Illustration of a bunch of men deadlifting.

Hypertrophy Training Volume: How Many Sets to Build Muscle?

If you’re following a good hypertrophy training program, you should be able to maximize your rate of muscle growth with 9–22 sets per muscle per week. But that depends on which exercises you choose, what muscles you’re training, and how hard you’re training them.

If you’re training for other goals—strength, power, fitness, or endurance—you’ll stimulate less muscle growth per set, so you’ll need more sets to maximize muscle growth. However, you might also inflict more stress per set, meaning you can’t recover from as many.

So, we’ll start by reviewing the best type of training volume for building muscle. Then, we can talk about how many sets it takes to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

A skinny guy building muscle. Illustrated by Shane Duquette for Outlift.

What is Training Volume?

There are two popular definitions of training volume. Both of these definitions are correct. Both can be useful, too.

  • Training Volume = pounds lifted per movement pattern per week: number of sets × number of reps × weight lifted. For example, if you bench press 225 pounds for 10 sets of 5 reps, your weekly bench press volume is 11,250 pounds. Some people call this “tonnage.”
  • Training volume = number of hard sets per muscle group per week. So, if you do 5 challenging sets of bench presses on Monday and Friday, your chest volume is 10 sets per week.

The first definition is better if you’re trying to improve how much work you can handle per week (work capacity). It can also be useful when following low-rep strength training routines that don’t stimulate as much growth per set. It’s less useful when you’re following a hypertrophy training routine.

When you’re training to build muscle, you don’t need to know how much work you’re doing, just how much muscle growth you’re stimulating. In a hypertrophy training program, every set is designed to stimulate muscle growth, so all you need to do is count them. (I think this idea comes from Nathan Jones. I heard about it from Greg Nuckols.)

Training volume is best defined as the number of challenging sets you do per muscle per week. If you do 5 sets of bench presses on Monday, 5 sets of push-ups on Wednesday, and 5 sets of dips on Friday, that’s 15 sets for your chest. Thus, your chest volume is 15 sets per week.

Before and after photo showing the results from doing the Outlift / Bony to Beastly Program

The Ideal KIND of Training Volume

Different styles of training stimulate different amounts of muscle growth, so we need to cover the ideal kind of volume before the ideal amount of volume.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to build bigger biceps, so you decide to do 12 sets for your biceps every week. And let’s say you choose an exercise like the barbell row, do 3 reps per set, and stop 3 reps shy of failure. That isn’t a good way to stimulate your biceps, so those 12 sets won’t get you very far.

Now let’s imagine you swap the rows for biceps curls, do 10 reps per set, and take those sets within a rep of failure. Now you’re training efficiently. Those 12 sets might be enough to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

Illustration of a muscular weight lifter doing the lying dumbbell biceps curl exercise.

You can take it one step further. You could swap those barbell curls for an exercise that challenges your biceps under a deeper stretch, such as a lying biceps curl. Now you’re stimulating even more muscle growth per set. You might only need 9 sets per week.

There are a few ways to stimulate more muscle growth per set:

  • Choose good exercises. Lifts that challenge your muscles through a deep range of motion tend to stimulate more muscle growth. For example, dips for your chest, front squats for your quads, and Romanian deadlifts for your hamstrings.
  • Challenge the muscle you want to grow. Compound exercises are better for some muscles than others. Bench presses and dips are perfectly good for your chest but not your triceps. Skull crushers and overhead triceps extensions are much better at challenging your triceps through a deep range of motion.
  • Train hard enough. Stopping 0–2 reps away from failure tends to give you the most muscle growth per set. You can do easier sets, but it might take more of them.
  • Lift in the hypertrophy rep range. Anywhere from 4–40 reps can be good for building muscle, but sets of 6–30 reps tend to be more efficient, allowing you to build more muscle with every set.
  • Get enough rest between sets. Resting for 2–5 minutes between sets allows you to lift more weight and/or do more reps in subsequent sets, stimulating more muscle growth. Short rest times can also be great for building muscle, but you’ll need to do more sets.
  • Train often enough. If you cram all your volume into a single workout, the later sets won’t stimulate as much growth as the earlier ones. Better to spread your training volume throughout the week, doing more like 4–8 sets per workout 2–4 times per week. That way, each set is stimulative.

