The Myth of 3 Sets of 10:

5 July 2012
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Why Cliche?

While certain aspects of life are finely tuned with much critical thinking, cliches uncritically carry esteem in society. We act sometimes without considering why, expecting optimal results to follow. Sports, in particular, owns its fair share of cliches. In baseball or golf, the phrase, “Grip it and rip it” is often repeated with the expectation of holding a firm bat or club and swinging it with force. But is it the best practice?

Cliches influence the way we train for competition. Without thinking, certain methods become a generally accepted way of thinking no matter the outcome.

3 Sets of 10: A Method of Progressive Resistance Exercises

Case in point: the myth of 3 sets of 10 in strength and conditioning. First coined in 1948 in a paper by T.L. Delorme and A.L. Watkins titled, “Techniques of Progressive Resistance,” 3 sets of 10 has become common knowledge. The idea holds inherent logic. 3 separate sets of 10 exercises allow muscles to gain strength and endurance. Moreover, in addition the rest period between each set, the first 2 sets ramp up muscles for an intensive third set.

These progressive resistance exercises “improve the ability to generate force, with moderate to large effect sizes that may carry over into an improved ability to perform daily activities.

But why 3 sets of 10 exercises? Let’s return to Delorme and Watkins. Their groundbreaking research recommended 3 sets of 10 and we’ve been following their suggestion ever since.

Perhaps Not the Golden Rule

But does it work? Current research suggests 3 sets of 10 isn’t the golden rule of training. It isn’t necessarily a detriment to your exercise, but training depends on the muscle and desired effect.

In other words, what is your strategy behind your exercise? Are you searching for strength? Coordination? Endurance? Strength? Answers to these questions will drive you to a customized approach to training. Repetition, duration, resistance, and frequency alters based on sequence and desired outcome.

Just like many cliches grounded in sound reasoning but far too overarching to achieve positive results in every scenario, the myth of 3 sets of ten has merit, but it is not a cure-all for successful training. Next time you hit the gym, consider your desired effect and plan accordingly. Your training will benefit. Ask your medical professional, athletic trainer or physical therapist to identify your desired training needs and strategy.

What about you? Do you resort to 3 sets of 10 while training? Have you encountered a more customized approach?
Share your thoughts below.

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