Purpose: To compare effects on strength in the early phase of resistance training with one or three sets and fast or slow speeds.
Methods: A total of 115 healthy, untrained subjects were randomized to a control group or one of four training groups: one set fast (approximately 140 degrees.s(-1)), three sets fast, one set slow (approximately 50 degrees.s(-1)), or three sets slow. All subjects attended training 3 x wk(-1) for 6 wk. Subjects in the training groups performed unilateral elbow flexion contractions with a target six- to eight-repetition maximum load. Control subjects sat at the training bench but did not train. One repetition maximum strength, arm circumference, and biceps skinfold thickness were measured before and after training.
Results: One slow set increased strength by 25% (95% CI 13-36%, P < 0.001). Three sets of training produced greater increases in strength than one set (difference = 23% of initial strength, 95% CI 12-34%, P < 0.001) and fast training resulted in a greater increase in strength than slow training (difference = 11%, 95% CI 0.2-23%, P = 0.046). The interaction between sets and speed was negative (-15%) and of borderline significance (P = 0.052), suggesting there is a benefit of training with three sets or fast speeds, but there is not an additive benefit of training with both.
Conclusions: Three sets of exercise produce twice the strength increase of one set in the early phase of resistance training. Training fast produces greater strength increases than training slow; however, there does not appear to be any additional benefit of training with both three sets and fast contractions.