Putting together a great training program is like painting a picture. Variables like sets, reps and tempo are akin to adding dimensions to the picture. Manipulating each of these variables can easily add tons of variation and change the effect of a given training session.
Sets have a relationship with Reps, the number of exercises you want to perform for a given training sessions, the hormonal response to training, and recovery.
There are exceptions to every rule, but here are some general principles to follow that can improve your performance and increase your training economy:
Sets have an inverse relationship to reps. 10 sets of a given exercise will generally yield better results with 6 or less reps, depending on the objective of the session. 10 sets of 10 will have a vastly different training affect than 10 sets of 2.
Sets generally have an inverse relationship to the number of exercises you are going to perform. In Charles Poliquin’s Advanced German Volume Training program, two exercises are performed for 10 sets of 4-6 each. Using more than 2 exercises in this scenario would result in a marathon workout that would have diminishing returns. Louie Simmons will use one or two exercises on Dynamic Effort days for 8-15 sets of 2-3 reps as well.
Higher volumes of work in a given session (the number of sets you choose) will increase the growth hormone response to training. I.e. 20 sets will produce more of a growth hormone response than 8-10, in most cases.
When deloading, cut back on your sets, first, rather than intensity. This is a trick I learned from my mentor Charles Poliquin many years ago. Rather than wasting sets with sub-optimal performance, try to perform only 1 or 2 sets at the planned intensity range for the day.
If you have any questions about how to manipulate your sets and reps to get a desired effect, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org