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1 Top Set Per Exercise/Multiple Exercises. How Many Sets Per Muscle Are Needed?

I know Dorian Yates and your Yates inspired program advise 1 top set to failure per exercise. But he did multiple exercises per muscle.

My question is how many sets per muscle do you think it takes to stimulate muscle growth?

Jeff Willet, one of the best drug free bodybuilders ever, advises 4 to 5 sets per small muscle groups (arms) and 6 to 7 total sets per larger muscle groups (legs, chest, back).

Would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks.

There is a GIANT thread right now on Paul Carter’s section of the forum covering this. Take a look.

He also did multiple sets… he did one all-out set, but also had several “warm-up” sets. But on the big lifts, some of these warm-up lifts where the same intensity as a normal trainee’s work sets. His last warm-up was like a 8/10 on the RPE scale, which definetly had a training effect.

I would go as far as to say that he had 2-3 sets that had a signfiicant training effect per exercise and he had 3-4 exercises per muscle. So really that is 6-12 work sets per muscle group. Which is actually not that far off from “normal” bodybuilding training.

  1. In your opinion how many would you recommend for each muscle?

Arms - 3 or 4 total "top"sets
Chest, back and Legs - 6 total “top” sets

  1. If triceps were to get 3 total top sets, would you break them into 3 different exercises or could you get the same result doing 3 all out sets with ONE exercise?

I know Dorian Yates and Thibaudeau’s Yates inspired program advise 1 top set to failure per exercise. But he did multiple exercises per muscle. And Paul I think I’ve seen you talk about 1 top set before.

My question is how many sets per muscle do you think it takes to stimulate muscle growth?

Jeff Willet, one of the best drug free bodybuilders ever, advises 4 to 5 sets per small muscle groups (arms) and 6 to 7 total sets per larger muscle groups (legs, chest, back).

Would love to hear Paul’s and everyone’s thoughts! Thanks.

Weekly it’s 8 or more sets although if using rest pause it would be different.

Thanks for the reply, but Yates normally did 2 for biceps and 3 for triceps. Even 3 for chest.
Paul what are your thoughts on this

That’s the norm. Dorian actually did three movements for biceps and three for triceps generally.

Jeff wasn’t drug free either. Skip LaCour talked about this sometime back.

Paul, so do you agree with the the 4 to 5 sets for smaller groups and 6 to 7 for larger like Willet advises?

Also what is the difference between doing 1 all out set of squats, 1 all out set of leg press, and 1 all out set of hack squats…as opposed to do 3 all out sets of squats?

Or his tricep workout: 1 set of lying extension, 1 set of pushdowns, and 1 set of overhead extensions, again as opposed to doing just 3 sets of the same exercise?

There’s differences with all three of those movements. And depending on how each is performed, differences between the movements themselves and what they are biasing.

With barbell squats, I can make it a more glute dominant movement as opposed to a more quad dominant movement based on how I’m performing it.

With hacks, I’ve got more bracing due to the pad which eliminates the hips. This means for people with poor ankle and/or hip flexibility it can be a better option than barbell squats, and it tends to bias the quads more. This also makes it a better quad movement than the barbell squat for those with longer femurs.

The leg press takes away the axial loading all together and can allow the lifter to make it a more glute/hamstring dominant movement depending on foot placement, or a more quad biased movement for the same reason.

So they all can do different things, and even depending on how you’re performing them the same “lift” can be doing different things, i.e. stressing one muscle area more than another.

Ok. I’ve just been comparing the max OT program with Dorian Yates program because those are the type of intensity workouts I like to do. I like going heavy and going to positive failure…

I’m just trying to figure out how many sets I need to be doing?

thank you for your responses

Search Paul’s forum for “max ot “ as he has commented on it before.

It’s a great program with many of the principals Paul talks about (although as I said, he had thoughts about it posted elsewhere).

I think the reps are too low and the loading is too high. Your joints take a beating on it after a while. Could be useful for a 4 week phase but I wouldn’t recommend people being on it all the time.

It also depends on what kind of training you were coming out of before you try it. That’s a huge factor most people don’t consider from training cycle to training cycle. Then wonder why they aren’t getting the results they want.

Would 3 weeks 4-6 reps then 6 weeks 8 to 12 reps and repeat be a good idea in your opinion?

These are generic questions. Again, not trying to come across like a dick.

What are the goals? What kind of adaptation did you have to the 4-6 rep sets? What kind of stimulus will be generated with 8-12 rep sets?

There’s just so much more here than throwing random rep numbers out asking if it will be good.

If you were fully adapted to the movement selection in the 4-6 rep range, but having excellent results in accordance with goals, wouldn’t it be wiser to simply change out movements rather than make wholesale changes?

The move from 4-6 reps with higher intensities to 8-12 reps with lower intensities will bring about more of a metabolic adaption than a neural one. Is that the goal?

Mostly do 8 to 12 reps. Apart from deadlifts havent done much under 6 reps. Will the chest respond to 4 reps at 20 degrees incline?

Here is what Mike Mentzer called in the early 2000’s his most productive routine, a 2 way split, typically training one on and one off. It’s from Ironman but I am crediting and cutting and pasting in case the link needs to be eliminated:

Workout 1 (Monday)

Leg extensions 1 x 6-8
Leg presses 1 x 6-8
Squats 1 x 6-8
Leg curls 2 x 6-8
Calf raises 2 x 6-8
Toe presses 1 x 6-8

Dumbbell flyes or pec deck 1-2 x 6-8
Incline presses 1-2 x 6-8
Dips 2 x 6-8

Pushdowns 1 x 6-8
Dips 1 x 6-8
Lying triceps extensions 2 x 6-8

Workout 2 (Wednesday)

Nautilus pullovers 2 x 6-8
Close-grip pulldowns 2 x 6-8
Bent-over barbell rows 2 x 6-8

Universal machine shrugs 2 x 6-8
Upright rows 2 x 6-8

Nautilus laterals 2 x 6-8
Nautilus presses 2 x 6-8
Rear-delt rows 2 x 6-8

Standing barbell curls 1 x 6-8
Concentration curls 2 x 6-8

IT comes out to 18 work sets a day or 63 per week if training one on one off, and he lists 7 bodyparts, which would be about 9 work sets a week (though hamstrings and calves are clumped with “legs”. Muscles are getting 5-10 work sets a week on average, 8-10 for larger groups, 5-7 for smaller.


Thanks for that reply and info!
I like it, similar to Dorian workout and Max OT workout.

I remembered seeing a video where Dorian said “the only set that mattered was the one all out set… all the others leading up to it was bullshit” in his words.
I just never knew what he felt was best for total sets per muscle.

Max OT is different where they give a total set amount per muscle and you can either use all with the same exercise or use different exercises as long as you hit those total sets.

Ex:Triceps 6 total sets.
Could be 6 sets of tricep extensions…or could be 2 sets extensions, 2 sets pushdowns, 2 sets overhead extensions

Dorian said this, Arnold said that. Doesn’t mean it works the best for everyone. Listen to your own muscles. They will tell you what works best.


Sorry but even if Jeff and Skip weren’t natural like u say Paul. They still have the best all around natural looks I’ve seen anywhere by far. Something about Max Ot must work