The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 20% of the inputs create 80% of the results. This can be shown in everything from the places you go (you’ll visit 20% of all the places you go 80% of the time, i.e., work/home/grocery store); to the food you eat (you’ll eat 20% of all the food you like 80% of the time, i.e., consider your typical breakfast); to the people you hang out with (you’ll kick it with 20% of all your friends 80% of the time). And this is true for many other cases as well. Especially when it comes to exercise.
Take for instance strength training. There are a myriad of different set schemes for strength training out there: progressive overload, supersets, drop sets, pyramid sets, 5x5--the list goes on and on and on. Well, what if there was one way to get the most out of your strength training? What if all these “sophisticated” set variations add complexity but don’t add results? If you look at the Pareto Principle, you might guess that only 20% of the different set schemes would give you 80% of your results. Or even taking it a step further, only 20% of the sets would give you 80% of your results. What if instead of doing five sets of five reps, you just did one set? Or instead of three sets of twelve reps, you just did one set? And what if you got the same strength increase from each?
Funny you should ask! The effectiveness of just a single set is exactly what has been proven time and time again. In one such study that lasted 10 weeks, 1 set was proven to be just as statistically significant, i.e., effective, as 3 sets for hypertrophy (muscle size increase) and strength gain. In a separate study lasting 6 weeks, 1 set of a leg press done once per week was shown to be as effective as 1 set done twice per week. Another study showed the same benefits of training once per week versus twice per week and three times per week.
But that’s not all folks. A meta analysis that examined training durations of 4 weeks all the way up to 25 weeks showed that just a single set was all that was needed. In fact, the researchers even went out of their way to specifically state that “there is little scientific evidence, and no theoretical physiological basis, to suggest that a greater volume of exercise elicits greater increases in strength or hypertrophy.”
So what are we really saying here? That all the different types of sets and different set schemes out there aren’t needed? Well, if you’re looking to increase muscle strength and size then yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying. The research has clearly shown that a single set is just as effective as three and is just as effective as five. It’s also shown that you only need to do that single set once per week. What that one set looks like in terms of weight, repetitions, duration, and intensity will be explored in a future post. Just know that there’s a minimum effective dose that exists--more does not necessarily equal better.
But you might be saying to yourself now “yeah, that’s fine, but I like working out and being in the gym.” That’s awesome and we absolutely applaud you for that. The effort and determination is there. But doing too much in the gym may be the one reason you’re not getting stronger. When you break down your muscle tissue with strength training, it takes a while for your body to heal itself, synthesize proteins, and build new muscle. This process can take anywhere from a few days for slow fatiguing (commonly known as slow twitch) muscle fibers to a even several weeks for super fast (fast twitch) fatiguing muscle fibers.
Lifting just once per week allows your body not only to repair your muscles, but make sure you come back stronger. It’s easy to see now why people plateau in their strength numbers--they’re simply doing too much! So with all that being said, the question now is are you going to lift less so you can lift more?
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc