Giant sets are one of the very best ways to train for muscular hypertrophy and fat loss. There is a reason IFBB professional bodybuilders Milos Sarcev and Ben Pakulski relied on them to develop their superhuman physiques!
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you how design giant set workouts for every body part!
- Part 1: Chest
- Part 2: Back
- Part 3: Shoulders
- Part 4: Biceps
- Part 5: Triceps
- Part 6: Quadriceps
- Part 7: Hamstrings
Giant sets are by far one of the most effective training methods that you can use to build muscle.
A giant set is defined as a circuit of four or more exercises performed in a row for a single body part. Typically you will only rest 10 seconds between each of these exercises.
Here is what a typical giant set for the chest might look like in practice:
- Perform exercise A, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise B, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise C, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise D, rest 2-4 minutes
Altogether this circuit counts as one giant set. You might perform this entire circuit 3-5 times in a typical giant set workout!
As you can see the overall training volume adds up very quickly.
Giant sets have three main advantages over traditional straight sets:
- They dramatically increase the total time under tension per set.
- They recruit and fatigue more motor units thanks to the increased number of exercises.
- You can perform an extremely large volume of work in a relatively short period of time.
The bottom line is giant sets are a superior training method for stimulating muscular hypertrophy.
There are of course two major disadvantages to giant sets that you should be aware of.
The first major disadvantage is that giant sets can be difficult to recover from.
All of the routines in this article feature a max of 4-6 exercises per body part. I designed them this way to make them somewhat easier to recover from.
The second major disadvantage is that giant sets can be difficult to perform in a busy commercial gym.
After all I don’t think your gym manager will appreciate you hogging 4-6 pieces of equipment at a time!
Whenever possible I have minimized the number of stations that you need to use per routine. For example for the chest workout all exercises can be performed with an adjustable incline bench.
You should be able to perform most of these routines in a typical commercial gym but of course your mileage may vary.
I hope you’re ready: I am about to give you a master class in designing giant set workouts for every major body part!
These routines could easily be called “weapons of mass construction” for their ability to add slabs of muscle mass onto your frame in record time.
If you have any difficulty reading these routines then I suggest you consult my article on reading a training program. It should answer all of your questions!
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Chest
Let’s kick things off with a challenging all-dumbbells giant set workout for your chest!
I’m a huge fan of using dumbbells for training the chest. They allow for a much larger and more natural range of motion than barbells.
Of course there are advantages to using barbells. They let you lift more total weight and you can safely train in the lower rep ranges.
However, all other things being equal an incline dumbbell press will always recruit more motor units in the pecs than an incline barbell press.
With that in mind let’s take a look at the following chest workout. Check it out:
Chest Giant Set Routine
- A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 30 degree incline barbell press, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Decline hammer strength machine, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Standing cable crossover, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 240 seconds rest
As I mentioned earlier this routine focuses exclusively on dumbbells to overload the pecs.
The superior range of motion of dumbbells allows for a much better stretch on the pecs. More and more research is coming out highlighting the benefits of loaded stretches for muscle hypertrophy.
The incline DB presses and incline bench presses do a fantastic job of overloading the upper chest.
A common mistake amongst bodybuilders is they never use higher incline dumbbell and barbell presses to train the upper chest.
Most bodybuilders seem to think that anything greater than a 30 degree incline is going to transfer the lion’s share of the work to the anterior deltoids. This is simply not true!
The upper chest has the ability to fire during very high incline presses and even during overhead presses.
But don’t just take my word for it – here is IFBB pro Ben Pakulski talking about this very concept:
Ben is easily one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry and I recommend you listen closely to what he has to say.
Now I wouldn’t recommend you use overhead presses as your primary chest builder. However, the point stands that you are limiting the growth of your chest if you never press on anything greater than a 30 degree incline. 45, 60, and even 75 degree incline presses can help you to recruit new dormant muscle fibers in the chest and spur on additional growth.
Part 2: Back
The upper back is one of those muscle groups that seems to respond especially well to giant sets training. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, there are a huge number of different muscle groups in your upper back. For example, you have the lats, rhomboids, traps, teres major, and spinal erectors to concern yourself with.
Some people will even include the rotator cuff and/or the rear delts when talking about upper back training. This is a lot to keep track of!
Fortunately with giant sets you can select a variety of exercises to thrash all of these different muscle groups.
