3 Sets Per Exercise Is Killing Your Gains!

Huge Mistake!

By Scott Herman Published 

Today I’m going to teach you something that’s going to turn your world upside-down. In fact, the majority of you are probably not going to like it because gym culture has warped our minds SO MUCH that bad habits have become the STANDARD when it comes to HOW you build muscle. We live in a world where MORE = MORE, and if we don’t at least touch every piece of equipment before we leave the gym, we feel defeated, as if our workout was sub-par in some way. But that couldn’t be further from the truth and here’s why.

Just like anything else in life such as work, school and relationships, you don’t get “better” and more efficient by bundling as many responsibilities together as possible. You only get better when your energy is focused on a few things at once and the same goes for your workouts when trying to build muscle. Just because you’re training arms and have a list of 10 exercises for biceps and 10 exercises for triceps with 3 sets per exercise, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get FASTER results.  That is a total of 30 working sets for a smaller muscle group and I can guarantee that majority of those exercises are FLUFF exercises, which means they are inefficient. MORE doesn’t equal MORE when it comes to building muscle.

What Exercises Are Best For Building Muscle?

There are only so many exercises that are OPTIMAL for building muscle for each bodypart.  These are exercises that not only allow you to lift as much weight as possible for reps, but they also are able to maximize muscle DAMAGE for repair and GROWTH. Some prime examples would be the bench press, shoulder press, squat, deadlift, bent over row, dips and barbell bicep curls. If you REALLY think about that, doesn’t it make sense that you should be focusing on THOSE kinds of exercise when you workout?  I hope so! Because you will most likely never need to train with movements that are so specific in terms of what muscles they target.

For example, if you think your right biceps peak is slightly bigger than your left and you start focusing more on exercises that only target the outer head of your biceps VS maximum overall damage, chances are that you’re going to stunt the OVERALL growth of your biceps. In fact, 99% of the time if you have any sort of muscle imbalances, if you were to just continue to focus on movements that allow you to overload with the most weight possible, your imbalances would go away AND you would get bigger overall!

Now I did say 99% of the time, but what’s the 1%?  Well the 1% would apply to those of you who are stepping on stage for a bodybuilding show. At that level of competition, a slight imbalance could mean the difference between winning and losing and at that point you have most likely reached your maximum muscle building potential.  So spending more time isolating various muscles that need a bit more growth comes with the territory of competing. But if you’re NOT competing and your goal is overall GROWTH, you need to focus on maximizing the use of exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck and not waste your time trying to gain 4cm on the outside head of your right bicep.

What Does The Perfect Set Range Look Like?

It’s really much simpler than you think. For larger muscle groups like chest, back, glutes, quads and hamstrings, picking 3 to 4 exercises for a total of 15 – 20 working sets is PLENTY. That could mean 5 sets of 3 chest exercises, 6 sets of 3 exercises or 5 sets of 4 exercises. At the end of the day it is up to you, but for me less is more and I would stick with 3 big movements like flat bench, incline or reverse bench and then finish off with heavy dips or dumbbell flys.

For smaller muscle groups like biceps, triceps, shoulders, traps and calves, pick 2 – 3 exercises for 12 to 15 total working sets. For example for biceps I would do 6 sets of barbell biceps curls and 6 sets of incline dumbbell curls and I would be DONE.

The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Train With 3 Sets Per Exercise

This leads me to my last point I want to make.  When you start a new exercise, do you ever notice how you really don’t start feeling it until the end of your second set?  Even if you do a few warm-up sets, your first heavy set feels OK, but it’s definitely not hitting your muscles as hard as your second and third, and this is where 3 SETS PER EXERCISES IS KILLING YOUR GAINS comes from. Three sets per exercise is almost like the LAW of the gym. You do three sets and move on, it seems to be common sense. But NO, STOP thinking this way!If you’re training triceps with heavy dips and by the third set you are feeling like you just hit Super Saiyan BLUE, don’t stop doing dips to go do a tricep kick back or push-down.  NO, NO, NO!  You keep your butt on those dips and you crush 2 – 3 more sets! A dip is going to target ALL THREE HEADS of your triceps for muscle growth, much better than most other exercises, and that is a fact!

You don’t have to target a muscle from a million different angles to get it to grow. Also, if by your 3rd, 4th, 5th or even your 6th and last set you have to DECREASE the weight (yes you read the right, DECREASE THE WEIGHT), then do it!  If fitness was a video game and you got to the part where you had to DECREASE the weight each set, then you’ve won! Your muscles are getting fatigued which means you are taking advantage of the muscle building mechanisms which are metabolic stress, muscle damage and mechanical tension, which I do have a video on if you want to check it out HERE.


One last thing, and this is what most of you will probably have a hard time with because you are used to training, say, arms with A LOT of exercises. If you plan your workouts right and train muscle groups that work together on the same day, you will get MORE out of all your movements. For example, if you are training chest, it makes sense to train triceps the same day AFTER you’ve trained your chest. This is because your triceps will already be “pre-exhausted” and broken down a bit after all the chest movements. So when you hit those 2 or 3 tricep specific exercises, it won’t take much to finish them off and maximize arm growth.

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