The Ideal AMOUNT of Training Volume

Low-Volume vs High-Volume Bodybuilding

Ever since Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer popularized High-Intensity Training (HIT) in the 1970s, some bodybuilders have argued that lower-volume workout programs stimulate more muscle growth. That was a perfectly fine idea back then. There wasn’t any research on training volume yet, and low-volume routines worked quite well for some guys. However, some people didn’t gain any muscle whatsoever and were dubbed “non-responders.”

Meanwhile, bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger were following incredibly high-volume workout routines, doing as many as twelve long workouts per week. This approach stimulated muscle growth in everyone, but it was also fairly common to get overuse injuries. People were suffering from sore joints, tendon pain, and the dread of being buried under an avalanche of volume.

You could argue that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a more successful bodybuilder than Mike Mentzer, so higher-volume routines must be better. But looking at professional bodybuilders isn’t a good way to figure out what works best for natural lifters with average genetics.

That’s where James Krieger, MS, comes in. He was the first person to dig through the data and publish a meta-analysis on how training volume affects muscle growth (study). He concluded that both Mike Mentzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger were wrong. Doing more sets does stimulate more muscle growth, but only up to a point.

Krieger noticed that with shorter rest times (under 2 minutes between sets), some studies found benefits from doing as many as 45 sets per muscle. However, if you rest for longer (3–5 minutes between sets), the benefit of high-volume training disappears.

A study graph showing the ideal weekly training volume per muscle group for hypertrophy.

For example, one study found that doing 12 sets per week was enough to maximize muscle growth in the quads. The groups doing 18 and 24 sets per workout gained slightly less muscle, though the results weren’t significant.

The recent Baz-Valle meta-analysis confirmed Krieger’s findings, showing that 12–20 sets per muscle per week maximized muscle growth (study).

Interestingly, this is more similar to how the best natural bodybuilders trained in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Guys like Steve Reeves trained 3x per week, doing just a few sets per exercise.

How Do You Count Volume from Compound Lifts?

There are different ways to count volume. A set of barbell rows counts as a set for your upper back, but does it count as a set for your biceps? What about your forearms? And your spinal erectors? Most studies would count it as a set for every muscle involved, leading to quite a lot of confusion.

In my case, counting compound lifts as volume for my biceps, triceps, and hamstrings caused me to build a “Spider Physique,” with thin arms and legs dangling from a muscular torso. That’s because most compound lifts stimulate more muscle growth in the torso than the limbs.

Study graph showing the benefit of combining the bench press with triceps extensions.

For example, the bench press stimulates about twice as much growth in your chest as in your triceps (study). This can make it seem like your chest needs 8 sets of bench presses (8 total sets), whereas your triceps need an additional 8 sets of triceps extensions (16 total sets).

But your chest and triceps don’t necessarily need different training volumes. More likely, they just benefit from different exercises. Skull crushers stimulate your triceps about as well as bench presses stimulate your chest:

Study graph showing that the chest and triceps grow at the same pace when trained with the same volume.

One way to fix the problem is to count suboptimal sets as half sets. 1 set of bench presses would count as 0.5 sets for your triceps. However, that can make it seem like doing 10 sets of bench presses works your triceps as well as 5 sets of triceps extensions.

10 sets of bench presses wouldn’t fully stimulate the long head of your triceps and might not work any heads hard enough to stimulate much growth. If you want balanced muscle growth, you need a balanced mix of exercises that stimulate every muscle properly.

I start by programming the compound exercises and then fill in the gaps. In this case, your biceps and triceps get some stimulus from pushing/pulling, so they don’t need that much more. If you want balanced growth, you could do 10 sets of pushing/pulling exercises and 5 sets of curls/extensions.

Do Different Muscles Need Different Training Volumes?

There’s this old idea that different muscles benefit from different training volumes. There’s some truth to that idea, but it seems to have more to do with exercise selection than the unique physiology of different muscles.

Some muscles have access to better exercises. For example, hamstrings are famous for only needing a few hard sets per week. This might be because hamstrings have more fast-twitch muscle fibres, but I suspect it’s because Romanian deadlifts—the most popular hamstring exercise—train your hamstrings under a deep stretch.

Illustration of a weight lifter doing the dumbbell chest fly as part of his Chest Day workout.