The other factor to consider is the upper back has a diverse range of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. There is even a lot of variation within individual muscle groups!
For example, while the superior fibers of the lats are relatively slow twitch the inferior fibers of the lats are much more fast-twitch.
The advantage of giant sets for upper back training is they achieve a perfect balance between heavy loads and prolonged time under tension.
Here is one way you may want to design an upper back giant set. Check it out:
Upper Back Giant Set Workout
- A1: Wide overhand grip lat pulldowns, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Wide parallel grip lat pulldowns, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: T-bar row, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Cable rope low row, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 second rest
- A5: Cable rope face pull, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
This giant sets workout includes five separate exercises to train all the muscle fibers in your upper back.
The first two are wide grip pull down variations designed to improve the “width” of the back while the last three are rowing exercises designed to add more “thickness.”
As a general rule of thumb the lats and teres major are responsible for most of your back width while the spinal erectors, traps, and rhomboids are responsible for most of your back thickness.
Whenever you are doing a giant sets workout it is extremely important to pick the correct weights for each exercise.
You should be able to use your normal weights during the first 2 exercises. However, you should expect your strength to decrease significantly during the last 3 exercises.
Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. After all, you shouldn’t expect to be at full strength with only 10 seconds rest between most exercises!
I want you to do your best at selecting weights that allow you to get 10-12 reps in good form. I want a good stretch and contraction on all of the rowing exercises (see the videos above).
When it comes to giant sets training it is less about how much weight you use and more about how you use that weight to damage the target muscle.
Let me say that another way: your muscles don’t know how much weight is on the bar. They only know how hard they are being forced to work!
Something to think about during your next upper back giant sets workout 😀
Workout #3: Shoulders
I find a lot of people have a hard time “feeling” their shoulders work during compound exercises. This is especially true for the side and rear deltoids.
If this describes you then you are going to LOVE this shoulder giant sets workout!
On this routine you are going to pre-exhaust the side and rear deltoids with a couple of exercises each before moving onto an overhead pressing exercise.
In my experience this works extremely well for blowing up the shoulders with a ton of blood and forcing the shoulders into growth! Check it out:
Shoulder Pre-Exhaust Giant Set Routine
- A1: Seated Poliquin DB lateral raise, 3-4 x 12-15, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Seated bent over DB rear delt raise, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Seated DB partial lateral raise**, 3-4 x 25-30, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Seated band pull-apart, 3-4 x 12-15, 1/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
- A5: Seated DB overhead press, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
**Perform the bottom-half of the range of motion only.
Trust me, this workout is much harder than it looks. Workouts for the shoulders are normally a lot easier to complete than workouts for the upper back or legs.
However this is only true for more traditional workouts. All bets get thrown out the window when you throw giant sets into the mix!
By the time you get to the seated DB overhead presses your shoulders are going to feel ready to explode!
You can expect to use dramatically less eight on the overhead presses than you would normally use in a workout.
The 2 lateral raise variations are pretty unique so I want to talk about them a little more.
I see so many trainees (both in person and online) performing lateral raises with way too much momentum. In reality they are barely stimulating their side delts at all!
Now I totally understand the motivation behind cheating on lateral raises: by using some “body English” you can use much heavier dumbbells.
The problem with this is cheating on lateral raises ends up reducing the number of motor units you recruit in the side delts.
In my experience poliquin lateral raises and partial lateral raises are better solutions than cheating lateral raises.
The Poliquin lateral raise involves bending your arms during the concentric range of the lift and straightening your arms during the eccentric range.
This is really a form of eccentric training as you are much stronger with your arms bent than with your arms straight! You get to handle heavier loads but without having to compromise your form.
The Poliquin method on lateral raises is especially effective if you control the eccentric range with a true 2-5 second eccentric phase.
The partial lateral raise is another excellent exercise for overloading the side delts.
On this exercise you are going to use extremely heavy weights. This may be as much as 50-100% heavier than what you can strict curl!
You simply raise your arms to your sides as far as you can go and then lower yourself back down. This exercise is fantastic for overloading the stretched position of the strength curve.
If you bust your ass on this routine then I am confident you will be pleased with the results!
Part 4: Biceps
There are four major muscles that are responsible for bending the elbow: the biceps, the brachialis, the brachioradialis, and the pronator teres.
Most trainees focus their time training the biceps at the expense of the other three muscles. This is a huge mistake!
