Getting More from your Workouts

Bench PressTime is a precious thing for most people, especially those with kids and jobs. A lot of new Dads are particularly prone to the notion that the new arrival – as happy a time as it is – spells the end of any regular gym routine. It doesn’t have to be like that, but there might be some alterations to the program that are necessary to keep hitting the gym and fulfilling the DAD job.

The other scenario is not quite the same, and more along the lines of fitting additional training into the same amount of time to elicit improved gains – without additional fatigue or risk of injury.

Either way, this is about saving time, to (1) get more done in the same duration, or (2) get the same workout done quicker.

How can you do this? You can start with set design.

Playing with Sets

SquatHow often do you see someone pushing or pulling out a quality set and then resting for the appropriate time before cranking out another?

It’s not wrong to do this, but if time is of the essence, that minute or two spent recovering the main muscle or muscle group being used just feels like a waste.

With different styles of sets it’s easy to keep more of a rhythm going – and more time spent actually exercising – instead of spending half the workout texting on the cellphone while waiting to complete another set.

Supersets vs Compound Sets

Compound sets are actually a big mass-builder but they don’t necessarily save time in a workout. They involve doing back to back sets without rest, just like supersets, except the same muscle or muscle group is hit in the process. Compound sets increase fatigue levels and don’t make use of the rest time needed in between. Supersets however, are a way to maximize training load within the same time as the usual workout.


Supersets are back-to-back sets, but involve working opposing muscles alternately, thereby filling the rest period while NOT increasing the fatigue levels to individual muscles.

Examples of supersets would be bicep curls and tricep extensions. Another might be bench press and barbell rows.

The good news is that in the same space of time you can work out two muscle groups. The even better news is that it can improve strength gains in both muscle groups faster than it would over the normal course of cycling the exercises.

Cluster Sets

Kettle Bell SquatIf strength is your main goal, then cluster sets are an excellent way to generate greater force within the same period of time as the regular sets. In a cluster set you’d replace a strength set of 6 reps with a ‘cluster’ of mini-sets of 2 reps each (like 2,2,2). The rest in between the 2 reps only has to be 15-20 seconds.

The overall force which can be applied is bigger due to the mini-rests, meaning the muscle growth stimulus is also bigger. The duration of the workout is still the same, however, making this a prime example of getting more out of the time spent exercising.

Staggered Sets

If supersets are back-to-back sets of opposing muscle groups then staggered sets are back-to-back sets of unrelated muscle groups, where one is a main lift and the second is a minor lift.

An example of this would be if Military Press is the primary then it might be immediately followed by Calf Raises. The calf raises won’t interfere with the shoulders’ development or fatigue levels by reducing the capability of completing the main lift.

Warm-Up Sets

Inclined bench5 minutes well spent at the beginning of your workout might be warm-up versions of the main lifts that will go into the next 30 minutes (or whatever) instead of 5 minutes on a cardio machine. Not to discourage cardio, but it doesn’t prep the muscles for serious lifting, and cardio should be done after the weights.

Another good reason for always doing warm-up lifts is to add overall volume to your training. As volume is basically the total resistance moved (i.e. weight x reps x sets) then the warm-up lifts contribute to the total.

An example of a good warm up is using the bar only and completing the movement, e.g. squats, with 3 quick succession sets of 10 reps. Fatiguing the muscles is not the plan during the warm-up sets though.

Effort Level

pull downStrength and muscle-building is not accomplished with a hell-for-leather pace in the gym, and the rest periods between sets are really only required for the recovery of the muscle in order to generate the same or similar force in subsequent sets.

Filling those rest periods or at least utilizing the set time more efficiently can lead to muscle growth and strength gains that possibly were otherwise not accessible. And, all in the same or less time as the original workout lasted.

Have fun incorporating these set designs into your workouts.

Further Reading

Try this article: Bulking Up – Where To Start