Advanced Muscle Building – The Extended Set

by Chris on January 22, 2013

Since cutting weight to compete in October at the 132′s, followed by Hurricane Sandy, having the flu and generally having almost 2 months of little to no training, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to move back into the 148lb weight class as much as possible. The events of those months left me in a very detrained state which wasn’t helped by the fact that I’m one of those guys who starts losing weight as soon as he stops training. As such my training since the beginning of December ’11 has been primarily focused on putting on as much size as possible. It’s the first time in years that I have consistently focused on something other than building my strength limit.

So when I decided to move up in weight I needed a good plan to do it. Step one was simple: crank up the volume big time. Normally I train with sets of 6 reps and below, with 6 being high for me. I’ve been known to say that anything over 6 reps is cardio, so that should tell you all you need to know about my training philosophy. Based on the results of my last meet it’s worked pretty well for me.

On top of simply increasing my volume, I also wanted to get a little extra “umph” out of my training, so I turned to a favorite technique that I’ve used before with myself and clients with great success: extended sets.

What is an extended set? I’m so glad you asked. It’s pretty much exactly what is sounds like: a method that allows you to get a little extra out of a given set or exercise. The most common extended set method is rest-pause.

Rest. Pause.

Rest-pause is simple. You do a normal set of a given exercise, rest 15-20 seconds and then try to bang out as many more reps as possible. If you do it right you’ll normally only get a few more (I typically try to get at least half as many reps as I did on the original set). Here’s an example from my workout yesterday:

Squat – 235 x 6 reps

Rest 20 seconds

Do 3 more reps

Try not to fall down

You can do as many extra rest pause sets as you want, but normally you’ll only do 1-3. Lately I’ve been implementing this only on the last set of my primary lift and for only one rest-pause set. So continuing my example from yesterday, here’s how my squats looked:


135 x 6

185 x 6

205 x 6

225 x 6

235 x 6

245 x 6

235 x 6, rest 20 seconds then do 3 more reps

Yeah, it was as much fun as it seems.

Mechanical Advantage Extended Set

This is another method I’ve been using on select assistance movements. The logic is similar to rest pause: perform a traditional set, take a very short rest and then bang out some more. With this technique, however, instead of just trying to do more reps you’re going to change something about the exercise to make it easier and get extra reps. A common example is changing your grip.

I’ve been using this a lot for my back training (rows and pull-ups). I’ll start using the “weakest” grip, such as an overhand wide grip on pull-ups, do as many reps as possible then change to a stronger position to get a few more reps. I use this the same way as rest pause, i.e. only on my last set. Here’s an example:

Overhand, wide grip pull-up x 10 reps

Neutral grip pull-up x as many as possible

Underhand grip chin-up x as many as possible

Both of these methods are a great way to get as much as possible out of a training session. You’re not forcing reps or doing anything that is outside your limits. Rather, you are pushing you own limits and using good training techniques to build upon them.

These techniques work great during hypertrophy focused training when you’re trying to get some extra volume in. Try them out.

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