If I’m right, muscles that can be challenged under a deep stretch don’t need as much volume. By contrast, muscles that are harder to work at long muscle lengths, such as your back muscles, benefit from higher training volumes.

How Many Sets Should You Do Per Muscle?

  • Chest and front delts: 9–18 sets per week. It won’t take much to punish your pecs and front delts. Most pressing exercises work your chest hard under a deep stretch. Think of barbell bench presses and push-ups. You can take this even further with dips, dumbbell bench presses, deficit push-ups, and dumbbell flyes.
  • Upper Back: 12–30 sets per week. Your back can take a beating. Most back exercises are challenging when your back muscles are contracted. Think of chin-ups, pull-ups, and rows, which are hardest at the top of the range of motion. These are still the best back exercises, but you may need to do more sets. (You may be able to get more bang for your buck by including pullovers and lat prayers.)
  • Quads: 9–18 sets per week. Quads are easy to train at longer muscle lengths, especially if you favour exercises like goblet squats, front squats, and leg presses.
  • Hamstrings: 6–12 sets per week. Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, and seated hamstring curls all work your hamstrings under a tremendous stretch. It doesn’t take much.
  • Side delts: 9–18 sets per week. Most people train their side delts with exercises that are hardest at shorter muscle lengths. Think of overhead presses, upright rows, face pulls, and standing lateral raises. These are all great exercises, but you might be able to get more stimulation per set from lying lateral raises.
  • Biceps: 6–12 sets per week. If you count your back exercises as biceps work, they can handle quite a lot of volume. However, if you’re training them directly with exercises like biceps curls, preacher curls, incline curls, and lying biceps curls, you can do well with as few as 8 sets per week.
  • Triceps: 6–12 sets per week. Pressing exercises aren’t an efficient way to bulk up your triceps, but triceps extensions are, and both skull crushers and overhead extensions challenge your triceps through a deep range of motion.
  • Forearms: 0–18 sets per week. Your forearms can handle a tremendous amount of volume, which is good because you use them in almost every exercise. They may grow just fine without any isolation work. If they don’t, try wrist curls and reverse curls.
  • Traps: 0–18 sets per week. Your traps support your shoulder girdle during compound lifts, including deadlifts, chin-ups, overhead presses, and rows. You probably don’t need to isolate them.
  • Abs: 0–18 sets per week. Compound lifts often do a decent job of stimulating your abs, but for guys with small or stubborn abs, direct ab training can certainly help. Think of exercises like knee raises, leg raises, crunches, and reverse crunches.
  • Glutes: 0–12 sets per week. Deadlifts and squats both challenge your glutes under a deep stretch, so you probably don’t need any extra glute work. If you do, hip thrusts are the obvious choice.
  • Calves: 12–18 sets per week. Calves aren’t trained by any compound exercises. If you want bigger calves, you’ll need to do calf raises.
  • Neck: 9–18 sets per week. Your neck isn’t trained by any compound exercises, either. If you want a thicker neck, you’ll need neck curls and extensions.

How Many Sets Should You Do Per Workout?

You should do 3–12 sets per muscle per workout and train your muscles at least twice per week. The more often you train your muscles, the fewer sets you need per workout. For example, if you’re trying to do 12 sets per muscle per week, you can spread your volume out like this:

  • 6 sets of biceps curls 2x per week.
  • 4 sets of biceps curls 3x per week.
  • 3 sets of biceps curls 4x per week.

Most hypertrophy training workout routines train each muscle at least twice per week. That’s true of all full-body workout routines, most 4-day and 5-day splits, and almost all 6-day splits. Most splits let you spread out your volume properly, meaning most splits can be ideal for stimulating muscle growth.

If you’re a beginner, you can start with 3 full-body workouts per week, doing 3–6 sets per muscle each workout. As an intermediate, you might want to use a workout split that trains your muscles twice per week, doing 6–8 sets per muscle per workout.

Illustration of a lifter doing biceps curls on Pull Day of his 6-day workout split.

The elephant in the room is the Bro Split, where you only train a muscle once per week. In that case, you might want to do as many as 12 sets per body part in a single workout. Or you can adjust the routine to give it a better training frequency (as explained in our Bro Split article).

