Resistance Training for Strength: Effect of Number of Sets and Contraction Speed

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Purpose:To compare effects on strength in the early phase of resistance training with one or three sets and fast or slow speeds.Methods:A total of 115 healthy, untrained subjects were randomized to a control group or one of four training groups: one set fast (∼140°·s−1), three sets fast, one set slow (∼50°·s−1), or three sets slow. All subjects attended training 3× wk−1 for 6 wk. Subjects in the training groups performed unilateral elbow flexion contractions with a target six- to eight-repetition maximum load. Control subjects sat at the training bench but did not train. One repetition maximum strength, arm circumference, and biceps skinfold thickness were measured before and after training.Results:One slow set increased strength by 25% (95% CI 13–36%, P < 0.001). Three sets of training produced greater increases in strength than one set (difference = 23% of initial strength, 95% CI 12–34%, P < 0.001) and fast training resulted in a greater increase in strength than slow training (difference = 11%, 95% CI 0.2–23%, P = 0.046). The interaction between sets and speed was negative (−15%) and of borderline significance (P = 0.052), suggesting there is a benefit of training with three sets or fast speeds, but there is not an additive benefit of training with both.Conclusions:Three sets of exercise produce twice the strength increase of one set in the early phase of resistance training. Training fast produces greater strength increases than training slow; however, there does not appear to be any additional benefit of training with both three sets and fast contractions.

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