Giant Sets: An Upper-Body Circuit Workout for Faster Strength Gains

STACK Expert John Papp explains giant sets and offers 2 upper-body workouts that use them to build mass & muscular endurance.

Have you ever heard of giant sets? Have you ever used them in your training? If you have, you know how incredibly exhausting and beneficial they can be. Today, I am giving you an intense upper body circuit workout that you can crush!

So what is a giant set, you ask? A giant set consists of four exercises targeting the same muscle group(s), usually performed for four or five sets of 10 to 15 reps. Giant sets make for a workout with extremely high volume, and they are an excellent way to gain mass (hypertrophy) and improve muscular endurance. They are also ideal for getting a full training session under your belt in minimal time. Personally, I love giant sets for busy days when I only have 30 to 45 minutes to train.

Regarding rest, to be honest giant sets leave little time for it. You complete all four exercises without rest between them and rest 90 seconds between rounds (of four exercises). That's why giant sets are incredibly beneficial for training muscular endurance.

From a safety standpoint, it's important to remember to use much lighter weights than you normally do, since your muscles will be totally exhausted when you reach the later rounds. Also, never pick exercises for giant sets that could put you in a dangerous situation during the periods of extreme muscle fatigue you will experience—exercises such as the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk.

Now that you know more about giant sets, let's get to the fun stuff. Below is a sample upper-body circuit workout that uses giant sets to train your chest, then your back and biceps. I love this particular workout and have personally done it many times. You will be in and out in 30-35 minutes but still have an incredible training session.

Make sure to watch the video above for visual demonstration of each exercise!

Giant Set 1: Chest

1) Dumbbell Bench Press with Band Resistance—4x10

Dumbbell Bench Press with Band Resistance

  • Wrap a light band around your upper back and over your shoulder blades.
  • Grab the ends of the band in your hands.
  • Pick up the dumbbells and lie down on a flat bench.
  • Press like you were performing a traditional Dumbbell Bench Press.

2) Decline Push-Up—4x10

Decline Push-Up

  • Put your feet up on a bench or low box.
  • Keeping your body straight, perform a Push-Up, stopping just before your nose touches the ground.
  • As you get into later sets, you might have to regress to normal Push-Ups and possibly lower your knees. See video for demonstration.

3) Standing Band Chest Fly—4x12

Standing Band Chest Fly

  • Set up ands on the posts of a rack or rig, just above shoulder-height.
  • Grab the bands, assume a split stance and lean forward slightly.
  • Keeping your hands and arms at chest level, pull your hands forward until they reach one another, then return.

4) Lying Flat Bench Dumbbell Pullover—4x10

Lying Flat Bench Dumbbell Pullover

  • Grab one dumbbell and lie down on a flat bench with your head at the top.
  • Take one end of the dumbbell in both hands, cupping one of the weighted ends.
  • Extend your arms above your chest, with a slight bend at the elbows.
  • Keeping the same bend in your elbows, bring the dumbbell behind your head and return it up to above your chest.

Rest 3 minutes

Giant Set 2: Back & Biceps

1) Side-to-Side Pull-Ups—4x10

Side-to-Side Pull-Ups

  • Grab a pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Start to pull yourself up as if performing a traditional Pull-Up, but instead of pulling evenly, pull harder on one side than the other.
  • At the top of the Pull-Up, your torso should be shifted over to one side.
  • To regress the movement, perform traditional Pull-Ups or Assisted Pull-Ups (partner preferred).

2) Suspension Face Pull to Row—4x10 (each)

Suspension Face Pull to Row

  • Grab the handles of a suspension trainer and walk your feet forward with your arms fully extended.
  • Keep your body perfectly straight.
  • Face Pull: With your palms facing down, start to pull your body up, moving your hands toward your eyes with your elbows up. You should end the movement with your hands next to your face at eye level.
  • Return to the top position.
  • Row: With your palms facing down, start to pull your body up, this time aiming for the lower end of your sternum.
  • As you pull, rotate your hands from the palms-down position to a palms-facing-each-other position (neutral grip.)
  • One Face Pull and one Row equals one total rep.

3) Suspension Bicep Curl—4x12

Suspension Bicep Curl

  • Grab the handles of a suspension trainer and walk your feet out.
  • Rotate your hands so your palms face up.
  • Moving only at the elbow joint, pull your body up towards the handles.
  • End with your hands directly in front of your face.

4) Band Pull-Apart—4x15

Band Pull Apart

  • Grab a light band with both hands in a double overhand grip (palms facing down), hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Raise your arms up so they point directly away from your body.
  • Keeping your arms at the same height the entire time, pull the band apart until your arms point directly out from your sides.
  • Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together (as if you were trying to hold a credit card between them).

To build mass and improve your muscular endurance, give this workout a shot! Check out the video above to view demonstrations of each exercise.

Chase it!

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock