In weight training, the training volume indicates how much work we did or how much weight our muscles moved during one workout.
But what’s the benefit?
To put it simply: By knowing the volume, we can compare our workouts and assess if we have become stronger or weaker.
According to the result, we determine if it is necessary to make adjustments to our training program.
The Volume, also called workload, can be calculated as follows:
Volume = Weight x Repetitions (reps) x Sets
In order to build muscles, apparently, the optimal volume for hypertrophy seems to be the most important variable.
But before you think: damn I just need to add more and more volume to get bigger and stronger, it doesn’t work like that. There are other variables which need to be taken into consideration.
For example, the intensity of our workout, frequency, and muscle stress exert an important influence as well.
The volume is therefore not THE ONLY variable that is relevant, but the MOST IMPORTANT ONE.
Furthermore, it seems like the optimal volume for hypertrophy is as important for building strength as muscles are!
This might sound a bit confusing at first glance, but it is pretty logical!
When our muscles grow and get bigger, they get stronger at the same time.
Which means bigger muscles can move heavier weights. BUT, of course only until a certain point, especially as natural athletes.
The same applies to build muscles. Adding more volume is only effective until a certain point. Where this point is located cannot be answered at a flat rate. Everybody is unique which makes it impossible to generalize a value that works for everyone.
Hence it is important for you guys, to give many things a go and test what you feel comfortable with. Of course, that does not mean you should train light. But figure out what your body responds best to.
Other important aspects to consider when talking about the optimal volume for hypertrophy are the circumstances.
What do I mean with circumstances?
Let me give you an example:
Peter squats 3 sets of 10 reps with 100kg in his workout. His friend Mike prefers to do leg press with 3 sets of 10 reps with 200kg.
Solely from the workload (Peter = 3000kg and Mike = 6000kg), we would conclude that Mike is stronger than Peter.
Is it that simple to assess?
Sorry, I have to temper your delight. It’s not that simple. Don’t worry, it’s not that complicated either.
It is important to involve the other variables in the assessment.
Although Mike probably increased his muscle cross-section with leg press instead of squats, that does not necessarily interrelate with improved strength in squats at the same time.
In other words, during the period where he switched to do leg press, he became unfamiliar with squats technique and execution.
Why can we say that?
Strength is always very dependent on the exercise and influenced by a lot of other variables (along with our muscle cross-section), e.g. our neural system and mind.
Altogether, we can name this variable “Skill“.
If we refer back to Mike and Peter from our example, not only the did the interaction between all involved muscles (intermuscular coordination) decrease, but so did the (intramuscular coordination) inside of the muscles.
Additionally, other factors like self-confidence might decrease and can affect our performance in specific exercises tremendously.
That seems logical. If we do benchpress at least 2 times/week, we feel confident and familiar with proper technique and execution.
On the opposite, if you need to take a break from certain exercises for some time, you’ll feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable when doing that exercise after your break.
Increasing volume does improve strength for two reasons.
Firstly, bigger grown muscles and secondly, through the constant repetition of the same movement patterns.
It is important to know, that we get stronger in those rep ranges we constantly perform. It makes sense that if we always do 3 sets of 10 reps that we are strongest in this very rep range.
You might think, I know a guy that does not even look half as big as me, but benches more than I do. How is that possible?
Here is a little objection.
Of course, we always need to consider the same person. Differences in leverage position and other variables diverge between individuals. This makes it impossible to compare the strength of athletes only based on muscle size.
But how is it possible that someone with a smaller chest can bench more than an advanced, bigger athlete?
If we imagine two persons who are exactly build up the same, genetically 100% identical. But one difference, one of them has shorter arms.
Imagine both persons are doing bench press with 100kg.
Person A who has longer arms needs to cover a greater range of motion because he has longer arms than person B.
In other words, he needs to carry the weight for a longer period of time and in the end, lifts heavier.
Eventually, more muscular strength is expended although both athletes are genetically identical.
This shows us how important seemingly “small” factors can be.
Let me make this more clear with another example:
Imagine you have two cars. Car A has 500HP and car B 800HP.
Does it inevitably mean car B will be faster because of its 300HP advantage?
No, not necessarily. But, if both cars can equally convert their power onto the streets, car B most likely has an advantage.
