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.[1]

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)[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.

how many exercises per workout myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy how many sets per workout hyperplasia vs hypertrophy concentric versus eccentric hypertrophy

GREATER VOLUME REQUIRES MORE RECUPERATION TIME BETWEEN WORKOUTS

Also, remember that high-volume, short rest period workouts raise cortisol levels. One study compared a high-volume workout that used 70% of a 1RM (4 sets/10-12 reps/ 1-minute rest periods) to a high-intensity protocol using 90% of a 1RM, which trained with four sets, 3-5 reps, and 3-minute rest periods.

The high-volume, short rest period protocol resulted in greater cortisol responses.[6] This shows that continuous use of a high-volume/lighter weight/short rest period routine results in a greater physiological stress response than a low-volume, heavy weight protocol with longer rest periods.

Cortisol

Contrary to everyone’s belief that cortisol is an evil hormone, increases in cortisol are part of the normal muscle growth process. For example, it’s been found that there is a positive relationship between post-workout cortisol levels and changes in strength and lean body mass.

After 12 weeks of resistance training, researchers found that high post-workout cortisol levels were correlated with gains in lean body mass and changes in type II muscle fiber size.[7]

It makes sense that muscle growth correlates with post-exercise cortisol responses since muscle growth involves a stress response. However, chronically high cortisol levels are not conducive to muscle growth and can lead to overtraining. It is normal for cortisol to increase during exercise and is part of the adaptation process.

Another study compared the effects of three different workouts on muscle recovery: 1.) Power (5 sets of 6 at 50% of a 1RM. 2.) Hypertrophy (5 sets-to-failure at 75% of a 1RM, 2-min of rest) and (3) Strength (5 sets-to-failure at 90% of a 1RM, 3-min of rest). The bodybuilding/hypertrophy protocol was found to have the most physiological and perceptual stress compared to the Power and Strength groups.

Recuperation Studies

The bodybuilding groups trained with the highest volume reported higher exertion levels and had higher cortisol, lactate, and muscle damage markers than the other groups.[8] This demonstrates that higher volumes are associated with greater physiological stress on the body compared to heavy-weight, low-volume protocol.

Other studies in animal models have found that when training volume is increased from very low-to-moderate volume, there is minimal muscle damage. However, when training volume is increased from moderate to high, there are large increases in muscle damage.[9]

Another study measured muscle recuperation of a powerlifting style, low-volume training routine (8 sets of 3 reps at 90% 1RM with 3 minutes rest between sets) to bodybuilding-style, high-volume training routine with short rest intervals (8 sets of 10 reps at 70% 1RM with 75 seconds rest between sets). The group that trained with a bodybuilding-style workout had suppressed muscle force production (i.e., a marker of muscle recuperation) for over three days.[10] Bodybuilding-style workouts result in muscle soreness, muscle damage, and longer recuperation times.

This suggests that volume should not be kept high for prolonged periods. Rather, periods of high volume followed by a deload are better for reducing the accumulated stress on the body’s nervous and endocrine system.

High Volume Training Effects

The problem with prolonged high-volume training is that it can lead to excessive fatigue. Lifting in a fatigued state from excessive training volume results in sub-optimal muscle contractions, elevated stress levels, and depleted energy sources such as glycogen. The key to increasing volume is to pay attention to how you feel. If you add volume and continually feel greater fatigue, it’s a good signal to reduce volume.

Some have suggested that autoregulating your workout based on fatigue can result in similar gains in muscle mass compared to just following a pre-determined workout and grinding thru the workout.

A study found that when comparing a group of men that followed a predetermined workout (for example, today train with 85% of a 1RM) or a training session based on monitoring fatigue (for example, today I am really tired, I am going to train with 70% of a 1RM) resulted in similar increases in muscle mass, despite the group who monitored fatigue performing less high-intensity workouts.[11] This suggests that monitoring fatigue levels throughout a training cycle optimizes muscle growth.

ALTERNATE PERIODS OF HIGH AND LOW VOLUME

It should be mentioned that the volume should be cycled for optimal muscle growth! Volume is supposed to go through low-volume phases, followed by high-volume stages.

A common mistake is to keep volume high throughout a workout cycle; this leads to exhaustion and overtraining. Most experts believe that 10-20 sets are optimal to perform per week for muscle growth. Having periods in which you take a break and start with 10 sets per week and then escalate the volume throughout a cycle makes sense depending on if you are recuperating between workouts and are not feeling greater fatigue.

Remember that considerable overlap occurs for muscle groups like the arms, shoulders, etc. Your arms and deltoids are getting sets added with movements like bench press, bent-over rows, etc.

A muscle group like the posterior deltoids will need more volume than a muscle group like the anterior deltoids. The anterior deltoid participates in many exercises like the bench press, military press, etc., whereas the posterior deltoid receives less activation.

Studies have found that the biceps and triceps can increase from doing exercises like bench press and lat pulldowns without any arm workout. Add volume to the muscle groups you are actively trying to increase in size and keep the volume constant for groups you want to maintain.

how many exercises per workout myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy how many sets per workout hyperplasia vs hypertrophy concentric versus eccentric hypertrophy

HOW MUCH VOLUME YOU CAN HANDLE DEPENDS ON YOUR CURRENT TRAINING ADAPTATIONS

How well you respond to volume depends on your current training program and how much volume you currently perform. Beginners need to start with low volume, whereas advanced trainers need more volume.

If you are an advanced lifter with several years of experience, start at ten sets per body part. Adding sets above your baseline level can increase muscle growth.

