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Training variables: Volume

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How many sets do I need to do? is it enough 4 sets or do I need more? can I do 8 sets for each exercise? We need to make sure that we´re giving each muscle the right stimulus to grow but if we overdo it we can burn out or over train so how much is too much?

In the last posts we´ve been talking about the training variables we need to adjust according to our goal to keep results consistently. Today we´re going to talk about volume.

Volume refers to how many sets we do per muscle group over the end of one week. Low volume means we do 2 – 3 sets for each exercise, moderate volume goes from  4 to 6 sets and high volume 8 or even 10 sets for a muscle group in one week.

The total volume we do for each muscle at the end of the week will vary according to our goals and also how trained we are, the amount of volume for someone who is starting won´t be the same to someone who has a couple years training or someone who is highly trained. The more trained we are the more volume we need and the more we need to be manipulating all variables to avoid plateaus.

For someone who is starting resistance training doing 3 to 4 sets and 2 or 3 exercises for each muscle group is enough volume.

Volume applies to both types of hypertrophy, myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic, this two types of muscle growth differ on the amounts of reps we do per set , we can focus on myofibrillar hypertrophy to build dense muscle by doing 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 8 reps each for 2 or 3 exercises for a muscle group, if we want to focus on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy we can choose 2 or 3 exercises for one muscle group and do 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

The total volume per week will vary according to our goals, if we want to lose fat considering that we must be on a caloric deficit then volume must be low, it´s hard to get in high volume when we are eating less and the goal is to maintain muscle mass so there´s no reason to want to do more than what we are capable off. With this goal and using low volume we can go for 6 to 8 reps for 4 sets using bodyweight and compound movements to focus on keeping strength, this way we make sure we´re not losing muscle mass.

When we want to gain muscle mass high volume help us make more gains, we can combine both types of hypertrophy in a high volume program, since we are eating more we must be able to do more work and still give enough time for our body to recover, meaning we increase the total amount of sets we do on each exercise in a 4 or 5 days split so we´re hitting each muscle group once a week.

If you are new to the gym we need to get use to working out and low volume will give us results so doing 3 sets is a great way to start, if we are more trained we can go with moderate volume which works great for all fitness goals, if we are highly trained we can do high volume for a period of time and then go back to moderate or even low volume. If we go high volume for a long time we will burn out, we all have a lot of things going on in our lives so there´s no reason to stress a lot more our body and muscles with high volume, we can do them for 4 weeks and then reduce volume for 2 or 3 weeks.

We can do moderate frequency which we talked about in the last training post and keep changing volume and rep ranges with a variable called periodization this gives our muscles the stimulus they need to grow and it also gives them some time to recover after some weeks of moderate frequency, moderate volume and high intensity.

If we are working hard, smart and intense we may only need low volume to get amazing results, if we increase the volume we just need to make sure that we have enough time to recover specially if we are focusing on myofibrillar hypertrophy because the central nervous system fatigues quicker and takes more time to recover. Eating enough and giving our body nutrients to repair and recover is key, especially on high volume programs.

The best option is to keep changing volume, going high volume for a couple of weeks is a great way for muscle growth considering that we go low volume for a couple of weeks to allow recovery. This is what I would do for someone who has been training consistently for a long period of time. For someone who is starting we need to start with low volume prioritizing developing the daily habit of exercising.

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Pam