T Nation

Singles for Strength?


What are the advantages/disadvantages to doing singles vs sets of 3 or 5 for building max strength.


Advantage: More weight on the bar

Disadvantage: More chance of getting hurt if you don't know what you're doing or have poor form.


As long as the singles aren't true 1RMs then its one of the best tools for perfecting technique and peaking for a meet. I get much more benefit out of doing say 12 singles on the squat at 90% than doing 3 work sets of 4 reps. Same weight and volume but a much more intense and deliberate type of workout. I really can't explain the science behind it, but it works. Wouldn't do this year round as you'll likely burn out and end up with a lot of muscle imbalances, but leading up to a competition its fantastic


Personally, I think that doing heavy singles with 90% or more of your max is the best way to build strength, at least for a PLer. It teaches you to strain with heavy weights and allows you to do more overall work. With sets of 3-5 if you go too heavy your form can break down on the later reps potentially leading to injury.

It also teaches you to focus all of your effort into 1 rep, instead of trying to leave something "in the tank" for the later reps. The downside of singles is that you will have a harder time doing reps later on b/c your muscles are used to doing only 1 rep, but your assistance work can help with this.

Sets of 3-5 will lead to more hypertrophy along with strength gains, but overall for pure brute strength I think singles work better. You could also try working up to a heavy single and then doing back-off sets of 3-5 to try to get the best of both worlds.


Read the "Singles Club" by Chad Waterbury.


I think the key is the percentage of your max rather than what your rep scheme is. That's why the westside template is really versatile - you want to get at least three reps at 90% or above, but how you do them is up to you. Three singles, a double and a single, or a triple. The important part being that you're dealing with a weight that is very heavy to you.

That's why things like heavy rack lockouts or supra-maximal holds are really good too. Gets you used to the heavier weight and makes your current max seem lighter in comparison.


Advantages: you can get very strong very quickly. You become very confident with heavy weights. You perfect form.

Disadvantages: you can get very bored very quickly if you are only training with singles. If used throughout training, it can extend the training time.

I wouldn't worry about getting injured doing singles. One can work at 90% of 1RM for numerous reps with no breakdown in form. in fact - it's so easy and pleasurable that you run the risk of overtraining the CNS.


I used EDT for strength for a while and it worked wonders for my 1RM and strength endurance.

(try to get 15 singles in 15 mins then up the weight.)


Thanks all for the advice. Ive been training mainly for strength lately in the 3-5 rep ranges, but want to build a bit of muscle now. I looked into EDT and the system intrigues me. My concern though, was that EDT wouldn't lead to strength improvements, and may even cause losses in strength, but your point Laken makes me think otherwise.

I'll start another post though on the questions for EDT, but......

If really it only matters what weight your lifting, and not so much on the rep scheme, then im thinking of doing singles for a while.

Say i would normally do 5 sets of 3 with 3 minutes between sets.

I might now try 7-10 singles with the same weight, but only 1 minute rest between sets?

Does this seem feasable, or should i rest longer, and just try to get 2-3 good singles in?


It's not the weight per se, but the total volume that has the greatest effects on mass gain. Lifting a heavy weight in singles 15 times or lifting a moderate weight for 3 sets of 5 is not the same. Volume is higher on the first.

I find that a progression of 5 lbs is easier than a progression of another rep.

1 minute is good. you can rest a little longer between sets in the later sets. You can use also that as a deteminant for when you should stop and an indicator of progression as well. When you can't lift a weight after resting for one minute, you terminate the set. Recover, try again the next session up to add another set.

If you really go after this remember to take a high rep day periodically to get blood into the joint tissues. 30-40 reps for one or two sets is good for that. That'll keep you healthy.

Steve Justa had an interesting program in his book "Rock,Iron,Steel." He's a goofy bachelor nebraska farmer, but his singles program works pretty well. His advice is the more exercises you do in this manner, the fewer sets per exercise you should do, as you can burn out your CNS lifting everything at 90%. However, his program assumes you'll be performing the same exercises every day. If you can get recovery days and are doing splits, 6-10 sets is not a bad number to try and hit each session.

Sorry for the novel.


OP, It's been said that doing 5 sets of 5 or 3 will lead to better strength gains than doing 5 sets of 1. You compensate this by doing up to 20 sets of 1.

EDT will lead to strength gains, especially when you do very heavy singles. With what I said above, 15 singles in 15 minutes is a good aim, unlike doing just 2-3 good singles.