For example, instead of stacking all your arm training into Arm Day, shift some of your biceps curls to Back Day and some of your triceps extensions to Chest Day, spreading out your arm volume. That will free up room for chin-ups and close-grip bench presses on Arm Day, spreading out your chest and back volume. You can also do deadlifts on Back Day, spreading out your lower body and spinal erector volume.

When Should You Add More Sets?

Scarpelli and colleagues had subjects train one of their legs with 20% more volume than they were used to and the other leg with an “optimal” volume of 22 sets per week (study). After 8 weeks, they found that adding 20% more volume stimulated about 50% more muscle growth than suddenly switching to an optimized program. These findings have been replicated by more recent research (study).

Study graph showing that adding sets to your workout routine increases training volume and increases muscle growth.

As you get used to a training program, your muscles will grow bigger, stronger, and also tougher. It will take higher training volumes to continue stimulating muscle growth. Your muscles will also be able to recover from those higher training volumes. This is called the Repeated Bout Effect (RBE).

Illustration of a weight lifter doing front squats during a Leg Day workout.

Let’s say you’re squatting 3 times per week, doing 3 challenging sets per workout. That’s a total of 9 challenging sets per week. That’s a great place to start.

After a couple of weeks, 3 sets might not give your quads the same amount of stimulation. You might have the energy to do more, you may not feel as sore afterwards, and your strength gains may stall. At that point, consider adding a 4th set, bumping your training volume up to 12 sets per week. When that stops working, consider a 5th set.

When the ever-increasing volume becomes unmanageable, take a deload week, dropping the volume to just 2–3 sets per exercise. Then you can climb back up again, maybe focusing on different exercises, different muscle groups, or switching up your rep ranges.

Volume for Specialization Phases

A specialization phase is when you reduce your training volume for some muscles to free up recovery for others. For example, you could lower your leg volume to 6 sets per week and raise your biceps/triceps/shoulder volume to 30 sets per week.

A recent study by Enes and colleagues put the participants on a specialization program where they trained their quads with up to 52 sets per week (study). The first group of participants stuck with 22 sets per week, the second group added 4 sets every second week, and the third group added 6 sets every second week.

Study graph showing the ideal training volume when doing specialization programs.

By the end of the program, the third group was doing 52 sets per week for their quads. That sounds like it would be more than they could recover from, but it wasn’t. They gained over twice as much muscle as the group that stuck with 22 sets.

52 sets isn’t as overbearing as it sounds. If you did 10 sets of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, chin-ups, and overhead presses every week, you’d be doing 50 total sets per week. If you added in assistance and accessory exercises, you could easily get to over 100 sets. What’s impressive is that pouring all of that energy into just quad exercises worked so well.

I prefer a slightly more balanced approach. Instead of dropping the other exercises entirely, I recommend shifting most of your muscles to maintenance, doing 2–6 sets per week. You can also emphasize more than one muscle group per specialization phase, working up to 30–40 sets for a few different muscles

I’ve gotten some of my best muscle growth from specialization phases. I added 2 inches to my arms by focusing on my biceps and triceps for 3 months. I started with 2 sets per exercise and added more volume every week.

The Minimum Volume Needed to Build Muscle

Low-volume workout routines won’t fully maximize your rate of muscle growth, but they can still be enough to make progress. If you can make progress for long enough, you’ll still get there in the end.

  • One systematic review found that untrained lifters could gain muscle with as few as 3 sets per muscle per week (study).
  • A more recent study found that 2–3 sets per movement pattern was enough to gain strength. The participants could bench 220 pounds and squat 330. You might need more volume if you’re stronger than that (study).

If you’re doing fewer sets, it helps to push them harder. Most studies that show good results from lower training volumes have the participants training quite hard, taking their sets all the way to failure.

Gaining muscle more slowly sounds bad, but there are a few ways you can use it to your advantage:

  • More efficient training routines: The law of diminishing returns kicks in fairly early with training volume. You might be able to do 50% of the work and make 80% of the progress.
  • You can train with a lower volume on some muscle groups to free up energy for muscles you’re more eager to grow. For example, you could do the minimum effective volume for your quads to give yourself more time and energy to train your lagging shoulders.
  • You can make steady progress even when you aren’t fully invested in the gym. You might be happy building muscle more slowly when life gets busier or more stressful.
  • Lower training volumes might make your muscles more sensitive to muscle growth. If you get used to lower volumes, your muscles regain their sensitivity to the stimulus of lifting weights. For example, if you ease back on arm training for a few months, you might get better results when you switch to an arm specialization phase.