As we understand that the optimal volume for hypertrophy is the most important parameter for muscle growth, but the question arises:
Does more volume mean more muscle growth?
Additional volume positively affects muscle growth. Unfortunately, it is not an endless formula. It works its way up, positively affecting muscle growth until a certain point.
Beyond that point, the positive impact starts to stagnate or might even decrease.
Eventually, if we increase volume too much, we will reach a point where our body is not able to fully recover from the last workout before the next one.
This is also called Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV).
- The highest volume which stimulates the biggest muscle growth but does not negatively affect our recovery time is most desirable.
- It can be said that with each additional set our performance will decrease. Therefore, doubling the volume does not result in doubled muscle growth.
- Ultimately, we can say that the optimal volume for hypertrophy has a strong interaction with the frequency, intensity, utilization and even the selection of exercises.
Since volume is cumulative (accumulative), it is important to look at it in a timeframe (weekly/cycle to cycle) and not just in a single training session.
High volume with a high intensity is way more exhausting than the same volume with low intensity.
The locomotory system, as well as the neural system, are both strained more with high-intensity training.
Our body likewise needs more time to recover from it.
Why the selection of exercises?
It is pretty obvious that you cannot compare the volume of squats with the volume of leg extensions.
Again, both exercises put a totally different level of stress on our muscles which is why the selection of exercises interact with the optimal volume for hypertrophy.
A high utilization means, that you are working close to muscle failure. You can imagine that a set in which you finish 8 reps before muscle failure and another finished 2 reps before failure, does not exert the same level of exhaustion.
Take home message
- The optimal volume for hypertrophy is the most important variable, BUT not the only one that needs to be considered to build muscle and strength.
- higher Volume equals Muscle mass, BUT only until a certain point
- Volume means practice: the more often we do a certain exercise, the higher will be our “skill” (execution, neural system, mind etc).
- The optimal volume for hypertrophy has a strong interaction with frequency, intensity, utilization, and selection of exercises.
- Volume is strongly dependent on the exercise and cannot be compared to different exercises.
Volume recommendations (repetitions)
Generally, a beginner can already achieve decent progress with a low volume of around 15-25 reps for each muscle.
To achieve this, a medium frequency with approximately 3x workouts per week are sufficient.
To keep in mind:
1. The optimal volume for hypertrophy is dependent on your training level.
For instance, someone who has been working out for 10 years and squats 250kg obviously needs more time to increase his performance than someone who just started off.
2. Because of individual anatomical differences, identical volumes do not have the same effects for everybody.
To go back to our example:
If person A has longer arms than person B and both bench press the same weight (100kg), person A must put in more effort to carry the weight because of his bigger/greater range of motion.
W (workload) = F (power) x S (range of motion)
That means the longer your arms, the bigger your range of motion and the greater the required effort/strength for the exercise.
3. Some muscles grow better with high volume and others with low volume.
These recommendations should always be seen as start values and not as static values. Everybody is unique and that is the reason volume cannot be generalized.
Everybody probably has a muscle that literally grows without much effort whereas other muscles seem to not grow at all.
4. The recommendations are termed in “total reps” because different exercises have different volumes.
Someone who does 200kg at the leg press can probably squat 70-90kg at the same level of effort/stress. Here’s the deal, one set of 10 reps gives a volume of a) 2000kg and b) 700-900kg.
But does that now mean, that leg press is a better option than squats?
No, certainly not.
In this case, it’s just easier to lift the leg press than to do squats.
It is better to compare the 10 reps each with each other if they roughly stress the same muscles and are both close to muscle failure. Only then equal stress on the muscles is given.
Summing up, it can be said that: the optimal volume for hypertrophy which is necessary for the ideal progress, is indeed very individual!
Finally, we get to concrete numbers. You can use them as benchmarks, start with them and make adjustments later on.
How much volume do our muscles need to grow?
120-210 heavy reps / per muscle / each week
If you train every muscle 3 times a week, this would result in 40-70 reps and if you train 2 times a week, around 60-105 reps each workout.
Always keep in mind that these recommendations are only benchmarks and that you need to make adjustments over time, based on your experience.
Some of you may have muscles that react relatively bad to resistance training.
