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  1. #1
    jaymax is offline Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2010

    Default Top set vs Sets Across for strength

    Hi guys,
    just a philosophical strength training questions I've been asking myself lately. My philosophy and training background has always been a "sets across" mentality for strength gains with hypertrophy (example: 5x5 same weight).

    Now I'm no elite powerlifter but at my stage the one top set approach just doesn't cut it for strength gains...I need more sets, more volume. I've always tried to compromise between maximizing intensity and volume at the same time using sets across (5x5, 10x3, 10x5).

    What I've never tried is a top set (or 2) followed by lighter backoff sets. Will the higher intensity of a heavy top set still yield strength gains and make the additional volume from the backoff sets acheive strength gains rather than just hypertrophy or will you still achieve less strength than multiple sets at a higher intensity?

    Lately I've been considering a russian bear or 531 approach. With 5/3/1 you only really get one top set but then lots of volume with 5x10. If I can't gain strength from one top set, will one top set plus 5x10 make the difference or just give me a hypertrophic pump? The bear is similar in this regard as well....considering the 532 with your top weight plus lots of lighter 5's.

    Thoughts and/or experience in this matter for someone who'd be considering advanced (400lb bencher, mid 500's deadlifter)?

  2. #2
    kodo kb is offline Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Poughkeepsie, New York
    Blog Entries


    Thoughts (i.e. not experience):
    Beyond Body Building goes into this topic, explains it well, and references good studies on the effectiveness of varying load. If you don't have the book, I'd suggest you get it if you are looking for some new ideas to shake up your lifting a little and more info on strength training theory in general (or maybe PTTP Professional, although I don't have that book so I can't comment on it's content). BBB is full of great information on many 5x5 type, power body building, routines. I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying that varying the load within your sets has shown to be as effective as, if not more than, sets across. Get the book for a couple of the hows and a lot of the whys.

    "I can't imagine how it WON'T you not doing it." — Dan John

    "I never went to the gym to "work out". Rather I went to LEARN. The workout was incidental." — Dr. Ed Thomas

  3. #3
    jaymax is offline Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2010


    Wow it's amazing how many typos you can make and not notice lol.

    Thanks for the reply Josh and actually I do have Beyond Bodybuilding and PTTP. That said my question is more about whether light (less than 70%) volume work is effective at eliciting strength gains when coupled with a heavy top set. I don't at all question the validity of varying loads.

  4. #4
    StrongBear is offline Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2012



    Sure, I don't see why it would not be. In fact, that is the exact thing that Jim Wendler recommends in 5/3/1's Boring But Big variation. You work your top set and then do sets with a much lower weight.

    It is a very valid approach and from reading your first post, I think you would enjoy it quite a bit. You get the fun of a heavy set and some good volume in.

  5. #5
    Pavel Tsatsouline Guest


    Jay, the one top set approach works exceptionally well if you follow the classic American powerlifting system of the Gallagher-Coan-Karwoski lineage and eat. It is imperative that you gain weight as you proceed through the cycle and eat enough to add a pound a week for 12 weeks, according to Marty.

    Different successful training systems take advantage of different mechanisms responsible for making your stronger. For instance, Gallagher's system activates the satellite cells, converts "undecided" fibers to a faster subtype, and develops a stronger neural drive. Sheyko's system focuses on "greasing the groove" and maximizing the CP stores. Westside sensitizes previously unused in the particular lift motor units.

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