After all, the brachialis alone contributes as much to your overall upper arm size as the biceps!
If you want to maximize your upper arm strength and size then you MUST give all of these muscles the attention they deserve! Here are some of the best exercises for targeting these exercises:
- Short head biceps exercises: incline curls, narrow grip curls
- Long head biceps exercises: preacher curls, wide grip curls
- Brachialis / brachioradialis exercises: pronated or reverse grip curls
With that in mind I would like to share with you a giant set that is fantastic for overloading all of the elbow flexors. Check it out:
Biceps / Brachialis / Brachioradialis Giant Set Routine
- A1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3-4 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Seated zottman curl, 3-4 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: 30 degree incline DB spider curl (supinated grip), 3-4 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
Each of these exercises was selected to overload a different portion of the elbow flexors.
As a general rule of thumb supinated grip curls work the biceps, neutral grip curls work the brachioradialis, and pronated grip curls work the brachialis and pronator teres.
As you can see this giant set will thrash all of the muscle fibers in your anterior upper arm!
I really want to bring your attention to the third exercise in this routine: the seated zottman curl. In my opinion zottman curls are the single best exercise you can do to train the elbow flexors.
The concentric range of the exercise is performed with a supinated grip while the eccentric range is performed with a pronated grip.
Of course you are stronger curling with a supinated grip than a pronated grip. This means you are overloading the eccentric range of the exercise!
In fact you may find that lowering the weight under control is more difficult than lifting it up!
Although this exercise primarily targets the brachialis it does a fantastic job of fatiguing all four of the elbow flexors.
The bottom line is this is one of the best giant sets routines you can do to develop big, strong arms. As an added bonus you can perform this routine in any commercial gym as you only need to hog one adjustable incline bench.
I highly recommend you give this routine a shot!
Part 5: Triceps
The triceps are a very tricky muscle group to train. Unlike most other body parts the triceps really seem to grow best when they are trained with a healthy mix of compound and isolation exercises.
On the one hand it is really important to move heavy loads on the big “money” exercises such as close grip bench presses and dips.
This is especially true when it comes to targeting the lateral head of the triceps as it is almost entirely made up of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
The lateral head has even earned the nickname “the lazy head” because it takes very heavy loads to fully recruit this muscle!
On the other hand the triceps also respond extremely well to isolation exercises. This is especially true if you can find isolation exercises that place a large stretch on the triceps.
There is more and more research coming out every year showing that loaded stretches amplify hypertrophy gains.
With that in mind here is an awesome triceps giant set workout. Check it out:
Triceps Giant Set Workout
- A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-4 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Decline DB extension, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Cable rope overhead extension, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Cable rope pushdowns, 3-4 x 15-20, 1/0/1/0, 240 seconds rest
This routine uses a wide variety of exercises, rep ranges, and tempos to thrash as many muscle fibers in the triceps as possible. Let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
The first exercise in this routine is the parallel bar dip. Dips are an extremely underrated exercise. It is very rare to see someone using this exercise as a core part of their long-term triceps training. I believe this is a mistake.
Dips could easily be regarded as the absolute king of triceps exercises! In fact tricep dips have been shown by the scientific literature to recruit more motor units in all three heads of the triceps than the close grip bench press.
Perhaps more people should be slaving away at the dipping station instead of on the bench press?
The second exercise is the decline dumbbell extension. This exercise is easily one of the best exercises you can do to target the lateral head of the triceps.
The lateral head is mostly recruited in the stretched position of decline movements. This means you want to focus on maximizing the triceps stretch you get in the bottom position of the decline DB triceps extension.
The third exercise is overhead rope extensions. This exercise places the largest possible stretch on the triceps and is awesome for working the long head.
The long head of the triceps is located on the backside of the arm and is by far the meatiest head of the triceps. You don’t want to neglect this muscle!
Finally the routine finishes with cable tricep pushdowns. Normally I am not such a huge fan of this exercise. After all, it tends to recruit fewer motor units than other free weight triceps extensions and compound pressing exercises.
That being said it will enhance the training effect of this routine by cranking up the amount of metabolic fatigue in the working muscle.
Workout #6: Quadriceps
“May God have mercy on my quads, because I won’t.” You need to have this attitude going into a quadriceps giant set workout!
There is a reason so many people skip leg day. Training the quadriceps is hard, hard work!