Others might already be close to your genetical limitations. It might even be the case that you need 220 to 230 reps to stimulate optimal muscle growth.
But, on average, you can assume that you most likely will end up in the range between 120-210 reps.
Always remember that we are talking about heavy reps – warm-up reps do not count.
Only heavy “worksets” contribute to your optimal volume for hypertrophy. The only exception is heavy warm-up sets (80-90% of your end weight).
Another significant variable is termed overlapping.
What is overlapping?
To give an illustration:
Imagine you are doing 70 heavy reps of bench press.
Does this only count as 70 reps for chest? For chest and shoulders? Or chest shoulders and triceps?
Because even if bench press primarily involves chest, you can’t remove shoulders and triceps from this exercise. That’s why they are always stimulated to at least some extent.
For your chest, it is pretty obvious.
You did 70 reps of an exercise which is supposed to primarily work on your chest. Therefore you can count all those 70 reps as chest volume.
Considering the other muscles involved, it becomes a bit more complicated.
Your anatomy and technique also play an important role which is why the values can vary greatly.
To give you another example, someone with predominant front delts will most likely engage his delts more than the average person.
In order to solve this problem, we can use the 1/3 formula for all heavy involved muscles.
What does that mean?
If you are benching 70 reps, multiply your reps with 1/3.
Having done the calculation, we get 23 reps for triceps and front delts.
When doing 210 heavy reps each week, you would also always get 70 reps for triceps, without having done a single isolation exercise.
For this reason, bench press alone might stimulate the triceps enough to grow. Especially for beginners.
Short objection: Unfortunately, I am still seeing so many people in the gym doing 4-5 triceps exercises with bad technique.
Sometimes less is more. Particularly beginners already benefit from every single set that’s done. Too many people tend to exercise too much when they start working out.
BUT it is important to mention that this “1/3 formula” is not scientifically proven. In this case, we refer to the “Trainingspedia” written by Sepehr Bahadori (known as Brosep on YouTube and social media). Unfortunately, it is a German book not available in English yet, but for similar content check out Dr. Mike Israetel.
Despite the fact it is not yet scientifically researched, it does make sense. Which is why we are sharing this with you.
Think about it, with an exercise like bench press you can never fully isolate your chest. There will always be a certain degree of stress on your triceps and shoulders.
Additionally, we have to emphasize that this formula is related to “heavy involved muscles“.
For example, you cannot count 1/3 of your squats onto your hamstring volume.
Of course, there is some stress on your hamstrings but you cannot compare it with the triceps exposure while bench pressing.
Ultimately, you can also use 1/2 instead of 1/3, as a formula.
This depends on your body type (e.g. anatomy, technique) and how you feel.
What’s more, it is vital that you keep your volume on the basic exercises (bench press, squats etc.) consistent every week.
What do we mean by keeping your volume consistent?
It is necessary that you develop your individual technique and stay with it (unless any issues occur).
If you are doing 70 reps of bench press, but your technique varies every workout, the stress level on your triceps is sometimes greater or fewer.
Then you need to use the 1/2 formula instead of the 1/3. This would result in 35 reps (1/2) compared to 23reps (1/3).
We can give the overlapping volume the variable X.
So we get the following formula:
X + volume from isolation exercises = total volume
But most importantly, learn to understand how volume works.
If you understand the concept once, you are able to identify your current position and determine your starting volume.
According to your progress which you should track over time, you can and need to adjust your optimal volume for hypertrophy.
Volume recommendations (sets)
As already determined, the volume is the most important variable for building muscles.
To emphasize it once more, all mentioned value recommendations can’t be seen as individually tailored. These are average figures which tend to work for most people. But because everybody is unique, there can be deviations.
Despite the individual variety, we can still observe certain tendencies. Most people can manage more volume for their quads than their hamstrings. But, are their exceptions? Sure!
This is why you should only consider the following recommendations as volume benchmarks.
Based on Dr Mike Israetel, one of the most prestigious volume experts created a table with volume recommendations for each muscle. These recommendations are termed in sets and require that each “working set” is on average between:
- 60% – 80% of your 1RM (one rep maximum)
What does 1RM mean?
1RM refers to the maximum weight that you can move for one clean rep.
