If you are anything like I used to be, the answer to this question is “probably not”. Whether you are following a workout program you purchased, found online, one you made up, or one that a trainer has you on, you most likely have a number of sets in mind for each lift that you are going to attempt. The question is, how effective are these sets for you? I will explain below how I used to train versus how I train now so you can see the difference.
What I used to do: Lets use squats for an example since everyone is familiar with that lift. In my head I would say that I am doing 4 sets of whatever I can do (8-12 reps). So first I would warm up with the bar and then 65lbs.
Set one: 95×15
Set two: 115×12
Set three: 125×10
Set four: 135×8
What I do now: My protocol says that I have to complete 4 sets of 8-12 reps. So I don’t want to start counting my sets until I can get in that rep range. I want to challenge myself so that getting 12 reps isn’t easy. I will stay at the same weight for all 4 sets if that is what it takes to stay in the rep range. Usually as I get close to the low end of the rep range, I no longer increase the weight.
I warm up with the bar, then 65lbs, then 95, then 115.
Set one: 125×10
Set two: 125×10
Set three: 135×8
Set four: 135×8
So on this lift the variation is slight but still effective. Before, I was essentially counting warm up sets as my working sets. So by the time that I got to a good working weight, I was only doing a set or possibly two. Now because I used the squat as an example, typically there is quite a bit of a warm up prior to the lift. But think of this on all of your lifts. Are you counting a set with a weight that is too easy as one of your sets? Try to evaluate the next time you are at the gym. Pay attention to when you are starting your 3 or 4 sets (whatever you choose). Make sure they are working weight. Warming up is great, especially for big lifts, but don’t short your working sets by including the warm up sets. I made this mistake and I shorted myself. Remember, when working for hypertrophy, we want the muscle to adapt to lifting to heavier and heavier loads which enhances growth!