Muscle Multitasking

With staggered sets, you work two diverse areas together.


Per Bernal


There’s a lot of idleness in a work­ out. All those rests between sets are
lost opportunities to stimulate growth. Of course, you don’t want to take away from the muscles you’re resting, but you can work an unrelated muscle during that downtime. By hitting two body parts in the period that you’d normally work one, you can multitask your way to greater gains.


As a name, “staggered sets” is lame. “Diverse attack” would be clearer (and cooler), but “staggered” means you can work a smaller body part by alternating its sets with only some of the sets of a bigger body part. Smaller usually means calves, abs, and forearms, though it might also mean biceps, triceps, or deltoids. You can train abs with any other body part. Because you don’t want your grip lessened when doing, say, pulldowns, forearms should be worked only with legs; for similar reasons, calves can be worked with anything but legs. Any staggered work for biceps, triceps, or deltoids should also not rob strength from the bigger body part. So you can stagger in pushdowns with legs but not with chest presses (which also work triceps).

In addition, cardio can be staggered into your weight training. Do 10­ to 15­minute sessions of high­ intensity cardio between body parts. For example, work quads, hit the StepMill for 10 minutes, work hams, hit the treadmill for 10 minutes, work calves, and finish off with 10 minutes of elliptical. Instead of 30 minutes of continuous tedium, you’ve broken it into more palatable pieces and kept your enthusiasm, focus, and intensity elevated. And such up­tempo intervals are better for burning fat than longer, lower tempo work. 

There are three ways to do staggered sets:

Unrelated Supersets

Alternate a set for a bigger body part, like the back, with one for a smaller, unrelated body part, like calves. You probably won’t want to do as many sets for the smaller body part, so simply skip supersetting one or two exercises. For example, if you do 16 sets and four exercises for the back, you’ll do 12 sets and three exercises for calves.

Asymmetrical Combos

Do one set for the smaller body part for every two or more sets for the larger body one set for abs between every two sets for arms, and after 12 sets for bi’s and 12 for tri’s, you’ll also have cranked out 12 for abs. This is the classic method of staggering.

Between Exercises

Perform one set for a smaller body part between exercises for larger body parts. For example, throw in a wrist curl set after completing every leg exercise, and over the course of a workout consisting of four exercises for quads and three for hams, you’ll squeeze in seven sets for forearms, almost without noticing. 


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