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I would not have believed in 1962 that my study1 would have created such a brouhaha in the 21st century. Dr Carpinelli’s paper2 credits my study as “the genesis of the unsubstantiated belief that multiple sets are required for optimal gains in strength”. His opinion is complimentary in one respect, but I cannot take full credit for it. Most professionals in the fields of athletics and therapy have added credence and support to these words by employing multiple sets in their practice and research. In my opinion, most professionals train others with multiple sets because they have experientially discovered that multiple sets are more effective than one set. Some early research studies have compared different weight training programmes, but in practically all studies multiple sets were used in training.3–7 I am hardly the “genesis” of an “unsubstantiated belief”. Historically the medical applications of strength training for therapy involve multiple sets. One set is the exception. So Berger is not as one “crying in the desert”. There are many more therapists and coaches flinging down the gauntlet in support of multiple sets.
The probability level of 0.05, which academics hold so sacred in decision making, does not always supersede in importance common sense when considering the difficulties in experimentally attempting to control extraneous factors in strength research. One research problem is finding subjects who have had, preferably, no experience in weight training and who are able to train for long periods of time, well beyond 12 weeks, under controlled conditions. If I had concluded in my study in 1962 that one set was as good as multiple sets, I would have had more than just Dr Carpinelli voicing criticism of my paper. The practitioners in the field would have confronted me years ago to express their disagreement and would not have waited 40 years to do so.
A person who comes to my mind as one having promoted single sets in past years is Arthur Jones, the developer of the Nautilus machine. To my knowledge, he has never presented any acceptable scientific evidence supporting his belief. Furthermore, he has few adherents today of his training views, although one adherent is obvious. Of the 85 references in Dr Carpinelli’s paper, Mr Jones authored not one. Certainly his contribution to the body of knowledge in strength training should be recognised, if deserving.
I decided to deal with a limited amount of “evidence” in defence of my study. But I must preface my remarks by assuring the readers that my paper was reviewed by several researchers at the time of acceptance and approved by them for publication. The conclusions I drew were substantiated and accepted by them. For Dr Carpinelli to refer to my study as the “genesis of the unsubstantiated belief . . .” runs counter to the opinions of these reviewers.
The data in tables 1, 2, and 3 of Dr Carpinelli’s paper, which were used to critique my study, were inappropriately used according to acceptable statistical protocol. Comparisons between subgroups I-2, III-6, etc were not valid for critiquing my study. When a factorial design is used, as in my study, and no significant interaction is found between factors of sets and repetitions, then the only legitimate analysis to make is on main effects—that is, comparisons among sets 1, 2, and 3 across all levels of repetitions, and among repetitions 2, 6, and 10 across all levels of sets. When this was done, significant differences were found, with three sets and six reps resulting in the greatest improvement. I spoke to Dr Carpinelli earlier (1998 communication) about his misuse of statistics and suggested he consult a statistician. If this had been done, there would not have been a critique of my study, nor a need for one. I must admit, though, that I made the same mistake as Dr Carpinelli in my study. In table 4 of my study, I erroneously made comparisons among subgroups of sets and repetitions. However, as a neophyte in 1962 I accept the blame. Being wiser today than 40 years ago, and even considering Dr Carpinelli’s critique, I unequivocally support multiple sets over single sets for optimising strength. I would suggest to Dr Carpinelli that he conduct research of his own in the hope of gaining support for his position. If his zealousness, which is commendable, were redirected to research rather than to critiquing old studies, his academic contributions would be more fruitful.