Why I Am Using Top Sets In My Training – Jeromy Bryk

Jeromy Bryk – @Bryk_Squuaadd

Over the past 6 months or so I have been experimenting with the use of Top Sets on my main movements in my training and have found success this way. For the most part, I have used these on my squat and deadlift and will be implementing them into my bench press programming in my next training phase. In this article, I wanted to share with you guys the benefits of using Top Sets as well as how to know if they are right for you and how to implement them into a program. 

What is a “Top Set”? 

A “top set” is essentially a when a lifter works up to only one or two heavy sets on their main movement for a given rep range rather than using multiple sets with the same weight (3×3, or 5×5 for example), which is very similar to the max effort method. This method is popularly used in the 1-5 rep range and is known to be most beneficial to intermediate and advanced lifters. Top sets are often accompanied by “back down” sets where the lifter performs 2-3 sets at a lighter weight, typically with increased reps to add volume to the workout when necessary. 

Why I am Using “Top Sets”

Personally, I have found top sets to be beneficial in the sense that I am able to “shake hands” with a heavy load each training session and still be able to recover optimally. As I get stronger and begin to push the physiological limits of my body I have noticed that I have a very difficult time recovering from multiple heavy sets (ex: 4×4, 10,8,6) especially on my squat and deadlift. 

Outside of better recovery from my heavy sessions, I will be honest that I am implementing top sets since I have a very difficult time getting motivated to train my main movements when the sets are higher in reps and sets. I find that I have more fun and train a movement more intensely when I know I am gunning for 1 set with all out effort as opposed to working with multiple submaximal sets. As silly and “soft” as that may sound, I know what works well for me both mentally and physically, and it is better to work with an approach you know that you will give your all to and get the most out of, rather than doing something you don’t enjoy and only giving a half assed effort. 

This approach will also allow me more time to work on accessory movements following the main work without spending unnecessary amounts of time at the gym! (Especially on leg day). 

How to Implement Top Sets

Before I begin discussing how I plan to implement this method, I would like to note that from what I have seen, top sets are known to be most beneficial to intermediate and advanced lifters, or at least those who are highly familiar with the movements and can perform them with proficient technique. This is due to the decrease in amount of reps that you will be spending in the “working set range” using this approach. If you are a true beginner to the sport and want/need work on your technique, a multi-set approach may be the way to go for you. 

I am implementing Top Sets into my programming using methods similar to a max effort, conjugate style approach. At the beginning of each of my competition lift days, I will be choosing a variation of the chosen lift and working my way up to a top set in the 1-5 rep range. My plan is to do 2-3 week waves with a single variation working from a top set of 3, down to a top set of 1 before swapping the exercise out and beginning a new wave. The top sets will be followed by some back down sets where I will be dropping the weight down and doing 2-3 sets of sub maximal work. 

Below is a sample of how top sets will be used for my squat in my next 4 weeks of training: 

Week 1: 

Box Squat: SSB W/Bands

  • Work up to heavy set of 3 (Stop 1 set short of failure) 
  • 2×5 Back Off Sets @70% 

Week 2: 

  • Speed Squats: 8×2@55% with chains

Week 3: 

Box Squat: SSB W/Bands

-Work up to Heavy Set of 3 (beat week 1 top set)

-2×5 Back Off Sets @72% 

Week 4: 

Box Squat: SSB W/Bands

-Work Up to Heavy Single

-2×5 backdown sets @75%

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