To prove my point, researchers took subjects with five years of training experience and had them train their legs twice a week. One leg was trained with 22 sets per week, which comprised leg presses and leg extensions. The other leg did the exact exercises but trained with 20% greater volume above their pre-training level (i.e., they gradually increased their volume). On average, subjects gained more leg growth in the leg that underwent a 20% volume increase in volume, even though average volume ended up being similar between conditions.[12]

When adding volume, starting with a specific body part, you are trying to grow is best. Adding volume to all body parts can lead to long-term systemic fatigue and an overtraining response. Consider volume cycling (changing sets, reps, weight), in which you add sets for a few weeks and then reduce them. Don’t freak out by doing less. It’s been found that lifters can decrease training volume considerably and not lose muscle.[13] You provide your body with increased psychological and physiological recuperation during this time.

TRAINING VOLUME, RECOVERY, AND AGE

Increasing volume poses challenges, especially for older athletes. Studies show that older individuals experience more muscle damage post-exercise and recover slower than younger adults.[14]

As age advances, you should decrease your training volume to ensure sufficient recovery between sessions. The eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney famously said, “Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate Muscles.” The goal when increasing volume should be to avoid excessive muscle damage. As highlighted before, each person’s genetic ability to recover varies.

Based on their genetics, some people experience excessive muscle damage, inflammation, and slower recovery in response to exercise. [15,16] Too little volume will not be effective, and too much volume will be counterproductive to muscle growth. The process of building muscle involves more protein synthesis than protein breakdown. You will not increase muscle growth if you constantly break down muscle tissue.

THE FOLLOWING FACTORS DETERMINE TRAINING VOLUME

  • ·      Training Age: Older adults recover slower and therefore need fewer sets
  • ·      Volume is different by muscle group. Some muscle groups, like the arms and anterior deltoids, are used in many exercises and require less volume than those like the chest.
  • ·      Beginners should start with a low training volume.
  • ·      Advanced lifters will need a higher training volume.
  • ·      Longer rest periods (~3 minutes or greater) will allow greater training volume.
  • ·      A larger training volume will require longer recovery. Splitting workouts over the week is best to achieve a greater training volume.
  • ·      Higher workout intensity will cause lower training volume.
  • ·      Your current training volume will determine how many additional sets you can add while recuperating

REFERENCES

1.     Theban Amirthalingam et al., “Effects of a Modified German Volume Training Program on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31, no. 11 (November 2017): 3109–19.

2.     J S Baker et al., “Strength and Body Composition Changes in Recreationally Strength-Trained Individuals: Comparison of One versus Three Sets Resistance-Training Programmes,” BioMed Research International 2013 (2013): 615901–615901.

3.     Cody T. Haun et al., “Effects of Graded Whey Supplementation During Extreme-Volume Resistance Training,” Frontiers in Nutrition 5 (2018): 84.

4.     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.

5.     Daniel Aube et al., “Progressive Resistance Training Volume: Effects on Muscle Thickness, Mass, and Strength Adaptations in Resistance-Trained Individuals.,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, February 13, 2020.

6.     Gerald T. Mangine et al., “The Effect of Training Volume and Intensity on Improvements in Muscular Strength and Size in Resistance-Trained Men,” Physiological Reports 3, no. 8 (August 2015): e12472.

7.     Daniel W. D. West and Stuart M. Phillips, “Associations of Exercise-Induced Hormone Profiles and Gains in Strength and Hypertrophy in a Large Cohort after Weight Training,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 112, no. 7 (July 2012): 2693–2702.

REFERENCES

8.     André S. Martorelli et al., “The Interplay between Internal and External Load Parameters during Different Strength Training Sessions in Resistance-Trained Men,” European Journal of Sport Science 21, no. 1 (January 2021): 16–25.

9.     M. K. Hesselink et al., “Structural Muscle Damage and Muscle Strength after Incremental Number of Isometric and Forced Lengthening Contractions,” Journal of Muscle Research and Cell Motility 17, no. 3 (June 1996): 335–41.

10.  Sandro Bartolomei et al., “Comparison of the Recovery Response from High-Intensity and High volume Resistance Exercise in Trained Men,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 117, no. 7 (July 2017): 1287–98.

11.  Rodrigo L. Gomes et al., “Session Rating of Perceived Exertion as an Efficient Tool for Individualized Resistance Training Progression,” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, October 15, 2021.

12.  Scarpelli, M. C., Nóbrega, S. R., Santanielo, N., Alvarez, I. F., Otoboni, G. B., Ugrinowitsch, C., & Libardi, C. A. (2020). Muscle Hypertrophy Response Is Affected by Previous Resistance Training Volume in Trained Individuals. Journal of strength and conditioning research.

13.  C. Scott Bickel, James M. Cross, and Marcas M. Bamman, “Exercise Dosing to Retain Resistance Training Adaptations in Young and Older Adults.,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 43, no. 7 (July 2011): 1177–87.

14.  Larissa Xavier Neves da Silva et al., “Repetitions to Failure versus Not to Failure during Concurrent Training in Healthy Elderly Men: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” Experimental Gerontology 108 (July 15, 2018): 18–27.

REFERENCES

15.  P. M. Clarkson and M. E. Dedrick, “Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage, Repair, and Adaptation in Old and Young Subjects,” Journal of Gerontology 43, no. 4 (July 1988): M91-96.

16.  Monica J. Hubal et al., “CCL2 and CCR2 Polymorphisms Are Associated with Markers of Exercise-Induced Skeletal Muscle Damage,” Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985) 108, no. 6 (June 2010): 1651–58.

17.  Anna Thalacker-Mercer et al., “Cluster Analysis Reveals Differential Transcript Profiles Associated with Resistance Training-Induced Human Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy,” Physiological Genomics 45, no. 12 (June 17, 2013): 499–507.

About The Author

%d bloggers like this: