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Are more sets better for older women lifting weights?

Summary of a study testing the effectiveness of two resitance training protocols on strength and body composition in healthy untrained older women.

Who

30 healthy untrained older women aged above 60 years (Brazil).

1 set group
15 females
aged 65.6±4.2 years
body mass 63.5±7.9 kg
body fat 40.1±6.3%
daily energy intake 29.5±9.6 kcal/kg
3 sets group
15 females
aged 67.1±4.3 years
body mass 62.2±8.5 kg
body fat 36.5±7.4%
daily energy intake 25.6±5.1 kcal/kg

Design

Randomised controlled trial.

1 set group

12 weeks of supervised 1-set resistance training:

  • performed in the morning
  • supervised by an exercise professional
  • combination of free weithts and machines
  • whole body program: 10-15 repetitions of chest press, horizontal leg press, seated row, knee extension, preacher curl, leg curl, triceps pushdown, seated calf raise
  • progressed loads throughout the program

3 sets group

12 weeks of supervised 3-set resistance training:

  • performed in the morning
  • supervised by an exercise professional
  • combination of free weithts and machines
  • whole body program: 10-15 repetitions of chest press, horizontal leg press, seated row, knee extension, preacher curl, leg curl, triceps pushdown, seated calf raise
  • progressed loads throughout the program

Outcome measures

  • body composition: fat-free mass, body fat % via dual energy x-ray absorptimetry
  • maximal dynamic strength: 1 repetition maximum (1RM) of chest press and knee extension

Main results

  • After 12 weeks of training both groups reduced their fat % and increased their fat-free mass.
  • 3 set group had higher increases in 1RM for both chest press and knee extension than 1 set group (chest press +6.3%, knee extension +7.7%).

Take home message

For a clinician
Untrained older women who have performed 12 weeks of 3 sets of resistance trainig had higher gains in strength than a group who has performed 1 set. Both groups however experienced similar body composition improvements.
For a parent
Untrained older women who have performed 12 weeks of 3 sets of resistance trainig had higher gains in strength than a group who has performed just 1 set. Both groups however experienced similar body composition improvements.
For an athlete
If you are an untrained healthy woman, more sets of resistance training will improve your strength better. However, if your goal is to reduce fat and increase muscle mass, 1 set of resistance training may be enough.

Original article

Ribeiro AS, Schoenfeld BJ, Pina FL, Souza MF, Nascimento MA, dos Santos L, Antunes M, Cyrino ES. Resistance training in older women: Comparison of single vs. multiple sets on muscle strength and body composition. Isokinetics and Exercise Science. 2015 Jan 1;23(1):53-60.

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