I have always been a 5 sets per exercise type, and in some cases up to 10-15 sets an exercise. Chalk it up to some type of OCD but in my head I always figured, hell, everyone does 3 sets, 5 sets has to make me better. Powerlifting, I still believe, takes multiple sets (not all the time, but most of the time), and I always followed at least 5 sets of an exercise and about 15 sets per body part for bodybuilding also.
I'm talking about bodybuilding now, and although this program that I am going to describe will get you strong, I don't think that it's the best way to get really good at the bench, squat and deadlift unless you are advanced and can put tons of intensity into one set. Multiple sets helps with the setup and the execution, it "greases the groove, and gets you more proficient and efficient at the Big Three.
But for bodybuilding, I like to switch it up once in a while and put the multiple set thing aside and go for more intensity in fewer sets.
This is definitely something that I have pilfered from Dorian Yates' style of training from years ago.
I call it, Six, Six and at least Six.
It's not complicated, it's actually fun. Its fun because you have the opportunity to get fired up for just one big set!
Let's say that you are training dumbbell bench press, for example. Warmup your shoulders and chest and triceps, maybe do a light set of 10-20 reps of the dumbbell bench with a super light weight.
Then pick a weight that you could comfortably do for 10-12 reps if you had to. Perform the set with perfect form, controlled negative, fast positive. Stop at 6 reps. For your second set, pick a weight that you can do 8-10 reps if you had to. Stop at 6 reps.
Then for the BIG set, pick a weight that you know will take all out effort for 6 reps to be achieved. Get fired up for this one, get in a blind rage for this one, get mad at it for this one.
Your first set was with the 75 pounders, your second was with the 90's and now you picked the 110's for your all out set. I like those type of jumps. Small jumps suck but people like to go 5-10 pounds at time. I think that those small jumps in weights are too close to the all out set so it makes you lose some intensity for the big one, you are almost spent when you get there.
Back to the Big Set. At rep 4, 6 reps seems a long way away, but you eke out 5, and 6 takes a supreme effort, but you get it. Now, do another! You got it. Do you have one more in you? Of course you do.That 7th rep was a bitch and lock out was just a little uneven but you finished it. You are at positive failure. Don't forget the negative. If you have a spotter, have them help you squeeze out one or 2 more, but not with lousy form. I'd only do the forced reps once in a while.
If you controlled the negative and were truly giving it all that you have, doing it just on your own is most likely enough. Throw the forced reps in every few workouts and only if you have a good spotter. A crappy spotter can make a great set turn into a debacle.
Listen, you may come in to do chest, shoulders and triceps and you are in and out of the gym in 30 minutes, maybe less. If you went all out on three basic exercises, like dumbbell bench , standing press and dips with weight, that's only 9 total sets and really just 3 sets all out, balls to the wall. Start with 3 sets per body part and only train them once every 4-7 days. If you feel like you aren't getting enough out of it, try to add an exercise here and there. I know people freak out when they have to cut their workouts back, but freaking try it.
Some exercises do not lend themselves easily to forced reps (one arm rows, bent rows, squats, deadlifts), so just go to positive failure on those exercises.
And go really hard. Not like you think that you are going hard, or "going hard" now. Really go hard.
Go until you feel like your ears are gonna bleed on that last set. Crush that set like it's the one thing holding you back from greatness. Scream and groan and force out another rep on that set. Think of all the motherf@c#ers that betrayed you or were soft as hell and couldn't take it. Grip the bar so hard that you feel like your hands might bleed and break apart from the force of the exertion.
Then you won't, I suspect, want to add anything else.