HOW MUCH VOLUME DO WE NEED TO BUILD MUSCLE?
The straightforward answer is that no one knows a specific amount of volume an individual should perform for muscle growth, but there is take away information that can be applied to being more productive when you workout!
Volume in regards to exercise can be defined as the amount of sets, reps and volume load defined as sets, reps and weight lifted and performed in a training session. The contribution of other mechanisms towards muscle growth (muscle tension, muscle damage, metabolic stress) makes it harder to pinpoint the exact effect volume has over the other factors (1).
As mentioned there are no set rules with exercise volume but there are some takeaway factors to be considered. A higher volume approach generally comes out on top when compared to a lower volume approach if the goal is muscle growth, suggesting volume should be increased over time to elicit a new stimulus (1,2).
Individual Capabilities and Recovery
The volume an individual performs and recovers from is very personal to them, training age plays a role in how much volume one should perform. The more experience a trainee is, generally, the more volume that an individual can and should perform when the goal is muscle growth (3). Lifestyle factors and not just training factors also affect the amount of volume to perform, having insufficient sleep, for example, can have unwanted effects on muscle growth and recovery capabilities (4,5).
More is Not Always Better
Muscle growth is not a quick process, therefore, consistently increasing the amount of volume over a mesocycle (training block) will most likely have diminishing returns. Volume can never be a constant linear approach and a certain amount of volumes will have more favourable returns and higher doesn't always equal better (6). Furthermore, a higher amount of volume doesn't always produce better results than lower volume groups (6,7)
There is no magical number when it comes to deciding the amount of volume an individual should perform, and volume shouldn't be a constant variable but more a continuous variable due to recovery capabilities. At the beginning of a mesocycle volume can be lowered when compared to the amount of volume performed at the end of the previous mesocycle.
Tracking your volume can be kept simple and broken down into the number of sets/reps performed on a muscle group per week. Performance of around 40-70 reps per session (broken into sets) 2-3 times per week, per muscle group is a good place to start at, with more advanced trainees potentially needing higher volumes (8).
- Ostrowski Karl J, The Effect of Weight Training Volume on Hormonal Output and Muscular Size and Function; Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 1997 - p 148-154.