What are triple sets?

April 28, 2012

Q: I’m looking for a different way to organize my workouts. I usually work two body parts per day with three exercises each and three sets per exercise. It gets boring focusing on one body part at a time and then doing abs at the end of the workout. Do you have any suggestions that would switch things up and make things more challenging as well as exciting?

A: As humans, we love familiarity and can very easily get trapped into doing the same workouts day in and day out because they are comfortable and nonthreatening. This mind-set may be good for some things, like marrying your high school sweetheart, but in the realm of fitness, this philosophy works like a polyester suit on a hot summer day. It’s not appropriate, and it stinks! So if you really want to keep things fresh and continue making progress, you have to learn to shake things up. Here are four ways you can accomplish this goal with a technique I like to call triple sets.

A few years ago I began using triple sets - grouping three different sets of various body parts and athletic movements back to back with no rest to increase the intensity of my workouts as well as make them faster when time was short. The end result was a variety of different combinations that I found fun and interesting. Here are a few examples.

Triple set with core movement
Working abdominals was never my favorite thing, until I finally realized you don’t have to wait till you’re exhausted at the end of your workout to begin working them. Instead, I began injecting them between the two body parts I was planning on working out for a particular day. A good example would be on chest and bicep day, I would do incline dumbbell chest press x10, bicycle crunches x25 and straight bar curls x10 back to back and then rest for 45-50 seconds and then repeat for two more triple sets. To my surprise, not only did I get much stronger, more developed abs but a quick, intense weight training workout as well.

Triple set with super set
To change things up after about 3-4 weeks, I began grouping the muscles differently to keep my mind fresh and my body getting results by adding triple sets with a super set - two exercises for the same body part back to back with a different muscle group. For example, if I was working back and triceps, I would do a set of close grip bench presses x10, a set of skull crushers x10, and then finish with a set of cable rows. On this particular set, the triceps received the brunt of the work to stimulate muscle growth and detail in that particular area and were completely fried, but on the next grouping of triple sets I might shift the focus to the back.

Super set with giant set
To take this a step further and completely exhaust a particular muscle group, I would do a triple set of the same body part. This can be done a variety of different ways, but a good example would be seated overhead dumbbell press x10, dumbbell side laterals x12 and upright rows with a wide grip x12, back to back, and then rest 45-50 seconds and repeat the cycle for three total sets. Even though each exercise was for a different head of the shoulders, it completely fatigued the muscles and gave me a new approach to shoulder training or any other body part that I decided to pay extra attention to. This works particularly well for stubborn body parts that need extra stimulus to get them to wake up and grow.

Triple set with cardio or calisthenics
To add one more curve ball to the idea of triple sets, I began grouping two different body parts with an intense form of calisthenics or cardiovascular movement. This was something I did once I had worked my body to a higher level of fitness and could handle greater workloads. It was also a great option when I didn’t have a lot of time to work out.

A good example of triple sets with calisthenics was doing deadlifts x8, burpees x12 and overhead dumbbell press x10 and then resting 45-50 seconds and repeating until all sets were finished. I also began adding a short burst of intense cardio to triple sets to increase endurance and take the workout to a new level. A good example of a triple set with cardio was pushups x40, barbell rows x10 and jumping rope for 2 1/2 minutes.

In the end, triple sets were a great change from the monotony of my normal workouts, and they became more exciting and intense with each addition.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out