Of course that brings us to giant sets. Training the quadriceps with giant sets is probably the single most painful thing you can do in the gym.
Yes, they are even worse than a true set of 20-rep “breathing squats.” You have to be a little bit of a masochist at heart to survive a routine like this. Check it out:
Quadricps Giant Set Routine
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-4 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-4 x 12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Walking lunges (holding DBs), 3-4 x 12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Dumbbell squat (heels narrow / elevated), 3-4 x 12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A5: Step up (holding DBs, alternating legs), 3-4 x 12, 2/0/1/0, 240 seconds rest
Every single set on this routine should be performed 1-2 reps shy of technical failure. Stopping 1 rep shy of failure means your last rep is an absolute grinder and you barely make it.
If you were to attempt another rep then you would surely miss. Stopping 2 reps shy of failure means you have 1 good rep “left in the tank.”
Again, only the most hardcore of trainees would attempt this type of routine. If you’re up for the challenge then let’s check out the training videos:
Milos Sarcev normally likes to use a wide variety of machines during his quadriceps giant sets.
I agree that this is a fantastic approach as you don’t have to worry about balancing yourself on free weight exercises as you fatigue.
The main challenge with using machines during this type of routine is that you have to hog multiple pieces of equipment to make this work. This simply isn’t a viable option in a regular commercial gym.
Instead I have designed this routine so that you can perform it with nothing but a squat rack and some dumbbells.
Don’t worry, this workout will still be painful enough even without leg presses or machine hack squats thrown in.
If you have an unusually high pain tolerance and want to build bigger legs in record time then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot.
Part 7: Hamstrings
The hamstrings are a lot like the triceps in that they seem to grow best when you are using a good mix of compound and isolation exercises.
Exercises such as deadlifts and good mornings are going to give you your best return on investment but the various leg curl exercises are great for isolating the hamstrings.
The bottom line is you need to use both knee flexion and hip extension exercises in your hamstrings routines for optimal results.
This giant set routine uses a huge variety of exercises to fatigue as many muscle fibers in your hamstrings as humanly possible. Check it out:
Hamstrings Giant Set Routine
- A1: Snatch grip deadlift, 3-4 x 6-8, 4/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointing out), 3-4 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointing in), 3-4 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: 90 degree back extension (holding DB), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 10 seconds rest
- A5: 45 degree back extension (holding DB), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 240 seconds rest
Every one of these exercises was selected for a reason. The snatch grip deadlift is a highly underrated exercise. In fact I consider snatch grip deadlifts to be a little bit better than conventional deadlifts for building muscular hypertrophy.
One of the challenges with this exercise is that it can be very fatiguing to the lower back. Don’t worry, the two leg curl variations will give your lower back a much needed break before you move on to the back extensions.
This routine is extremely taxing. You may find that you have to drop the weights significantly from one giant set to the next. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal.
I do think you should be aware of how much your strength is dropping during the course of the workout.
Specifically I recommend you use a 20% fatigue drop off curve for this routine.
This means that if your strength drops by more than 20% over the course of the hamstrings workout then you should probably stop and call it quits for the day.
Let’s look at an example. Joe Average performs this routine for the first time. His performance on the snatch grip deadlift looks like this:
- Giant set #1: 300 pounds x 7 reps
- Giant set #2: 280 pounds x 6 reps
- Giant set #3: 250 pounds x 6 reps
Joe Average wisely decides to call it a day after three total rounds of this giant set.
After all, he would probably need to drop the weight to 220 pounds to get in his required reps on the fourth giant set. This would constitute a drop in weight greater than 20%.
All in all this is one of the most demanding but rewarding hamstrings hypertrophy workouts that you can perform.
You now have 7 incredibly effective giant set workouts that you can use to train every major body part.
More importantly you should understand how to go about designing your very own giant set workouts.
Giant sets are easily one of the most effective hypertrophy training methods ever invented.
If you respond well to higher-volume training protocols then I think you are going to love the results you get from these routines.
And now for some shameless self-promotion. If you want to take your training to the next level then the choice is obvious: hire Dr. Mike Jansen!
I know how badly you want to achieve your fitness goals. You wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t obsessed with getting the most out of your training.
If you have a specific goal in mind then I can help you achieve it in record time. I say this because I have done it over and over again with my clients.
I will design customized training programs that take you from point A (where you are right now) to point B (you reaching your goals) as fast as humanly possible.
Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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