May 5 "What you get for free costs too much." -Jean Anouilh
When considering efficiency in training it is important to understand that one set to failure per exercise would be an optimum way to train. In order to do this productively an athlete must understand the concept of intensity and have the ability to put it to use. When the ability or understanding to train with high intensity is lacking a coach can substitute with higher volume, or additional sets.
The problem is that many high school and college athletes to not understand how to train with high intensity. Failure should not necessarily mean concentric failure but it can also mean taking a set to concentric, static, and eccentric failure. When performing a set to total failure like this, it will never be necessary to perform a second or third set.
It takes a lot of training and experience to understand the level of intensity required. Coaches can keep this in mind as they begin athletes on a training regimen to begin with high volume and taper off as the intensity of the athlete picks up.
When training to failure in the method described above we recommend the use of machines for safety purposes. There is a line of equipment that is being manufactured by Negative Attitude that allows the athlete to perform eccentric failure movements safely. This is not an ad for their line of equipment but they do serve training for that purpose. If you would like more information about Negative Attitude e-mail us and we can get you their contact information.
Performing two or three sets on certain exercises is fine for those who are still trying to learn to train with high intensity. To test whether an athlete has mastered this, have them perform a set to failure then wait about 60 seconds and perform another set. If they can't perform any reps (or maybe one or two because of the brief rest) using the same weight then they are beginning to understand how to give a 100% effort in their set.
Some athletes in high school will figure it out but often it takes many athletes longer to understand how to train with the maximum amount of intensity. Let us know if you have any comments or questions about training to failure.