Hypertrophy can occur with a wide range of set volumes. This highly depends on your genetics, ability to recuperate, and current training status. Sets must be taken close to failure to result in optimal muscle growth. The more sets performed to failure, the greater the muscle damage. Excess muscle damage will impair the muscle growth process. The number of sets you can perform is dependent on your recovery. Increasing sets will work up to a certain point; then, no further increase in muscle mass will occur.
HOW MANY EXERCISES PER WEEK MAXIMIZES MUSCLE GROWTH SUMMARY
- Too much volume can lead to overtraining and burnout
- Volume (i.e., sets) has a strong relationship with hypertrophy.The number of sets you can perform is dependent on your recovery. Increasing sets will work up to a certain point; no further increase in muscle mass will occur.
- The research suggests that 10-20 sets per body part seems optimal.
- Volume has an inverted U-shaped relationship in which sets can increase muscle growth up to a point. After that, adding additional sets won’t increase muscle growth.
- High-volume training can raise cortisol levels and result in excess muscle damage.
- Older adults need more recuperation time.
- Each person has a unique recovery capacity for resistance exercise.
TOO MUCH VOLUME IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE FOR MUSCLE GROWTH: THE GERMAN VOLUME TRAINING STUDY & MORE
The research suggests that volume is associated with increased muscle growth up to a certain point; after that, muscle growth plateaus or can decrease. Another classic example of finding the right training volume that works for you is a study investigating German Volume Training (GVT).
GVT consists of ten sets of ten repetitions with 1-minute rest periods. When researchers compared subjects who trained with 10 sets of 10 repetitions to 5 sets of 10 repetitions, they found that the low-volume groups (5 sets) had a better increase in muscle growth.
There are two issues with GVT, 1.) GVT involves short rest periods (60-90 seconds of rest), which are not conducive to muscle growth (See the article here). Performing 10 sets per body part for an exercise overwhelms the body’s ability to recuperate, leading to a sub-optimal muscle growth response. GVT results in junk volume (performing additional sets that are not conducive to muscle growth).
OTHER STUDIES ON HIGH-VOLUME TRAINING PRODUCING LESS MUSCLE GROWTH
One study had men with one year of training randomized to either train three times a week and either did one set per body part or three sets per body part.
The 1 set group performed 9 exercises 3 days a week with a 6-RM, whereas the three-set group performed 3 sets of nine exercises three days a week with a 6-RM. The strength-training protocol consisted of nine exercises: bench press, inclined bench press, dumbbell flyes, biceps curl with barbell, biceps curl with dumbbells, hammer curl with dumbbells, seated shoulder press behind neck, lateral raises, and upright row.
At the end of the study, the group that did 1 set per week three days a week, equaling 9 sets per week (i.e., 1,296 repetitions performed), gained more strength and lost more body fat than the group training three sets per week with 18 sets per week totaling, 27-36 sets per week (3,888 repetitions performed)
In this study, the subjects trained to complete failure; it could have been that the 3 sets group could not recuperate between workouts with the greater volume. Training to failure each set with more volume will require greater recuperation time, which is possibly why the 1 set group to failure resulted in greater strength gains.
High Sets Training Studies
In an Arnold-like high-volume workout, researchers had subjects gradually increase the number of sets over six weeks. For instance, on week 1, the subjects performed ten sets of squats on week 1, but on week 6, they performed 32 sets of squats per week!
When they tracked muscle growth, muscle growth peaked at roughly ~20 sets per week; after that, the responses plateaued for the group. The author concluded that ~20 sets per week are the maximal adaptable training volume for muscle growth.
It should be mentioned that some individuals were still making gains in muscle at 30 sets per week, but the group average plateaued at 20 sets per week. This goes back to the concept mentioned earlier, as there is an upper limit of sets that you can perform while still being able to recuperate, which is unique to each individual. In this case, the subjects after 20 sets, exceeded their maximal recuperation volume.
Moderate volume (10 sets per week) is a good place to start and is probably the best approach because training volume that is too low or too high can equally impair muscle gains. The average range of sets per week is 10-20 sets per week. Everyone has an individual volume that they can recover from. Don’t just copy a superstar’s workout plan.
SETS AND PROTEIN SYNTHESIS
The research suggests protein synthesis plateaus in the 8-12 sets range per workout. The research also suggests that 6-8 hard sets per bodypart broken up into frequent sessions over the week for a maximum volume of 12-24 sets per bodypart per week is best for muscle hypertrophy.
Start with the low end of the volume range of 10 sets per bodypart per week and gradually increase volume. If a person who is not in an advanced training stage and has not adapted his training to this type of volume tries to perform a 20-set per bodypart per week routine, it would be very difficult to recover from this type of workout. Slowly add volume.