- 8 – 20 reps
- Finished 1 – 4 reps before muscle failure
Considering the intensity and utilization rate, this indeed makes sense.
One set with 20% intensity which is finished 10 reps before muscle failure, is obviously different from one set with 80% intensity until muscle failure.
Furthermore, his recommendations already include the “overlapping volume“.
That is why you only count exercises where a certain muscle did most of the work.
Bench press would, therefore, be solely for your chest volume – way easier, isn’t it?
These numbers refer to set recommendations each week.
MV = Maintenance Volume: Describes the volume which is necessary to maintain your muscles current size.
MEV = Minimum Effective Volume:e Reveals the volume which is required for minimal muscle growth.
MAV = Maximum Adaptive Volume: The upper limit of the volume that your body can still adapt to. Where most of the muscle growth happens.
MRV = Maximum Recoverable Volume: Refers to the maximum volume that your body can fully recover from.
Important points to consider:
- These numbers are not rigid and can vary
The MEV increases the more advanced you are whereas the MV seems to be relatively consistent.
But this requires a certain basic intensity with around 70-75% each workout. Thus, by increasing workout level the gap between MV and MEV closes.
- MV assumptions do not refer to diets (where you go for a calorie deficit). In a diet, you most likely have to do more work to maintain your muscles
- Your regenerative capacity fluctuates and accordingly your MRV
But, how do I find my landmarks?
Basically, there are two different methods which put the recommendations of Dr. Mike Israetel into practice.
1. Constant volume
- You are working between MAV and MRV. Why not directly at the MRV? Because you could exceed it with, for example, bad sleep or personal issues. Such daily conditions influence our performance tremendously
This would result in overtraining because of lack of proper recovery.
- After some weeks it follows a “deload week” (should be done at MV level) which basically means reducing your weight to 40% – 60% in order to let your body fully recover.
2. Increasing volume
This could look like:
- week lower MAV level
- week middle MAV level
- week upper MAV level
- week MRV
- week MV = Deload (light workout session)
- Of course, you can also start this cycle at the MEV level and keep doing it for a longer period than 5 weeks but the basic principle remains the same.
- Also, you could go another step further in the last week in your cycle and exceed the MRV in order to cause an even stronger overreaching effect
- week lower MAV level
- week middle MAV level
- week upper MAV level
- week MRV
- week MRV + (Balls to the wall)
- week MV = Deload (light workout session)
Always keep in mind that these values are a basic foundation. The optimal volume for hypertrophy is always individual!
There is no particular formula, so as an important rule of thumb you need to experiment and adjust until you know what works best for you.
If you want to train according to this system, you should be able to estimate your own values (MV, MEV, MAV, MRV).
Dr Mike Israetel recommends:
- MV: begin with the recommendations and continue it for 1-2 cycles and evaluate if you could maintain your strength.
If not, your personal MV is located higher. If yes, you can try and increase the volume a little bit and evaluate it anew.
- MEV: Most of the time it is a little bit above the MV. Use the same principle as for the MV and assess if you could increase your strength.
- MAV: is located between MRV and MV.
- MRV: if you are getting weaker, you overreached your MRV. Obviously, you were not able to fully recover from it.
- We can term volume recommendations either in heavy sets or in total heavy reps
- Depending on which recommendations you use (1/3, 1/2), you need to respect the “overlapping volume” (X)
- We recommend using the “1/3 formula” for exercises which heavily involve various muscles (bench press, squats etc.)
- Roughly, we can either consider 120-210 heavy reps (including overlapping) for each muscle per week or 5-23 heavy sets (excluding overlapping)
- Volume recommendations should only be considered as starting values. Over time you need to make adjustments according to your progress.
- The optimal volume for hypertrophy is influenced by a lot of variables. Some of them change daily, others are predetermined genetically.
- Two different persons will always have different volumes because everybody is unique (e.g. anatomy, technique)
- For the same person, different muscles might need totally different volumes!
- Keep in mind:more volume benefits you only until a certain degree!
How does your optimal volume for hypertrophy look like?
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Leave a comment below or check us out on social media.
Make sure to check back and share with your friends and family to never miss out on upcoming content!
So guys, what is your optimal volume for hypertrophy for each muscle?