When it comes to building muscle, the debate around whether single sets to failure are more effective than multiple sets has been a long-standing one. Fitness enthusiasts and experts often have differing opinions on the matter. However, to truly answer this question, it's important to consider scientific research.
What Does Science Say?
Several studies have been conducted to compare the effects of single and multiple sets per exercise on muscle hypertrophy. A study published in PubMed used multilevel meta-regression to explore this comparison and found that both methods can contribute to muscle hypertrophy1.
Another study on Simply Shredded suggested that increasing the number of sets taken to failure provides no more benefit than doing just one set to failure2. This seems to support the idea that single sets to failure could be just as effective as multiple sets.
However, a review on PainScience.com concluded that 2 to 3 sets per exercise are associated with 46% greater strength gains than 1 set, in both trained and untrained subjects3. This suggests that multiple sets might have an edge over single sets when it comes to building strength, which is closely related to muscle growth.
In a different study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it was found that one set of High-Intensity Training (HIT) is sufficient to improve muscle mass and strength4. The results over a training period of ten weeks were even better than multiple sets.
Dr. Keith Baar, in an interview on Baye.com, stated that if you are training intensely enough, one set is not only as good as three or more sets for muscular strength and size increases, it is better5.
A meta-analysis performed on the effects of single-set (S), or three-set (M3) Resistance Training (RT) on muscular strength per exercise for different body parts, was done and published on Frontiersin.org6. The results showed that both methods have their benefits.
So, Which Is Better?
The research shows mixed results. Some studies suggest that single sets to failure can be just as effective as multiple sets for muscle growth, while others indicate that multiple sets might lead to greater strength gains.
What's clear from the research is that the effectiveness of either approach could depend on various factors, including the individual's fitness level, goals, and the intensity of the workout.
For beginners, a single set to failure might be a good starting point. It could help them build initial strength and muscle without risking overtraining. As they progress and their bodies adapt to the stress of resistance training, they can gradually increase the number of sets.
For more advanced trainees, multiple sets could potentially offer greater benefits. Performing more sets allows for more total volume (sets x reps x weight), which is a key driver of muscle growth.
To sum up, both single sets to failure and multiple sets have their place in resistance training for muscle growth. The goal is to find a method you like, and stick with it for the rest of your life.
Remember, no matter which approach you choose, consistency, proper form, adequate recovery, and a balanced diet are critical for muscle growth and overall fitness.