A larger training volume will require longer recuperation. It’s best to split workouts up over the week to achieve a greater training volume. Your current training volume will determine how many additional sets you can add while recuperating. Volume (i.e., sets) has a strong relationship with hypertrophy. Hypertrophy can occur with a wide range of set volumes. This is highly dependent on your genetics, ability to recuperate, and current training status.


HOW MANY EXERCISES PER WEEK MAXIMIZES MUSCLE GROWTH SUMMARY

  • Sets and muscle growth are correlated up to a certain point, but doing more won’t increase muscle hypertrophy.
  • Beginners should start with a low training volume.
  •        Advanced lifters will need a higher training volume.
  •        A larger training volume will require longer recuperation. It’s best to split workouts up over the week to achieve a greater training volume.
  •        Your current training volume will determine how many additional sets you can add while recuperating
  •        Volume (i.e., sets) has a strong relationship with hypertrophy.
  •        Hypertrophy can occur with a wide range of set volumes. This is highly dependent on your genetics, ability to recuperate, and current training status.
  •        Excess muscle damage will impair the muscle growth process.
  •        Volume has an inverted U-shaped relationship in which sets can increase muscle growth up to a point. Thereafter, adding further sets won’t increase muscle growth.

WHAT IS THE OPTIMAL NUMBER OF SETS PER WEEK?

If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, you will need more volume than a beginner. A lifter will gradually need to increase the number of sets, reps, weight, etc., in their training cycle to keep making gains in muscle growth.

MULTIPLE SETS INCREASE MYOFIBRILLAR HYPERTROPHY

Increased volume is especially important for advanced lifters. The body becomes remarkably adaptive to resistance exercise; a higher exercise stimulus threshold will be needed for muscle growth. Multiple sets increase muscle protein synthesis and anabolic signaling pathways in muscle.

Studies have found a positive correlation between volume (i.e., sets) and muscle protein synthesis.[1,2] Similar to protein synthesis, anabolic signaling pathways are increased after multiple sets compared to single sets.[3] For example, one study found that 10 sets of 10 reps resulted in a greater muscle anabolic signaling pathway activation than 5 sets of 10 reps.[4]

Don’t misinterpret this study to think you should start doing 10 sets per exercise. It’s a single study showing a greater increase in signaling pathways with greater volume. The greater increases in anabolic signaling pathways and protein synthesis with higher sets can lead to greater muscle growth than single sets.

how many exercises per workout myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy how many sets per workout high reps vs low reps how many sets per muscle group per week how many sets for hypertrophy how many sets for muscle growth volume vs weight 3 factors of hy

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SETS AND MUSCLE GROWTH

The principles of the relationship between volume and increased muscle growth are well documented in Olympic weightlifters. Although weightlifters are interested in peak force development, they often perform hypertrophy cycles.

When Olympic lifters go through hypertrophy cycles (3 sets of 10 repetitions), in which volume is highest, there is an increase in muscle size, whereas when they transition to power/strength cycles (3 sets of 5 repetitions) and volume is the lowest results in a decrease in muscle size.[5] Previous studies have found that one set can increase muscle growth in beginners. However, muscle growth follows a dose-response curve with moderate (3 sets) and high (5 sets), resulting in greater muscle growth.[6]

Baseline levels of muscle mass predicted beneficial responses to higher volume training.[7] This suggests that trained athletes need a greater set/rep stimulus than novice lifters. Multiple sets are superior to a single set for strength gains, muscle endurance, and arm growth.[8]

THE SETS AND MUSCLE GROWTH META ANALYSIS

One of the most compelling arguments for multiple sets for enhancing muscle growth is a meta-analysis by James Krieger, in which he found that muscle growth was the greatest in those that did 2-3 sets versus 1 set. He also found that the 4-6 sets had a slightly better increase in muscle growth than the 2-3 sets. The meta-analysis showed that doing more sets leads to more muscle growth than a single set.[9]

The same author later conducted another meta-analysis and reported a linear relationship between sets and muscle growth. Less than 5 sets per week resulted in the least muscle growth (5.4%), whereas more sets, 5-9 sets (6.6%), and 10+ sets (9.8%) resulted in greater increases in lean muscle mass.[10]

Other studies have shown that 15 sets per week resulted in greater muscle mass than 9 sets per week.[11] Based on the research, between 10-20 sets seems to be the threshold for the maximum number of sets per week for muscle growth.

Dr. Schoenfeld, one of the leading experts in muscle growth, was quoted as saying, “10+ sets per week is necessary to maximize the hypertrophic response to resistance exercise. Again, this represents a minimum threshold. We now need to determine the maximum upper threshold for volume lies to promote the greatest increases in muscular gains.”

