I think I have covered this before, but if not, let me give you a quick refresher on some things that I think are central to being fit for the long term:
- Sustainable: By and large your fitness approach should be something that you can sustain for a lifetime. Yes, there are times when you should put the pedal down and get after it. But the reality of life in our culture is that there are multiple demands on your time and energy. If you train “insane” all the time, you’ll burn out pretty quick. If you’re a high school or college student or even single in your twenties, you can likely ignore what I just said. If you have kids, a spouse, a job and anything else in your life (like a house that demands yard work etc.) you need to pay attention. You need an approach to fitness that allows you to show up, punch the clock and go to work.
- Comprehensive: You need an approach that not only deals with strength, but mobility and cardio work as well. To keep it simple, look at it this way- move well/pick up heavy stuff/get your heart rate up. Don’t be that guy that can lift a dump truck but can’t walk a flight of steps. Likewise, don’t be that yogi that can put his/her head between his/her ankles but couldn’t rip a tissue in half to save their life.
- Efficient: Your fitness approach needs to be efficient. Again if you are a high school or college student or even single in your twenties, you can likely ignore this as you may have time at your disposal to take 5 minutes between sets or talk at the water fountain for thirty minutes as your warm up. If you don’t fall into those categories, then you need to get as much out of your time in the gym as you can. So you have to be efficient.
Now, don’t take any of what I said above as disparaging to those in their twenties, or kids in school. I’m not. But life, usually, is different for those folks. That said, it’s the third thing, efficiency, that I want to look at today. More accurately, I want to talk about a tool for efficiency. Namely Giant Sets.
So what’s a giant set you ask? Giant sets have their roots in the bodybuilding culture as they are a tool that I believe can be credited to Joe Weider, but don’t quote me on that as I’m not 100% sure. They aren’t quite in the same immediate family as complexes and chains. But they are probably close cousins. I say that because giant sets, complexes and chains all:
- allow for a ton of work to be done in a relatively short period of time (great for efficiency)
- create a post workout afterburn (great for burning fat)
- increase the amount of time under tension (great for building muscle)
- get your heart rate up (great for cardio health)
So what’s the difference? Complexes and chains are circuits that cycle through different classes of movements. An example would be a complex or chain that used the following:
- Cleans (Hip hinges)
- Presses (Pushes)
- Squats (Squats)
- Rows (Pulls)
Four different exercises, four different movement types. With a giant set, the circuit would contain exercises coming from the same class of movements. A giant set involving pushes might look like this:
- 2 Kettlebell See Saw Press
- 2 Kettlebell Clean and Press
- 2 Kettlebell Push Press
- 2 Kettlebell Jerk
This circuit is all upper body push work and would leave a heck of a pump in the arms and shoulders as well as all of the above benefits mentioned. So as a tool, they allow for a great amount of work to be done. If you only had 20 minutes for a workout but wanted to focus on your upper body for the day, this would be a great way to do it. The fact that your heart rate will shoot through the roof helps with your cardiovascular health as well. So good stuff all around.
How would you program them? Here’s a couple of ways:
- As a follow up to strength work. Using the above example, If you are focusing on push movements, you would perform a heavy strength movement like a chest press of some sort or a heavy single arm kettlebell press for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. Then you would follow that up with 3-5 rounds of the above sequence for 5-10 reps depending on what weight you had available to you..
- As the push component to a total body program. This could look like this:
- Deadlift, 3 sets, 3-5 reps
- Weighted Pull ups, 3 sets, 3-5 reps
- Ab Wheel, 3 sets 5-10 reps
- Push Giant set, 3 sets, 5 reps per movement
Perform that as a circuit and you have a pretty stout workout ahead of you. You might want to have a plan for your food after that. Otherwise you might end up a little “hangry”. Give this a shot and let me know what you think. Have a great day.