Giant Sets and Metabolism

by Dr. Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., CSCS*D

April 21, 2017

Surprisingly, resistance training can help you achieve your fat loss goals! Many people only use cardio as their source for fat loss from exercise. Cardio is a great form of exercise and it can promote fat loss. However, from all of the evidence I’ve seen, resistance training not only is a great way to enhance fat loss, but it can be significantly more enjoyable to perform as well for those who prefer lifting. A huge aspect of being successful in your fitness journey is to truly enjoy the process. What’s the point of exercise if you can’t have fun!

So how does resistance training enhance fat loss? The proposed mechanism of action for an increase in fat loss is an increase in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is an important part of a successful weight loss program because it is an indicator of an increased metabolism. Increased EPOC after training is due to an increase in protein synthesis, elevation in growth factors (i.e., hormones), and the need to replenish your muscle energy stores, glycogen. Resistance training causes your body to have to work over-time to get back to where it was prior to the training session. This is achieved through an increased amount of oxygen consumption; what we call VO2. In consuming this excess amount of oxygen, the carbs and fats that you have stored as energy are now being put to use. Once your body is done utilizing the energy you have consumed, it can begin metabolizing the stored energy in your fat cells. So when you’re EPOC is high, your metabolism is also elevated, and you are burning through your reserves of energy. The longer your EPOC lasts, the more stored energy is being broken down to be used to bring your metabolism back to baseline.

It’s important to understand that traditional resistance training by itself may not cause a significant amount of fat loss. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 1998 found that 10 weeks of resistance training plus cardio resulted in greater fat loss than lifting weights alone. Unfortunately, in that same study, strength gains were cut in half when cardio was added to weightlifting; this is called the interference effect that will be covered in a later article. However, there is a form of weight lifting which may elevate EPOC high enough to drastically raise metabolism. The method I am speaking of is Giant sets.

Giant sets are a form of metabolic training when you perform three or more exercises in succession with little to no rest between. The lack of rest simulates the sprinting stimulus you get when doing HIIT and increases energy demands on the body. In fact, a classic study by Schuenke, et al. (2002) showed that following a giant set of resistance training exercise, EPOC (and therefore metabolism) was elevated for 48 hours after exercise. The study took seven resistance trained individuals and performed four giant and circuit style sets of 8-12 reps at a 10RM for bench, squat, and power cleans. The participants were allowed to rest two minutes between each set of exercises. graph As you can see by the graph, metabolism was significantly elevated even two days after performing the exercises. This 48 hour rise in metabolism can lead to more calories burned therefore, more weight loss. This longer period of EPOC may indicate a shift in what type of fuel is being used as well as which ultimately will favor fat loss.

The take home message in this article is to understand that there are many different ways that you can lose body fat. This can be achieved through HIIT, low intensity cardio, diet, and giant sets. Giant sets are a great option because they can be apart of your resistance training and you can periodize them into your program so that you reap the benefits of higher intensity resistance training as well as metabolic training. You can incorporate giant sets 1-3 times per week during your fat loss program.