HOW MANY EXERCISES PER WORKOUT SESSION

Probably 3-4 sets per exercise are a suitable target, with 2-4 exercises per body part. In his book Scientific Principles of Hypertrophy Training, Dr. Israel recommends that 70% of your volume come from the big compound movements (i.e., multi-joint exercises such as bench press, squats, etc.), leaving 30% for isolation work (i.e., leg extensions, leg curls).

It’s best to use a wide variety of rep ranges for compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises are more suited to lower reps and isolation exercises to higher reps. Performing high repetitions (>20 reps) with compound movements such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press results in extreme central nervous system and peripheral fatigue.

It’s no coincidence that you can perform 20 reps of calf raises and feel perfectly fine a minute later, but try 20 reps of squats, and you will be gasping for air. Also, exercise form is less likely to break down with isolation exercises, while compound movements have a greater risk of injury with deteriorating exercise form.

how many exercises per workout myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy how many sets per workout high reps vs low reps how many sets per muscle group per week how many sets for hypertrophy how many sets for muscle growth volume vs weight 3 factors of hy

how many exercises per workout myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy how many sets per workout high reps vs low reps how many sets per muscle group per week how many sets for hypertrophy how many sets for muscle growth volume vs weight 3 factors of hy

HOW MANY SETS PER WEEK FOR HYPERTROPHY DEPENDS OF CURRENT TRAINING VOLUME

It’s well documented that resistance exercise with multiple sets can increase muscle protein synthesis, which stimulates a cascade of events leading to increases in muscle growth. [12,13] There is no universal set range that will work for everyone; for optimal results, some people will need more sets, whereas others will need less.

Many people perform too many sets, leading to an imbalanced stimulus to fatigue ratio. Dr. Israetel termed the phrase a high stimulus to fatigue ratio, meaning that the set should be highly stimulating but minimize the amount of fatigue occurring during the set. The stimulus to fatigue ratio can be further worsened if the sets are performed to complete muscular failure.

HOW MANY EXERCISES PER WEEK MAXIMIZES MUSCLE GROWTH? (THE SET RANGE SCIENCE RECOMMENDS TO GAIN MUSCLE)

Training to complete muscular failure will require longer recovery periods, and thus a bodypart will have to be trained less frequently. A 2019 study had subjects perform either 8 or 12 sets per workout to complete muscular failure. The group that performed 12 sets had a slightly greater increase in muscle protein synthesis, but the author suspected this might have been caused due to greater muscle damage for the 12-set group. Interestingly, both groups had similar increases in muscle growth.[14]

You shouldn’t aim for muscle damage in your workouts. Inflicting more muscle damage doesn’t guarantee more muscle growth. You should aim to strike a balance where you stimulate the muscle without causing damage that requires long recovery periods. Those who have tried eccentric overload exercises can attest that such exercises can weaken muscle strength for several days afterward.

FINDING THE RIGHT SET VOLUME FOR MUSCLE GROWTH THAT WORKS FOR YOU

In order to achieve optimal muscle growth, it is well known that resistance exercise with multiple sets can increase muscle protein synthesis. However, the specific number of sets required varies from person to person. Some individuals may require more sets while others may need fewer sets to see the best results. [12,13]

It is important to avoid performing too many sets, as this can lead to an imbalanced stimulus to fatigue ratio. Dr. Israetel coined the term “high stimulus to fatigue ratio,” which means that each set should be highly stimulating while minimizing the amount of fatigue experienced during the set. Additionally, performing sets to complete muscular failure can further worsen the stimulus to fatigue ratio.

Training to complete muscular failure necessitates longer recovery periods, resulting in less frequent training of specific body parts. A study conducted in 2019 compared subjects who performed either 8 or 12 sets per workout to complete muscular failure. The group that performed 12 sets experienced a slightly greater increase in muscle protein synthesis, but this may have been due to greater muscle damage in that group. Interestingly, both groups saw similar increases in muscle growth. [14]

It is important to note that the aim of your workout should not be to cause muscle damage. Greater muscle damage does not necessarily lead to greater muscle growth. The key is to find the “sweet spot” where the muscle is stimulated without being damaged to the point where extended recovery periods are needed. Those who have performed eccentric overload exercises are familiar with the fact that muscle strength can be impaired for days after the workout.

MUSCLE DAMAGE IS A SEPARATE PROCESS FROM MUSCLE GROWTH

Start with a few sets when you begin a new exercise movement and increase the volume over the weeks. Unaccustomed exercise causes the most significant muscle damage in the early training phases, but it doesn’t lead to muscle growth. Muscle growth becomes more prominent in the later training stages as muscle damage reduces.[15]

Keep in mind that muscle damage is separate from muscle growth. If you constantly damage a muscle, you won’t grow muscle; you will lose muscle! A study of powerlifters found evidence of excess muscle damage and disrupted regenerative processes in the muscle. The study’s author concluded that the normal regenerative process is most likely disturbed by continuous training with repeated high mechanical stress on the muscles in powerlifters [16].

