all levels of lifters to support their max strength and build it up further. For beginners and early intermediates, this is already accomplished by volume provided for the sets across. For more advanced lifters, volume can added in many ways, but usually in some form of sets across. This volume can be performed right after the top set with sets across. For those following some kind of periodization this might also mean several weeks of building up to heavier volumes with sets across before tapering down and focusing on high intensities, using ramping sets.
For more advanced lifters the volume and sets across can be added through assistance work as working up to say a 650lb squat already provides a tremendous amount of volume on the mainlift. In such cases, I've seen many lifters either just do one down set for higher reps (which is still heavy and adds a lot of tonage) or move onto less stressful lifts for higher volumes.
My take anyway...
All very interesting posts gents, a lot of food for thought there, more than I could reply back to but it has got me thinking.
One thing which wasn't mentioned was accruing a higher weekly workload by spreading the workload out over the week, rather than looking at a week-to-week progression. This is something you might be interested in knowing I'll be trialling this coming few weeks. I'll be using a ramping style workout, but using a higher frequency across the week to accumulate workload. So rather than 6 triples once a week, I'll be looking at 4-6 maxes in one week. With the advantage of more frequent loading while fresh, less sessional fatigue but perhaps equal fatigue across the week.
I'll let you know how it goes.
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