So is it possible? Or is this some kind of joke? Can a person REALLY make a muscle bigger doing just one set of an exercise?
Well, some say the whole issue of doing one set of an exercise versus doing several sets of an exercise to make a muscle grow bigger is "controversial". I say it's only controversial to those who haven't really looked into the issue. Let me give you an example...
In 2000, a study done by Chris Hass was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise that looked into the question, "Is it better to do one set of an exercise, or three sets of an exercise to get stronger?".
Several things made this a very noteworthy study. For one, the researchers used the best design possible to prove their point- a randomized controlled trial. Secondly, they used subjects that had been doing just one set of an exercise already- for at least a year. This is good, because anyone who's lifted weights knows that gains come much easier when you first start lifting, compared to months and years down the line.
So, the researchers took their 42 subjects who had been doing one set of an exercise for at least a year, and suddenly had half of them start doing THREE sets of an exercise. For example, instead of doing just one set of bicep curls, a subject would start doing three sets of bicep curls. So what happened?
Well, five weeks later, when researchers tested all the subject's strength to see who got stronger, they found that BOTH GROUPS GAINED THE SAME AMOUNT OF STRENGTH. In other words, it made no difference whether a person did one set of bicep curls, or three sets of bicep curls- they all got equally as strong! And as you get stronger, you get bigger...
What's sad is that this kind of thinking, doing just ONE set of an exercise to gain size and strength, is not what goes in in most gyms. A lot of people spend many wasted hours trying to get bigger doing more and more sets in what winds up to be a futile attempt to get bigger and bigger. If you take steroids, this approach may work, as you will have greatly increased your ability to recover from a workout. But for your average person, without the genetics of a Greek God, you might as well be hitting your head against the wall!
This finding, that one set is equal to three sets, is not an isolated study either, and has in fact been duplicated over and over in the published research. One example is the 2007 study done by Arce Esquivel published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.