When it comes to chasing down your training goals, you have a lot of options for making gains. Giant sets are used by general gymgoers and competitive strength athletes in very specific ways to get stronger, gain muscle, or improve athleticism.
As the beefed-up cousin of supersets, giant sets are three or more exercises performed back to back without rest. Incorporating giant sets help you spend less time in the gym and improve your exercise technique all while boosting your strength, size, and work capacity. Check out this ultimate guide to giant sets to find out everything you need to know about them and why you should try to use them in your training.
What Are Giant Sets?
Giant sets are a bigger version of a superset, where you perform three or more exercises consecutively without any rest in between. Once one set of each exercise has been performed, you’ll get a rest period before you begin again.
You can perform giant sets with exercises that target different muscle groups or target the same muscle group within each giant set. For example, you can focus on your quads with each exercise — front squats, Bulgarian split squats, and leg extensions would be a particularly grueling quad-based giant set.
You can also do giant sets with various different exercises, whether they are isolation exercises or compound exercises. Ultimately, you can combine them to achieve different fitness goals.
Benefits of Giant Sets
Giant sets are not inherently good or bad, but they do various benefits and drawbacks. This depends on who you are as an athlete and what your goals are. Giant sets can be appropriate for you if the benefits fit your situation and your goals.
You may be someone who finds simple sets very boring. It could be that you dislike having to rest frequently and sit around to recover between sets. In this case, you may want to choose non-interfering exercises.
Increase the Challenge
Giant sets can stimulate you — both physically and mentally — by providing an extra challenging protocol. There are many people out there who like to be physically pushed with a routine that gets taxes their cardiovascular and muscular fitness simultaneously. If that sounds like you, giant sets can be a great motivator.
There are huge physiological benefits to performing giant sets. Firstly, giant sets are a great way to train with resistance exercises, while simultaneously stimulating your body to improve your cardiorespiratory output. This is perfect for you if you are someone who generally hates the potential repetitiveness of using an exercise bike or treadmill.
Giant sets can challenge you to use different energy systems, specifically your lactate energy system, which is more dominant in intensive activity lasting between 30 seconds to two minutes. This will be important for you if you are training for a sport that requires you to perform sets that take about that long — powerlifting, for example.
Boost Work Capacity
Giant sets are also great for improving work capacity in the local muscle groups where you’ll be boosting muscular endurance. This may be useful if you are someone who is trying to break through a plateau in another compound exercise. For example, you may want to perform a giant set for your triceps if you are plateauing in your bench press.
One of the most popular reasons people use giant sets is their time-saving nature. If you combine three or more exercises together, you may end up cutting your workout time by more than half.
If three sets of a typical exercise take you 10 minutes to perform with two minutes of rest between each set, three exercises would take you 30 minutes to perform. However, if you did a giant set of the same three exercises, you may take around 15 minutes for full completion.
This is particularly useful if you are not a full-time athlete — the vast majority of people who train are not. Whether you are a powerlifter, a busy employee, or both, giant sets can save you a ton of time.
If you’ve hit a training plateau, you can incorporate a giant set once in your training week to try and bust through it. What a giant set can help you do is add a meaningful amount of extra volume to increase your training stimulus for a muscle group.
Best Combinations for Giants Sets
There are some muscle groups and exercise combinations that are somewhat more suitable for using giant sets than others. Here is a list of five combinations of muscle groups and exercise combinations you can use for a really effective giant set.
Check these combinations out to see which is right for you.
Using a giant set for your core muscles is an efficient way of getting a good training stimulus on all the relevant muscle groups. By combining exercises into one big — erm, giant — set, you are less likely to skip your core workout.
Your core is composed of your back extensors, obliques, and abdominals. A great way to use a giant set is to choose a single exercise that targets your back extensors, one that targets your obliques, and one that targets your abdominals.
Core Giant Set Example:
- Side Plank
- 45-Degree Hyperextension
Make sure you’re performing these sets with little to no rest in between. You can rest as needed between rounds, aiming for anywhere between two to four rounds.
Your back muscles are mostly made of your lower and upper traps, rhomboids, lats, and back extensor muscles. If you’re short on time, you may choose to perform a giant set that involves one vertical pulling exercise that targets mostly your lats, one horizontal pulling exercise that targets your lower traps, rhomboids, and your lats, and one that targets mostly your upper traps.
This combination allows you to get a well-rounded back workout in one go-around. You’ll also be incorporating different movement patterns, which can help keep your back strong from all angles.
