There are basically two types of timed sets. The first is performing a set for a given amount of time; for example, performing bench press repetitions for 30 seconds. Here the primary focus is building muscle endurance. Everyone has a “slowing down” point regardless of weight and you may want to break through that barrier. By the way, if you want to get a “muscle pump” this is a good way to go.
For an instant chest explosion try this: – Bench press with a 60% RM or higher. 3 sets. 30 seconds of bench press. 30 seconds rest.
Personally, I think this type of timed set is better suited for ballistics over grinds. 30 seconds on/30 seconds off is a tried and true formula for kettlebell swing conditioning. Well executed swings will easily get you within 60-70% of your max heart rate. From there, you can modify the work to rest ratio or overall workout duration to suit your specific conditioning goals.
The second type of timed set is having a prescribed number of sets and reps and performing each set “on the clock”. This can be done with ballistic movements or grinds. In either case, it works quite well.
One great example is the kettlebell military press. Your goal is twelve sets in twelve minutes. Perform 3 repetitions on the right and the left every minute on the minute. You will be amazed that in a short period of time you have moved a large volume of weight. Let’s say that your kettlebell of choice was the 24Kg. At 36 reps per arm, you just pressed 1728 Kgs overhead in 12 minutes. Now, does that number mean anything in isolation? No, not at all. However, you have just imposed some discipline and honesty into your training. From there you need to evaluate your current performance levels as well as your goals/needs and implement a sensible plan.
Similarly, the kettlebell snatch is another great exercise under the rubric of timed sets. Perform 5 snatches per arm every minute on the minute. Voila! You’ve just completed 100 snatches. Again, this doesn’t mean much alone. But it gives you a data point. Remember, you need at least two points to draw a line.
So, what’s the implication? Well, there are a couple.
1. For most of us, time is a valuable commodity. Performing your sets on the clock will enable and force you to get your work done on time. Putting in the time is not enough. Seek to get the most out of it.
2. Timed sets establish a consistent way to take data points and somehow relate that to the abstract notions of getting fitter, better, stronger, etc…
3. Timed sets intrinsicly create a goal oriented training mindset during a given session, but more importantly fit very well into a goal oriented framework over a longer term. The obvious example is the RKC snatch test. Not only must you complete 100 kettlebell snatches, but they must be completed under the time constraint of 5 minutes. Now we have a second data point and can begin to draw that line. Remember 100 snatches in 10 minutes? From this point you have to double your efficiency. How do you get there? That’s where good programming comes in and timed sets help you establish that roadmap. Moreover, similar goals can be set throughout your training cycles in order to keep you motivated and moving forward. Last year, I used timed sets to reach a goal of moving 50 times my bodyweight with double kettlebell clean and press in ten minutes. At that time it was 3750 Kgs or approximately 78 reps with 24s. From there, the math was easy. I needed to work up to 8 reps a minute for 10 minutes.
There are a couple caveats. Don’t ever force a rep, do a bad rep, or do a set to failure. If you don’t hit your numbers on a given day, that’s OK. Getting unnecessarily injured is not. Additionally, training with timed sets IS NOT the best way to achieve absolute strength gains. If you want to increase the 1 rep max of a certain lift you need longer rest periods between sets.
Unless you have some specific 1RM goals timed set training will work well for you. You will achieve strength gains as well as significant body composition improvement. Arguably, the conditioning effect, requisite discomfort tolerance, discipline, and pseudo-urgency will have better carryover to other athletic endeavors and everyday life than a high 1RM lift will alone.
Another method to consider is the interleaved timed set. You can pack a lot of work into a short period of time and still have long enough rest periods to focus on strength development.
Here are some examples from our training this week:
Double Kettlebell Front Squat alternated with Double kettlebell Clean and Press.
24 Kg Kettlebells
5 reps of Squats on the Odd minute and 5 reps of DCP on the even minute.
10 Sets of each –> total time 20 minutes.
Barbell deadlift alternated with Double kettlebell clean and press.
225lbs on the barbell, 24 Kg Kettlebells
3 reps of DL on the Odd minute and 3 reps of DCP on the even minute
16 sets of each –> total time 32 minutes.