Summary

The ideal training volume for building muscle is around 9–22 sets per muscle per week. If you choose great exercises, do 6–30 reps per set, and bring those sets within 0–2 reps of failure, the bottom end of that range is often enough to maximize muscle growth.

Before and after photo of a skinny guy building muscle with the Bony to Beastly Program.

Start with a lower training volume and increase it gradually. Doing more sets isn’t always better, especially at first. 2–3 sets per exercise is plenty for beginners. You can get dramatic newbie gains with as few as 9 sets per muscle per week.

If you want a minimalist routine, start with 2–5 sets per week. Track your strength from week to week to see if it’s enough. Add more sets if you need to.

Cover of our Outlift intermediate bulking program.

Alright, that’s it for now. If you want a full muscle-building program, including a 5-month workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Program (for men) or Bony to Bombshell Program (for women). If you want a customizable intermediate muscle-building program, check out our Outlift Hypertrophy Program.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before

95 Comments

  1. Omar on June 10, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    Hi, thanks for the write up! Something I’d like to get clear on is whether these recommendations include warm-up sets or not. So, are all of the recommended 10–22 sets per week for chest supposed to be till/close to failure? Would it look more like A or B ?

    A: Just a 1/4 of the sets being till failure – assuming say working out chest 3x a week , 4 sets each time, with the 4th set being the hardest/heaviest set ?

    B: 3 sets working up to the heaviest weight – then doing 4 sets of that heavy weight till/close to failure each of those 4 times?

    I hope you can help. Thanks again for the write up!

    • Shane Duquette on June 11, 2020 at 11:34 am

      Hey Omar, for a set to count towards training volume, it generally needs to be within around three reps of failure. So warm-up sets wouldn’t count towards that. That isn’t to say they don’t contribute towards muscle growth whatsoever, just not enough to count as a full set.

      Using your example of doing 4 sets of the bench press 3x per week, it would only be the working sets that count. For instance, let’s say you’re doing 185 pounds for 8 repetitions as your working sets. Your bench press workout might look something like this:

      Warm-up: 8 reps with 95 pounds + 5 reps with 135 pounds (quick and easy)
      Set 1: 8 reps with 185 pounds (3 reps in reserve)
      Set 2: 8 reps with 185 pounds (2 reps in reserve)
      Set 3: 8 reps with 185 pounds (1 rep in reserve)
      Set 4: 7 reps with 185 pounds (0 rep in reserve)

      That gives you four working sets that are within a few reps of failure, each of them challenging enough to stimulate a fairly maximal amount of muscle growth. If you do that 3x per week, that’s 12 working sets, and so your volume is 12 sets per week.

      If you’re much stronger, lifting in much lower rep ranges, or the bench press is a finicky lift for you, you might need extra warm-up sets, but generally they can be done quite quickly when you’re lifting in moderate rep ranges, using a variation that suits your body, and leaving a couple of reps in the tank.

  2. Rob on July 2, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    Hi. I like the progressive warmup method but how to I do a progressive warmup when I’m doing Chinups and Dips as my first pushing and pulling exercise in a workout? This matters to me because i prefer to use chins and dips and a primary exercise instead of an accessory exercise.

    • Shane Duquette on July 3, 2020 at 5:33 pm

      Hey Rob, are you saying that you typically like to warm-up by doing gradually heavier sets of the exercise, but since these exercises are bodyweight at minimum, you can’t lift light enough for your warm-up sets? In that case, you would warm up with similar exercises, such as push-ups before dips and lat pulldowns (or rows) before chin-ups.

      • Mark on June 17, 2023 at 11:54 am

        I’ve trainned natural all my life . Using push and pull, total body etc
        I’m 58 now I wonder how many times I should train each body part and how many sets per bodypart to still gain with out overtrainning
        Bearing in mind my works physical scaffolding and I’m 58 years old
        Thanks

        • Shane Duquette on June 18, 2023 at 10:08 am

          Hey Mark, props for lifting for so long! That’s the sustainability all of us aspire towards.

          As someone with a long history of lifting, I suspect your seasoned scaffolding is capable of handling quite a lot more stress than many younger lifters.