Back Giant Set Example:
You’ll likely need to lift less weight with each exercise to accommodate for the rapidly-accumulating fatigue that comes with giant sets.
Your shoulder muscles are composed of your front, side, and rear deltoids. These can easily form an intuitive giant set.
You can use a giant set that targets each of the three heads of the deltoid muscles. This will lead to a wide array of benefits for your shoulders, ensuring that you won’t be ignoring the oft-neglected rear and side delts.
Shoulder Giant Set Example:
Make sure you’re performing your barbell front raises with as little momentum as possible. You’ll also want to make sure you’re taking the eccentric — lowering — phase slowly with the lateral raises.
Any pushing exercise will involve a combination of triceps, chest, and shoulder muscles. You can have a vertically downward pushing exercise, a horizontal pushing exercise, and a vertically upward pushing exercise.
This will make a good giant set suitable for someone who wants to build muscular endurance in their pushing muscles. You’ll also ensure that you’re developing your shoulders and triceps on par with your chest, which often gets neglected if you love focusing on bench presses.
Pushing Giant Set Example:
Most guidance for your set and rep schemes can be found below. But with these bodyweight moves, perform the dips and push-ups while leaving some reps in reserve (RIR). This method allows you to customize the workout to your needs and ability levels while still pushing hard.
Two useful giant set methods with your legs involve targeting all the different muscle groups in your lower body. You can also opt for a giant set that targets your hamstrings (or another lower-body muscle group) for a very specific approach.
Leg Giant Set Example:
- Back Squat
- Romanian Deadlift
- Split Squat
The back squat will cover your entire lower body, while the Romanian deadlift will get after your hamstrings and glutes. The split squats will work your hip mobility as well as your hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
Hamstring Giant Set Example:
Especially because you’re targeting the same muscle here, you’ll want to significantly lower your weight per exercise. Don’t underestimate the power of resting (or not resting) between sets.
How to Use Giant Sets
Where and how you put giant sets into your programming matters. It will depend on what your overarching training goals are, what your short-term goals are, and what else you are doing in your session each time.
Your training goal hugely influences your workout. If your training goal is muscular strength, this will mean that your rep ranges will be lower with higher intensity. Your giant set will likely be nearer the start of the program if the exercises you’re using are more of a priority in your training.
Sets, Reps, and Intensity
The number of sets will determine how much of an impact your giant set will have on your session and overall training week. If you do your giant sets at the start of the session and you do a high number of sets, this will severely limit your energy to perform other exercises.
- One to two sets are a low number of giant sets.
- Three to four sets are considered a medium number of giant sets.
- Give or more sets are considered a high number of giant sets.
- For Strength: Aim for six or fewer reps per exercise.
- For Muscle Mass: Go for six to 10 reps.
- For Muscular Endurance: Opt for 11 or more repetitions per exercise.
Intra-Set Exercise Order
How you combine the exercises within a giant set will matter to a certain extent. If the same muscle group is activated in two or more of the exercises in the giant set, the first exercise will have a pre-exhaustion effect for the subsequent exercise. This means that the muscle group will be fatigued more and have more stress on it.
This may or may not be desirable depending on what you are trying to achieve. If you want to train the muscle harder, then this is appropriate. If you want to make it easier to maintain perfect technique in a later exercise, you may not want to pre-exhaust that muscle group.
Inter-Session Exercise Order
Inter-session exercise order refers to where you do the giant set within a workout — whether it is later on in a workout or earlier on. If your goal is to develop muscle mass or muscular endurance, then it does not matter quite as much where you have the giant set.
When your goal is muscle strength, then exercise order matters a lot more. On the other hand, you might be making strength a priority in your giant set — like a back squat or deadlift. Then, you should perform it nearer the start of your training session. If the exercises in the giant set are not — like isolation exercises — then you can leave it until the end of the workout.
Rest and Recovery
Your rest and recovery depend on how you program the sets, reps, and intensity in your giant sets. If your training goal is muscle mass or weight loss, you may want to keep your rest times between giant sets between two to three minutes. But if your training goal is more for maximal strength, you’ll be using heavier weights — so you may want to keep rest times at least about three to five minutes.
Giant sets often get implemented for their advantages of saving time and adding an additional boost of cardiorespiratory health and fitness. If you’re trying to make the most of your training, make it as efficient — and challenging — as possible with giant sets.
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