MV/FIT Movement Fitness

Take your training to the next level with effective sets

Coaches Corner - How to get more 'effective sets'

Read on if you would like to find out how to get more effective sets and improve your results in the gym as a more intermediate trainee.  

For those of you who have been training with us for at least a year, you might have heard us in the gym talk to you about 'percentage spread' or 'effective sets'.  

What is percentage spread? 

This is the spread in load expressed as a percentage between your first set to your last set. Now, as you become more experienced with your training, it becomes more important to track your weights and optimise your percentage spread in to build greater strength levels.  

As example, for someone who can deadlift 100kg for 5 reps, a percentage spread to aim for would be 20-30%.  

With squats, 10-20% would be the ideal range to aim for. And for upper body exercises such as bench presses, a 5-10% spread would be the ideal range to aim for.  

The reason behind this is that the more muscle mass involved, the greater the spread will be.  

Let's give some examples of what a percentage spread looks like in action.  

If doing 4 sets x 5 reps (not including warm up sets), it could look like this.  

Example 1: 

Set 1 = 80kg 

Set 2 = 90kg 

Set 3 = 95kg 

Set 4 = 100kg  

In the example above, there is a 20% spread between set 1 and set 4 and so this is ideal. Remember, this does not include warm up sets so it's important to complete at least 1 or more warm sets before starting to load the bar heavier.  

Now, a less optimal example or greater spread could look like this. 

Example 2: 

Set 1 = 50kg 

Set 2 = 65kg  

Set 3 = 80kg 

Set 4 = 100kg  

In the example above, there is a 50% spread between set 1 and set 4.

What this means is that 2 of these sets isn't as effective at creating enough challenge or stimulus to significantly increase your strength levels.  

Whilst of course this is fantastic practice and is developing the 'skill' of lifting and improving technique, your strength levels will increase more so when you are achieving the right level of intensity.  

So you could say it's all about creating the right level of optimal challenge for you in order to improve. This is where effective sets comes in.  

What is effective sets? 

Simply put, this is the effectiveness of your loads used during the session per set.  

Now, if you start really light in relation to what you can lift, you might find that you are only getting one or two effective sets in per session. Such as what is shown on example 2. So in this example, you could be leaving strength progress on the table.  

Now it's super important to mention that technique is absolutely key in developing strength and so there is still great benefit in practising with lower intensity.  

And it's also important to mention that you can't 'push the envelope' in every session (i.e. train super hard every session). So it's important to consult with your coach each session to ensure the intensity is right for you on that given day.  

As many factors can affect your ability to train intensely on any given day such as: 

  • Work/ life stress 
  • Poor sleep 
  • Lack of quality nutrition  
  • Poor hydration 
  • Too little or too much training volume. 

So it's incredibly important to remind yourself that it's always your best effort on the day and that this could vary depending on a whole myriad of factors.  

But by optimising every set during your workouts, you can begin to maximise the adaptation process and continue to develop your strength and fitness levels. 

- Coach Alex

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