2nd Aug 2013

Compound sets – double up for more growth

Compound sets – double up for more growth

If you’re stuck in a rut and looking for a way to increase the intensity of your workouts, compound sets fit the bill nicely. Sometimes confused with supersets, compound sets are an effective tool for any bodybuilder wanting to push a muscle group beyond its limits!

A compound set is the execution of two sets back-to-back, targeting the same muscle group. An example would be ten repetitions of dumbbell flies immediately followed by ten repetitions of the barbell bench press. This is different to superset sets, which is the back-to-back execution of exercises targeting antagonistic muscle groups, such as bicep curls (biceps) followed by arm extensions (triceps).

Benefits to compound sets are as follows:

  1. Greater testosterone and growth hormone release1. The increase in lactic acid build up is believed to result in a greater secretion of testosterone via the chemical massager cAMP (adenosine monophosphate). Lactate has also been shown to have a notable impact on the level of circulating growth hormone, which may in turn result in a heightened level of all powerful IGF-1. Not a bad cocktail of hormones to have in circulation during and after training, I think you’d agree!
  2. Greater protein synthesis. Whilst many tend to think of the “pump” as a shorted lived phenomenon of no real significance, but the process is in fact brought about due to enhanced cell hydration, which has been shown to increase protein synthesis.
  3. Increased overload and variety. The increase in workload and the variation in stimulation to the muscle tissue from the use of compound sets can help spur further progression as the muscle adapts to cope with the new stress. The increased time under tension (TUT) from compound sets can lead to greater myofilamental damage, and therefore greater muscle hypertrophy.

As with any advanced training technique, compound sets should not be used during every training session. They should be used sparing at times when you want to turn up the intensity to spur on progression. You will likely have to reduce the resistance you can normal handle during compound sets due to the greater level of fatigue you’ll face.


  1. Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. Exercise Physiology Division, US Army Research Institute of Environmental, Natick, Massachusetts 01760-5007