          It always depends, though. Different people are different, and you’ve got a long history of training. Pay attention to what works and how it feels. There are many different correct ways of training.

          9–18 sets per muscle group per week, training each muscle 2–3 times per week, is a great rule of thumb for most people, but you can adjust that based on how it’s working for you. If you’re doing 12 sets for your back right now, but it’s barely ever sore, and you feel like you could handle more, then that might work even better. By contrast, if you’re doing 18 sets for your legs right now, and you’re limping through a miserable life, scale it back. If a joint is aching, try different exercise variations or reduce the volume.

  3. Sam on July 14, 2020 at 7:33 pm

    Awesome content Shane! These rep range recommendations will really help me fine-tune my current routine. I started dieting about 10 months ago and got down to a nice starting point to begin building muscle. I’m 3 months into an at home routine I cobbled together and have been seeing a lot of progress (up ~5 lbs of muscle). I’m focusing on compound body-weight exercises: pull-ups, dips, rows, planks, deep step-ups and push ups. I recently upped the push ups to ring push ups as regular ones were getting too easy and my reps were getting too high. Would you recommend adding weight (weighted vest) to keep my reps in a good hypertrophy range or advancing to a more difficult exercise (tucked lever row over a regular row)? Also, if you have any exercises you’d recommend adding to my routine I’m all ears.

    • Shane Duquette on July 14, 2020 at 8:49 pm

      That’s awesome, Sam! Congrats on the successful cut and then building those 5 pounds of muscle 😀

      I think you’d really like our article on bodyweight hypertrophy training. It covers how to build a bodyweight workout routine for gaining muscle size, and it goes over how to progress and which progressions to use 🙂

  4. Daryl on October 13, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    Do you recommend doing the same exercises if you did the PPL split three times a week?
    ex. Bench 2 sets, Incline Dumbell Press 2 sets, Cable Crossover 2 sets on MON, WED, FRI

    Or do you recommend changing to different exercises each day?
    MON Bench, Incline DB, High to Low Crossover
    WED DB Bench, Incline Barbell, Dip
    FRI Decline BB, Low To High Crossover, Pushup

    • Shane Duquette on October 13, 2020 at 4:56 pm

      Hey Daryl, as a general rule, when you’re learning a lift, more practice is often better. Then, once you’ve good at it, more variety during the week tends to be better for building muscle. That way there’s a bit more variety on joint stress, keeping it within what you can adapt and grow tougher from, and thus less likely to give you problems with joint pain. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with doing lifts more often and then just swapping them if your joints start aching.

      So, yeah, if you’re doing upper-body pushing more than once per week, you might want to do a standard bench one day, an incline bench another day, push-ups on another. Or moderate-grip and close-grip benching with a side of dips. Overhead pressing can be worked in there, too. Lots of options. Dumbbells can be worked in, too.

      You probably don’t need decline benching. Benching with a modest arch tends to take care of the lower chest. The other thing is that if benching does a good job of hitting your chest, you might not need more than one chest exercise per day. You might want to include some overhead or triceps work instead. Those muscles don’t tend to be hit as well during the bench press, but the chest is often completely stimulated. So you might get more out of bench + overhead press + skullcrushers (chest + shoulders + triceps) than from decline bench + cable crossovers + push-ups (chest + chest + chest). Your mileage may vary on that one, though.

      • John on November 7, 2020 at 11:05 am

        I am training for the golden gloves and hit the PAL 3 days a week.
        After my 45 minute boxing session, I hit the track for a fast 1 mile run.
        Just started lifting late month as I KNOW it will asset my sport and I want to add some functional muscle.
        Due to the boxing I am doing a full body workout twice a week.
        The basic and simple 3×10 method with 1 compound move per body part.
        Finding strength improvement and a better build already.
        My question is should I up the weights to 3 days per week?
        Thanks!

        • Shane Duquette on November 8, 2020 at 9:25 am

          Hey John, it sounds like you already do quite a lot of hard physical activity. I don’t think you need to switch to 3 full-body workouts per week unless you want to, or unless you find that you’ve hit a hard plateau with your training. For now, if you’re already gaining strength and seeing improvements, I’d probably recommend sticking with what’s working 🙂

    • Joe Simpson on June 2, 2023 at 10:07 am

      Hi brilliant article Shane. Greetings from the UK. I’m a beginner of training consistently for around 2 years first time with a structure.

