Saturday, January 18, 2014
Varying sets for better workouts

By Tony Wagner Citizen Columnist

Dear Mr. Fitness:

I've been reading your column for some time and have found your information about exercise very helpful. I have lost 32 pounds over three years now and have been able to keep it off. Throughout the years in your column you have written about giant sets, super sets, ascending sets, descending sets and {I think) forced sets. Could you give an explanation to these terms once again?

-- A Believer

Dear A Believer:

I'm glad to hear you have lost all of that weight and have kept it off. That's very, very good! It's hard for folks to keep it off. Nice job! I'm happy to reprise the terminology of gym working out stuff.

Giant sets are generally used when people want to speed up their workouts. You can compress the workout and save time. Say you are going to train chest; you would pick three or four exercises for your chest. Let's use the bench press, the incline press and, finally, the flat flys. You start with the flys, immediately do incline press, then quickly do the bench press. This should be done one right after another. Boom! Boom! Boom! That's the essence of giant setting. You can do differing body parts if you wish.

Super sets are another way of intensifying the workout. A super set would be an isolation exercise, followed immediately by doing a compound movement. Continuing with the chest example, the isolation exercise would be the flat flys. Follow that by either the bench press or the incline press -- the compound portion. This has also been referred to as "pre-exhaustion training" as well as "heavy duty training." It is extremely difficult to do.

Ascending sets would be -- in the confines of a single set -- starting with a prescribed amount of reps with a light weight, followed by a slightly heavier weight, followed by a heavier weight and so on. One set might consist of three jumps up in weight. For instance, dumbbell curls done with the 35 pounders for 10 reps, followed by 40-pounders for eight reps, followed by 45-pounders for six reps. That's ascending.

Descending sets are just the opposite. Start with heavy weights and go down, but the reps go up. Get it? This again increases the intensity.

Finally, forced reps (not sets): You will need a training partner for this one most of the time. Here again, we are focusing on the chest and, in this instance, the bench press. As you are performing the set of however many reps, you will begin to fail. The forced rep is when you can no longer do a rep, the training partner gives you a small amount of assistance to complete a rep -- but just enough help to keep the weight moving upward. By the way, don't always utilize the forced rep technique during every workout. Use it only occasionally to help you break through a plateau you may be experiencing.

Give these techniques a try and you will be able to wring out more from each and every exercise session.

-- Mr. Fitness

Tony Wagner, aka Mr. Fitness, has more than 30 years of fitness and nutritional expertise. A certified personal trainer and fitness author, he has helped thousands of people get into and stay in shape. Contact him at:, Facebook us, and stop by Bodyzone Fitness Center, 2740 N. Roosevelt Blvd., 305-292-2930.