A widowmaker set is a set of 20 reps, usually performed for the squat. They’re performed in a “rest-pause” set style with the lifters 10 rep max weight. Traditionally, a true widowmaker set is performed without re-racking the weight at any point in the set.
The goals of widowmaker sets are hypertrophy and mental toughness.
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How to Perform a Widowmaker Set
Here are the steps to performing a widowmaker set for squats.
- Start with the 10 rep max for the squat on the barbell.
- Perform around 10 reps.
- When needed, the athlete will rest in between reps. Without re-racking the weight, they will take deep breaths until they are ready for the next rep.
- Repeat until 20 reps are achieved.
- Re-rack the weight.
Choosing a Weight for Widowmaker Sets
Widowmaker sets are typically recommended to be performed at a lifter’s 10 rep max weight.
Many people ask “how can someone perform 20 reps with a 10 rep max? Wouldn’t that mean the weight isn’t actually the 10 rep max?”
Technically yes, but widowmaker sets are a bit different.
Widowmaker sets can more accurately be thought of as a 10 rep max set + 10 singles.
Is it still 20 reps? Yes, but the extended rest between reps 11 through 20, even though the barbell is on the lifter’s back, is the key difference here.
Usually, a 10 rep max set is done with minimal rest between reps. An athlete may rest a couple of seconds to reset and focus on the next rep, but that’s about it.
During a widowmaker set, the athlete may stand there taking deep breaths for 20, 30, or 40 seconds in between reps.
That’s the difference.
Starting Widowmaker Sets
If you’re starting out with widowmaker sets, try using a weight that you can hit for 12 to 15 reps. Busting out 20 reps will still be tough, you’ll get to practice using rest-pause breaths in between reps, and your form will probably be a little cleaner than using your true 10 rep max weight.
When to Use Widowmaker Sets
Widowmakers are included in programs like Doggcrapp and 5/3/1.
They have specific uses and where they appear in the program depends on which variation is being run (in the case of 5/3/1) and the development level of the lifter.
In other words, widowmaker sets are not an everyday, year-in-year-out training tool.
5/3/1 Widowmaker Sets
As you can see, the “15 to 20 reps” portion of this advice deviates slightly from the “true” widowmaker definition, but the idea is the same: pushing well beyond comfortable boundaries.
- Limited Time/Widowmaker Sets – T-Nation Forum
- Widowmaker: More than 20 reps? – T-Nation Forum
- The Fitness Wiki
Doggcrapp Widowmaker Sets
Doggcrapp prescribes widowmaker sets as part of the rest-pause training routine for quadriceps.
These are typically performed for leg presses, hack squats, or the back squat, depending on the workout.
Other Widowmaker Sets
Outside of 5/3/1 and Doggcrapp, widowmaker sets can be thrown into a training routine on an ad hoc basis to spur muscle growth. They’re usually included as a “finisher” after the main work of the training session. Again, they’re most often performed for the squat.