      My current split is Upper , Lower , Full Body

      Upper consisting of : Plate loaded bench x4 , side Raises x3 , machine Row (pronated) x3 , seated cable D Row x3 , incline machine press x3 , rope triceps push downs x3 and incline db curls x3

      Lower: Barbell Squat x4, leg press x3, hip Thrust Machine x3 , kb walking lunges x3 , seated calves x3, extensions x3 , curls x3

      Full : Rack Pull x4, incline db press x3, cable lateral raises x3, front single arm pull downs x3, single arm machine row x3 , sa farmers walk x3 and Machine crunches x3

      Is that enough volume per body part or would I benefit from an additional day? Perhaps another full body? My training can be 3-4 days as I require a lot of rest due to seizures and scoliosis pain.

      • Shane Duquette on June 2, 2023 at 11:33 am

        Hey Joe, that sounds great. I like those hybrid splits.

        Nothing is noticeably wrong with your workout routine. It looks like a hearty, sensible amount of volume. Plus, you’ve already got experience with your workout routine So, to figure out if the volume is right for you, we can look at the results its producing.

        Do your muscles feel worked by the time you’ve finished a workout? Do they get a bit sore during the next 1–3 days? Are you able to lift more weight or get more reps when you repeat a workout? You don’t need to make progress on every lift every workout, but we want to see overall progress over time. If all of that is going well, your volume is good.

        If your muscles feel fresh after training, you aren’t getting sore, and you aren’t making consistent progress, you can probably benefit from adding more volume and/or taking your sets closer to failure.

        If your muscles are destroyed for days after training, and you’re so sore that you’re having trouble making progress, you can probably benefit from reducing volume.

        You can also look to your diet. Sometimes it’s hard to make progress if you aren’t eating enough food to support muscle growth.

        I hope that helps, and good luck!

        • Joe on June 2, 2023 at 11:57 am

          Thanks for your reply.

          Yes, I feel good. For bench , squat, and rack pulls, I use periodisation.

          As for a fourth day in the future, I was mainly thinking if I could use that to get extra biceps and triceps, traps, another calf session, some more hamstrings, and some direct front delt work.

          As for abs, I do crunches with weighted progression on the hammer strength machine and single arm farmer carries.

          I have scoliosis to the right of my body and neck tightness, so I struggle to find lower ab exercises that don’t aggravate me. I definitely don’t have the core strength to support myself for hanging leg raises.

          • Shane Duquette on June 4, 2023 at 5:53 pm

            My pleasure, man!

            Adding an extra day is a great way to get some extra work in. You could do some Romanian deadlifts (for your hamstrings and traps), overhead pressing (for your front delts and traps), biceps curls, triceps extensions, and some calf raises. That’d be a pretty reasonable workout.



  5. Dan on October 15, 2020 at 12:46 am

    “A 2020 study had subjects train one of their legs with 20% more volume than they were used to, and the other leg with an “optimal” volume of 22 sets per week. Eight weeks later, the subjects gained more muscle in the leg with increased volume than they did in the leg with optimized volume, even though the average volume wound up being similar between both legs”

    Could you double-check this section? Your graph shows that the approach with “optimum” volume of 22 sets actually had more growth

    • Shane Duquette on October 15, 2020 at 8:47 am

      Oh, shoot! Good catch, Dan. Thank you!

      The text is correct, but I flipped the labels on the graph by mistake. I’ve just fixed it.

  6. Daryl Weidner on October 15, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for the reply Shane! I really do love this article btw. Haven’t seen something this well explained related to lifting in a while. I did have another question about “reps in the tank” when it comes to lifting heavy, compound movements. I usually trained until failure with most everything. When you are shooting more for the strength/size goal and are near the 5 rep range, the recommendation is to rest 3-5 minutes, which I feel is the norm for strength specific, but to also have 2-4 left in the tank? If you had 4 “in the tank”, that would be the weight for your 9 reps to failure correct? Is this so you can continually train the same muscle throughout the week and not burnout or be overreaching? Thank you for everything again.

