This is your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
When it comes to muscle growth, training volume is key. The number of hard sets you do per muscle per week directly influences how much it grows—and if your goal is to pack on size, more is better. Research suggests performing a minimum of 10 and up to 30 sets per week for upper body muscles and up to 45 sets per week for lower body muscles.
How can you hit those numbers without doubling up your gym time? Monster sets.
Also known as a compound set, a monster set entails performing two exercises for the same muscle, back-to-back without rest. If you’re thinking that sounds similar to a superset, you’re right—but a superset pairs exercises for opposing muscle groups, which means that you’ll give one a chance to recover while the other works. That optimizes training time without compromising performance, naturally building rest into your routine. The goal of a monster set is more devious; it gives the target muscle group no quarter, hammering it with two exercises in a row without rest to push it past the point of fatigue.
This brutal lifting strategy has two primary benefits. Firstly, you’ll boost weekly training volume, especially if you typically only use straight sets (i.e., consecutive sets of the same exercise) in your workouts. Just as importantly, monster sets can increase each muscle’s time under tension, optimizing another essential growth stimulus. Need a third reason? You’ll look like a beast. Nothing says badass like banging out dumbbell flies immediately after crushing a heavy set of the barbell bench press.
Just make sure that you don’t overdo it, and every single weight room session isn’t built around monster sets. The increased volume can be a boon to muscle growth, but in this case, too much of a good thing can also increase your risk of overtraining. And if working with really heavy weights is your goal, you’ll need more dedicated rest and recovery time between sets to build strength to hit PRs.
Your move: Any exercise pairing that targets the same muscle will work. An EZ-bar curl with a hammer curl, a chin-up with a row, a squat with a lunge, or a dip with a triceps extension are all good monster set pairings.
But when possible, try to combine a compound move with an isolation exercise, such as a deadlift with a leg curl, or, as mentioned above, a barbell bench press with a dumbbell fly. The first (compound, multi-joint) move will load the muscle with max weight while the second (isolation, single joint) exercise exhausts it by forcing it to work largely alone. You’ll likely have to reduce the weight you’d normally use for the second exercise, but as long as you’re challenged to finish all of your reps and sets, you’ll optimize your gains.