In the strength training and the fitness world, you are viewed as a bit of an outcast if you recommend the performance of only one set per strength training exercise. Over the past 14 years, I have had clients, coaches, physical therapists, physicians, bodybuilders, athletes, and a myriad of fitness professionals tell me that in order to reap the maximum benefit from strength training, you need to perform multiple sets of an exercise. Indeed, the default recommendation seems to be: Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Interestingly, the research does not support this long held axiom. Two scientific journal articles published over the last two years address this very topic. The authors of both articles, Dr. Ralph Carpinell from Adelphi University and James Fisher from the United Kingdom, performed a critical examination of a recent meta-analysis (a meta-analysis is a statistical tool that allows a researcher to pool multiple studies together to look for a collective conclusion) published in a popular strength and conditioning journal. In their separate publications, Carpinelli and Fisher examined each study that was included in this particular meta-analysis. Both researchers concluded that the studies included in the meta-analysis did NOT support the assumption that multiple sets are superior to single sets.
- The variability in your Resting Metabolic Rate or “Basal Metabolic Rate” (the number of calories required to support normal bodily functions; this is the number of calories you expend each day when you aren’t physically active or exercising) is attributed solely to the amount of muscle tissue that you possess. The decline in your metabolic rate that occurs as you age is not due to chronological aging or menopause; it is due to a wasting away (atrophy) of muscle. If you strength train and regain or retain your muscle tissue, your metabolic rate will be restored.
- Cardio-respiratory exercise does NOT increase your metabolic rate (as is commonly assumed). In fact, metabolic rate decreases for a few hours after a bout of “cardio.”
- Strength training has a positive, acute effect on metabolic rate. When you strength train, your metabolic rate is elevated between 7-11% for the next 3 days. This effect exists for beginners or experienced exercisers alike.
- Strength training has a positive, chronic effect on metabolic rate. When we add muscle tissue to any part of our body, we burn more calories constantly to support that new muscle.
It is that time of year when people start contemplating the changes or resolutions that they want to make in their lives. Inevitably, some iteration of "getting in shape" falls at the top of the list for most people. I am going to side step this cliché for a moment. I'm convinced that the most compelling New Year's Resolution, a resolution that is relevant to nearly everyone, goes something like this: Work on Yourself. You can call this Improve Yourself or my personal favorite, Sharpen the Saw. Whatever the vernacular, the message is the same. Before we can become more effective and contribute more meaningfully in our relationships, in the organizations we work in, in our families, in our communities, and in the other roles we play, we must first take care of and in fact, improve ourselves. Speaking of the habit of "Sharpening the Saw," Dr. Stephen Covey states, "This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life - Investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw."
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