In the past, the cornerstone of most resistance training workouts has been performing exercises in a straight set format. Essentially,
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this means you perform a certain number of reps for a given exercise or as many reps as possible for a given exercise and then you rest anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes based on your training goals before repeating this set a certain number of times based on your goals. For more of a fat loss and lean muscle gain emphasis shorter rest periods are ideal. For more of a strength or power emphasis, longer rest periods are prescribed.
So, what's the problem with this format? Well, though straight sets are extremely easy to comprehend for people new to fitness, they are also an extremely inefficient way to order your exercises. In most commercial gyms you'll typically see someone perform three sets of 10 reps for let's say the bench press. They pump out 10 reps go to the water fountain, talk with some buddies, watch a couple of highlights on ESPN, and then gingerly walk back to the bench area to hit up their second set. In general, most people, guys in particular, tend to take at about 3-5 minutes between sets. In the case of three sets of 10 on the bench that means it would take up to 15 minutes to complete only one movement pattern (a horizontal push). That means you'd need at least in hour to perform four different exercises!
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A much more effective and time-efficient approach to ordering your exercises is utilizing the alternating set format. Here you'll perform one exercise, rest for a short period of time, then perform another non-competing exercise, rest for a short period of time, and so forth. Alternating sets allow you to work different areas of your body when you would otherwise be resting with the straight set format. Plus, by working another area of your body with a non-competing exercise you allow your body to recover from the previous exercise(s). The result is improved training economy and density: more work accomplished in less time, the cornerstone of any sound fat loss program. There are several ways to perform alternating sets outlined below:
1.) Supersets: Alternate between two different non-competing exercises (e.g. upper body and lower body such as push-ups and lunges)
2.) Trisets: Alternate between three different exercises (e.g. push, pull, and lower body such as push-ups, rows, and lunges)
3.) Circuits: Alternate between four or more different exercises
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