The key to finding the optimal number of sets to perform is to experiment with increasing sets until fatigue occurs, followed by a subsequent decrease in volume. Unfortunately, there is no magic number of sets that work best for everyone, but based on the research, 10 sets per bodypart per week is a good starting point.

This can easily be achieved by breaking up your weekly training split so that each body part is trained twice per week. For example, 2-3 sets of incline bench press and pec flyes on Monday and 2-3 sets of bench press and cable cross-over on Thursday.

WHEN IS IT BEST TO INCREASE SETS?

There is intense debate about when a person should increase their sets. If you are progressing in workouts and your repetitions are increasing, or you can increase the weight over the training cycle, there may be no need to add sets if your workout volume is increasing.

Keep in mind that your ability to recuperate from a workout takes longer by adding sets. Adding sets also increases the duration of the time spent in the gym. Before increasing your workout volume, make sure you are hitting your other critical variables for muscle growth, including proper nutrition and sleep, how close you are training to failure, proper exercise form, frequency, etc.

Adding sets is best used for lagging body parts. If you have great legs but your calves are lagging, add additional sets to bring up lagging body parts. Adding sets for every body part will lead to a larger increase in systemic fatigue. If you are adding sets for every bodypart, this can lead to a larger strain on the nervous system and greater recovery.

Start by adding 1 or 2 sets for a single exercise. Make sure you monitor your recovery. If you feel sore or your strength is noticeably dropping, you need more recuperation time between workouts or a decrease in the number of sets.


 

REFERENCES

1. Vinod Kumar et al., “Muscle Protein Synthetic Responses to Exercise: Effects of Age, Volume, and Intensity,” The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 67, no. 11 (November 2012): 1170–77.

2.Felipe Damas et al., “Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis and Muscle Hypertrophy Individualized Responses to Systematically Changing Resistance Training Variables in Trained Young Men,” Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985) 127, no. 3 (September 1, 2019): 806–15.

3.Gerasimos Terzis et al., “The Degree of P70 S6k and S6 Phosphorylation in Human Skeletal Muscle in Response to Resistance Exercise Depends on the Training Volume,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 110, no. 4 (November 2010): 835–43.

4.Juha P. Ahtiainen et al., “Exercise Type and Volume Alter Signaling Pathways Regulating Skeletal Muscle Glucose Uptake and Protein Synthesis,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 115, no. 9 (September 2015): 1835–45.

5.Dylan G. Suarez et al., “Phase-Specific Changes in Rate of Force Development and Muscle Morphology Throughout a Block Periodized Training Cycle in Weightlifters,” Sports (Basel, Switzerland) 7, no. 6 (May 28, 2019): E129.

6.Brad J. Schoenfeld et al., “Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 51, no. 1 (January 2019): 94–103.

7.Daniel Hammarström et al., “Benefits of Higher Resistance-Training Volume Are Related to Ribosome Biogenesis,” The Journal of Physiology 598, no. 3 (2020): 543–65.

REFERENCES

8.Regis Radaelli et al., “Dose-Response of 1, 3, and 5 Sets of Resistance Exercise on Strength, Local Muscular Endurance, and Hypertrophy,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29, no. 5 (May 2015): 1349–58.

9. James W. Krieger, “Single vs. Multiple Sets of Resistance Exercise for Muscle Hypertrophy: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24, no. 4 (April 2010): 1150–59.

10.Brad J. Schoenfeld, Dan Ogborn, and James W. Krieger, “Dose-Response Relationship between Weekly Resistance Training Volume and Increases in Muscle Mass: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Sports Sciences 35, no. 11 (June 2017): 1073–82.

11.Regis Radaelli et al., “Dose-Response of 1, 3, and 5 Sets of Resistance Exercise on Strength, Local Muscular Endurance, and Hypertrophy,” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29, no. 5 (May 2015): 1349–58.

12.K. D. Tipton and R. R. Wolfe, “Exercise, Protein Metabolism, and Muscle Growth,” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 11, no. 1 (March 2001): 109–32.

13.S. M. Phillips et al., “Mixed Muscle Protein Synthesis and Breakdown after Resistance Exercise in Humans,” The American Journal of Physiology 273, no. 1 Pt 1 (July 1997): E99-107.

14.Felipe Damas et al., “Resistance Training-Induced Changes in Integrated Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Are Related to Hypertrophy Only after Attenuation of Muscle Damage,” The Journal of Physiology 594, no. 18 (September 15, 2016): 5209–22.

15.Giselle Keefe and Craig Wright, “An Intricate Balance of Muscle Damage and Protein Synthesis: The Key Players in Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Following Resistance Training,” The Journal of Physiology 594, no. 24 (December 15, 2016): 7157–58.

16.Anders Eriksson et al., “Hypertrophic Muscle Fibers with Fissures in Power-Lifters; Fiber Splitting or Defect Regeneration?,” Histochemistry and Cell Biology 126, no. 4 (October 2006): 409–17.

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