Typically, it is believed that in order to gain muscle and burn fat, you need a high-volume workout. “High volume” basically means workouts consisting of 20 or more sets per workout. I have personally read countless articles and studies that insist that this is the best (and sometimes ONLY) way to get jacked and/or ripped.
But can these claims be backed up with good, hard evidence? Well, it certainly LOOKS like they can! Many “experts” will say fancy-sounding things like, “High-volume routines lead to elevated growth hormone levels and high concentrations of intracellular amino acids, which will stimulate protein synthesis (muscle growth)”. It sounds good, right?
I can tell you that I have personally used a high-volume approach with both myself and many of my clients over the years, and during these phases, to say the results were dismal would be a compliment! Sorry, high-volume advocates, but with all due respect, there’s a better way.
It is important to understand that “volume” is defined differently depending on whom you ask. Some use complicated equations to calculate total tonnage, while others simply multiply sets times the number of reps. I have found that in regards to calculating volume, the best method is also the simplest. Here it is…
I simply define training volume as the total number of work sets performed per workout. That’s it! Thinking about volume in this way will actually help you to achieve your best results without have to use a calculator even once.
Now, before going into detail about how much volume you should aim for, let’s discuss, in detail, how many sets per workout constitute low and high volume. It’s important to make a note that the set ranges below do NOT include warm up sets.
29 sets and up per workout
20-28 sets per workout
13-19 sets per workout
5-12 sets per workout
So how can you determine what your optimal training volume is? It turns out that most trainees should ALWAYS train in the low or moderate volume ranges. The few exceptions to consider are:
Beginners– Trainees with little or no training experience have to learn proper technique first and foremost. Learning proper exercise form (like most skills in life) requires many repetitions. This can be accomplished with a relatively light weight (an empty bar in some cases), which won’t impede recovery too much. Therefore, due to the low intensity and the shorter rest intervals that most beginners must initially use, a higher volume program would be permitted.
Conditioning Work– The guidelines in this post are for strength training sets. If, for example, you were to finish your workout with five sets of rope jumping, you would not have to calculate these sets as part of your training volume.
Individuals with superior recovery ability– There are some individuals who can perform a higher number of sets and still make progress. I will say, however, that just because these people can “get away with it”, doesn’t mean that higher volume is optimal, even for them. I would still encourage them to stick with a lower volume approach.
The Bottom Line
I prefer to focus (as should you) on an optimal training volume. I’d like to give you something very important to think about. I have found that during a workout, some people will say, “I feel good, I can do another set.” This is not a good way of thinking. When you’re training, don’t make the decision on how many sets to do based on how you’re feeling during the training session.
Instead, ask yourself, “If I do that extra set, will it help me get stronger for the next time I come into the gym?” The answer is usually “no”. More often then not, these extra, emotionally driven sets lead to nothing but overtraining.
The most important indicator to determine if you’re training at your optimal training volume is simply your training performance. Are you improving workout to workout, or are you stuck at a plateau?
I have very strong beliefs on this subject because I have found that performing more sets than your body can tolerate is the NUMBER ONE reason why people fail to achieve their training goals. If you want real results, you have to train with your head as well as your heart. So stop doing high volume workouts and start getting great results!
In the comment section below, feel free to share your opinions on training volume or ask any questions that you may have on this topic.
Dedicated to your success,