Gain Muscle With This Set/Rep Scheme

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If you want to gain muscle, don’t make things harder than they need to be. The process of packing on mass is simple; but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

In the quest to gain muscle, we often become volume junkies. This means 5 sets of this, and 6 sets of that. People end up spending a whole ton of time in the gym with very little results to show for it. Those lack of results are the catalyst for more work and thus, the viscous cycle keeps going.

The idea that more is better becomes king when it doesn’t really have to be that way. While I’m going to simplify things quite a bit, building muscle is about triggering protein synthesis. Give the body enough stress and certain switches are turned on at the cellular level. This is the body’s way of creating new proteins and in turn, those proteins become brand new muscle. It’s a bit more complex than that but the cliff notes version is all we need for now.


You lift weights to trigger protein synthesis. Assuming you do the job right, that will happen each time you hit the weight room. But once the process is started, doing more work won’t result in more protein synthesis.  It’s kind of an all or nothing process.

I you can flip the switch on protein synthesis, then your job is done, and you can go home. There’s maybe no better way to do this than with 50% sets.

I wish I could say I invented this but that wouldn’t be the truth. Credit has to go to coach Paul Carter, who introduced the concept through his writings. When I first heard about them, I wrote them off because they just didn’t appear to have enough work. After all, all your doing is two sets and how hard can that be?

Then life slapped me in the face. Having a loving wife along with 2 kids, and a business to run, made we reconsider my workouts. Training needed to be very cut and dry and 50% sets allowed me to cut out the BS. I got stronger and bigger while spending less time in the gym. Here’s how they look:

Warm up with 3-5 sets

Perform an all out set where the minimum number of reps you get is 8, the maximum being 15-20.

Rest 60 seconds

Try to get half the reps you managed on the initial set. So if you knocked out 14, try to get 7 reps on the second attempt

On paper, 7 reps doesn’t seem like a lot of work, but you’ll question your state of mind after that initial set. It will be quite a grind. You can use this technique with pretty much any movement, but I’d drop the reps on a deadlift down to 8 or 10 reps.  The only change I’ve made – and I’m not sure if Mr. Carter would agree- is that I shorten the rest on certain exercises to 30 seconds. I do this with safer and less demanding moves like spider curls, lateral raises, and pressdowns.

That’s all there is to it. Your quest to gain muscle doesn’t need to be complicated process, but it sure will be hard work.

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