Compound sets are a great way to build mass in weaker areas, supersize certain muscle groups or just simply use as a finisher to blast through a workout quickly.
Compound sets and Giant sets (pretty much the same thing with more exercises) are a way of taxing out a certain muscle group with two or more exercises performed back to back without rest. This increases the intensity of the exercises on that particular muscle group and really forces the muscle to grow and get stronger.
By targeting a muscle with multiple exercises you can focus on increasing the time under tension and volume which really increases the amount of size producing growth factors within that tissue.
Now there are multiple ways to set up compound sets. You can simply choose two to four (recommended as top end in a Giant Set) exercises for a particular muscle and then just get to work. But to optimize the effects it's better to prioritize your movements in order of compound sets first followed by more isolation exercises.
That way you can focus first on being able to overload the tissue with some heavy load and then continue to work your way down into smaller and safer exercises that can be manipulated or de-loaded quickly as your muscles fatigue.
Take the example in the video above is Barbell Military Press with Dumbbell Lateral Raises and Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises. These are paired in order of toughest exercise to easiest exercise in order to get the most stimulation possible. The overhead press can be loaded optimally, while the other two exercises are simply chosen to reach a certain repetition range.
Now you can program these exercises for strength, hypertrophy or muscular endurance depending on your repetition range, but since after the first set your body is pretty taxed from performing a myriad of exercises back to back, the full length of recovery is often too long in order to really classify a compound set as serious strength work. So setting your repetition range too low (reps of 5 or lower) is often counterproductive and dangerous.
A typical set and rep scheme for these exercises might be 3x 6-10 on the heavier compound exercises with subsequent isolation or accessory exercises falling in the 3x 10-15 and 3x 10-20 for the smallest exercises.
So something like this...
Barbell Shoulder Press 3x 10
DB Lateral Raises 3x 15
DB Rear Delt Flye 3x 20+
This allows you to fully tax all the muscle fiber types in succession through a mixture of moderately heavy weight and high repetition, stimulating that growth.
A couple other of my favorites (typically these are great additions to add into your arm program) are:
Barbell Bicep Curls 3x 8
Dumbbell Alternating Curls 3x 10-12
Dumbbell Hammer Curls (or) Cable Curls 3x 20+
Weighted Dips 3x 8-10
Skullcrushers 3x 10-12
Overhead Cable Extensions 3x 12-15
Although these are just a few of the combinations available, you can imagine that the list of compound set combinations is endless. So the next time you're in the gym and you're short on time or simply need to bring up a lagging muscle group give a couple sets of this intensity technique a try and really fry out your muscles in short order. Now let's go and build up some muscles.
Jesse “Captain Smash” Howland is the owner of SMASH’s Strength Lab, which offers targeted personal training to reach a variety of fitness and physique goals. A natural bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, Jesse is often the go-to resource for personal training Ottawa. He studied Exercise Science at Oregon State University and even trained at the world famous Gold’s Gym. He’s a former US Army Captain with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a former blog writer at Veterans Fitness Career College, and former Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). His workouts and personal training are army-inspired to help reach your weightloss, athletic, or physique goals.