Staggered Sets to Expedite Gains

By: Josh Bryant

If growing slabs of muscular beef on your neck, traps and forearms is your mortis operandi because of violent dealings at the notoriously truculent Cairo fish market or if you just want to look better in your birthday suit—read on! The most common excuse for lack of results is TIME. For the gym socialites, this is going to require a major paradigm shift. What I am saying is small talk is out. This is your workout; you are not Dale Carnagie. Be a missile with laser like precision. The way to complete more, particularly the extras you normally skip, is called staggered sets. Staggered sets involve training several muscle groups together, alternating the muscle groups with each successive set.  Generally, larger muscle groups are paired with smaller muscle groups.  An example would be using a wrist roller in between sets of the squats. The larger muscle group recovers while you train the smaller one. Of course the big movement is the priority; the key to success is to avoid interference.  Between sets of deadlifts, grip work is out (you have to grip the bar), biceps are out (unless you want to tear a bicep), back, abs and hamstrings are outtriceps pushdowns, lateral raises and flyes are in.
You get the idea! In 2008, a Spanish study supported the efficacy of this training method.  Two groups with strength training experience did two separate workout protocols.  One was a standard bench press workout of five sets, the other staggered sets of bench press, calf raises and leg extensions.  The bench press consisted of the same sets and reps as the first group. Bench press performance was unaffected. Interestingly, the researchers called this training “circuit training.”  It was more intense than traditional staggered set training. Applied to a training program, more will get done, weaknesses will be brought up, and more calories will be burned. If your forearms need extra work, try some fat grip zottman curls between sets of leg presses; for the neck give the four way neck machine a shot between exercises on arms day.  The idea with staggered sets is to stimulate muscles, do not annihilate them in the words of the immortal, Lee Haney. No time—no problem—staggered sets are the solution!