Program Review: Giant Sets Training

I’ve seen giant sets training (3 or more exercises for the same bodypart without resting) show up in various magazines and articles on bodybuilding over the years, but never gave it much of a try. I’d occasionally with a few exercises to cut down on training time, but always for little exercises (shoulder raises, tricep extensions, etc.) and never really came into the workout planning on doing it.

However, over the last couple of years I’ve been seeing a lot about using very extreme giant sets for fat loss (6-10 exercises per muscle) in writing from guys like Charles Poliquin, Milos Sarcev, and Nick Mitchell.

Milos Sarcev prepping a client for competition.

I gave it a try for a 5-day cycle, during a short break from training twice a day. My training setup currently looks like this:

Day 1: Chest/Back
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: off
Day 4: Arms
Day 5: off
Day 6: repeat Day 1

When training twice a day, I do that 5 day cycle twice and then do 5 days of only training once a day, during which time I usually try out whatever ridiculous training ideas come into my head. Giant sets was one of them. Here is the entire 5-day cycle as it went:

Day 1: Chest/Back
A1. Ring Dip (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A2. Incline Barbell Press (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A3. 60-degree Incline DB Press (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A4. 30-degree Incline DB Press (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A5. Flat Neutral Grip DB Press (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A6. Flat DB Flye (3010, 2min rest) – x10

Rest is 10 seconds between exercises, then 2 minutes at the end, then repeat for 3 rounds total.

B1. Bentover Barbell Row (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B2. DB Pullover (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B3. Wide-Grip Pullup (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B4. Inverted Ring Row (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B5. Ring Face Pull (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B6. Elbows-Out Ring Row (3010, 2min rest) – x10

Repeat for 3 rounds. I really thought this was bad, but nothing compares to the leg day.

Day 2: Legs
A1. Heel-Elevated Front Squat (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A2. Close-Stance Barbell Squat (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A3. Poliquin Step-Up (3010, 10sec rest) – x10 each leg
A4. Walking DB Lunge (2010, 10sec rest) – x10 each leg
A5. Safety Bar Close-Stance Squat (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A6. Sumo-Stance Barbell Squat (3010, 2min rest) – x10

3 rounds. I wish I could say that I got all 10 reps on every exercise, every time, but that would be a lie. The first round took 7 minutes and 12 seconds, the third round took 10 minutes and 36 seconds. I’m glad I made Sergio do this workout with me, if I hadn’t, I know I would have started cutting corners on hitting all of the reps.

B1. Glute/Ham Raise (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B2. Romanian Deadlift (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B3. Hyperextension (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B4. 1-leg Kettlebell Deadlift (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B5. Reverse Hyperextension (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B6. Barbell Glute Bridge (3010, 2min rest) – x10

We had lofty aspirations of doing 3 rounds of the hamstring training, but that didn’t quite work out, as our entire legs were so cramped after round 2 that standing was nearly impossible.

Day 3: off (thank God)

Day 4: Arms
A1. Close-Grip Chinup (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A2. Fat Grip Barbell Scott Curl (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A3. Barbell Curl (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A4. 60-degree Incline Hammer Curl (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A5. 30-degree Incline Curl (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
A6. Reverse Barbell Curl (3010, 2min rest) – x10

Unbelievable how light I had to go on the last few dumbbell curls. I’ll spare you the details (after all, I have a reputation to uphold…)

B1. Fat Grip Close-Grip Bench Press (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B2. DB California Press (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B3. 30-degree Lying DB Extension (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B4. Standing Overhead DB Extension (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B5. Band Pushdown (3010, 10sec rest) – x10
B6. Ring Triceps Extension (3010, 2min rest) – x10

The last set of triceps work burned more than anything I can think of. I had to drop the weight down 3 different times in the same set on the last set of standing extensions just to get 10 reps, and it was definitely ugly.

Summary

Would I use this on a regular basis? Probably not. If you did, you would need to be very careful with exercise selection to make sure that you’re hammering away at the muscles without overtaxing the central nervous system. And even then, I would use it maybe 3-4 cycles though before switching out, using it at the peak end of a fat loss or hypertrophy cycle. I also feel like the hypertrophy programming would be easier as reps would be slightly lower (6-8 per exercise instead of 10-15) and it wouldn’t be done while dieting (I think the extent of my carb intake all 5 days was 40-60g of post-workout carbs). But if you’re looking for something to break you out of a rut, give it a try, if only for a short while.

Quick Tip: 10 Tips for Fat Loss

  1. Eat the meat and nut breakfast, every day.
  2. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, make sure your last meal is 2-3 hours before going to sleep.  This decreases digestive stress and lowers the odds of waking as blood sugar levels decline.
  3. If you have low energy levels, try eating only red meat and nuts before noon, and white meats and green veggies later in the day.  Red meats trigger an increase in dopamine and white meats raise serotonin more.
  4. Take your bodyfat in grams of fish oil each day for four weeks (20 grams for 20%, for example).  Then decrease it to 75% for 4 weeks and 50% for another 4 weeks.
  5. Train each muscle group with less volume and more frequency (2-4 times per week) using full-body or alternating upper- and lower-body sessions.
  6. If you struggle to keep an accurate food log, just take a picture of each meal with your smartphone instead.  No measuring, no guessing required.
  7. Move more.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or get off the train one stop earlier and walk the extra few blocks.  This is not your cardio, but it promotes fat-burning.
  8. Carbs are not necessarily the enemy, but most people take in far too many.  Think that you need to “earn your carbs.”
  9. Don’t eat carbs before your workout if you’re trying to lose fat.  Would you go to the gas station to fill up if your tank is already full, or would you wait until you drive a few hundred miles first?
  10. Have a goal and a deadline.  Whether you reach it when you want to is less important than knowing what you want to achieve and how quickly.