    • Shane Duquette on October 15, 2020 at 5:07 pm

      Hey Daryl, thank you 😀

      With strength training, you aren’t just trying to challenge the muscle enough to provoke an adaptation, you’re also trying to make the neural adaptations that let you fully contract your muscles for a single all-out effort. One way of doing that is to keep your reps fairly fast and fresh. Once you start to fatigue, the bar speed slows, we dip into reserves, and that’s great for muscle growth, but it’s not great for developing 1-rep max strength.

      It gets more exaggerated, too. If you’ve ever done an intermediate or advanced strength training program, you might have run into “speed days” where you use super light weights and only do a few reps with it, focusing on moving the bar as fast as possible. It doesn’t build any muscle, but it’s great practice for powerlifting.

      With hypertrophy training, you see almost the exact opposite. People push closer to failure, they grind through slow reps, and they keep piling on volume even once they’re fatigued. And you’ll never see a bodybuilder going to the gym just to practice their lifts. No, if they’re lifting, they’re trying to stimulate muscle growth.

      The two approaches are different enough that you have some experts, such as Mike Israetel, that recommend splitting up strength training and hypertrophy training into distinct phases. They do a high-volume muscle-building phase where they blast their muscles, and then they do a low-volume strength phase where they lift heavy but keep themselves fresh.

      When you’re training for muscle growth, there’s nothing wrong with taking long rest periods. You can rest for 3–5 minutes between sets no problem. But you’ll probably want to leave 0–3 reps in reserve on most of your sets, just to make sure that you’re stimulating muscle growth properly with them.

      I hope that makes sense.

  7. Rob on November 7, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    Hello. What do you think of James Krieger’s 4 day upper body/lower body sample routine in the 2020 Volume Bible article?

    1 to 2 sets per exercise while cutting and 3 to 4 sets per exercise while bulking.

    Maybe replace the upright rows with shoulder pressing (or maybe not?).

    Plus what do you think about never going below 8 reps.

    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on November 8, 2020 at 9:17 am

      Hey Rob, I think James Krieger’s sample 4-day upper/lower split routine is great.

      With upright rows, it depends on whether they feel good on your shoulder joints or not. They’re a perfectly good lift for most people, it’s just that some people find that they grind into the shoulders, which can eventually lead to shoulder impingement issues. So what you’d want to do is just make sure that you aren’t doing lifts that hurt your joints. And that’s true with every lift. If straight-bar chin-ups or barbell curls hurt your elbows, use an angled grip. That kind of thing. Just need to choose lifts that suit your body and your goals.

      I see what you’re saying about the overhead press. There isn’t an overhead press here. And I’d say overhead pressing usually gives more bang for your buck than upright rows. But I’m thinking that between the bench press and incline press, Krieger already has plenty of volume for the front delts, so he chose a variation that’s better for the side and rear delts. That makes sense to me.

      And this is just a sample, right? I’m guessing he’s cool with you customizing it to suit yourself better. And it’d be hard to find a better starting point than this. I think it’s really good 🙂

      As for never going below 8 reps, sure, no problem. It’s a hypertrophy training program. There’s nothing wrong with going a bit heavier (or lighter) sometimes, but you don’t ever need to go below 8 reps to maximize hypertrophy. The rep ranges here are perfectly ideal. No problem at all.

      • Rob on November 8, 2020 at 12:01 pm

        Thanks. That was extremely helpful. 🙂 But do you know why he has compound exercises like cable rows and upright rows after isolation exercises like chest flys and tricep extensions? Shouldn’t all compound exercises come before all isolation exercises.

        • Shane Duquette on November 8, 2020 at 12:34 pm

          It’s usually a good rule of thumb to put the biggest and most tiring exercises before the smaller ones. That’s not a universal rule, and there are different ways of doing it, but it usually works pretty well. So, for instance, you do your squats before your leg extensions. That way you can squat with fresh quads, squat more weight, work more overall muscle mass. Then you can blast your quads with the leg extensions, giving them a maximal growth stimulus.

          What we’re seeing here is a bit different. We’ve got big exercises first, such as the squat, bench press, and neutral-grip chin-ups. Afterwards, we have a mix of smaller exercises. Some are compound assistance lifts, like cable rows and upright rows. Others are single-joint isolation lifts, like the chest fly and triceps extension. The order of those lifts doesn’t matter that much, and it’s usually best to do them in the way that’s most convenient.

          So, for example, let’s say you finish your bench press and you want to do your skullcrushers and/or dumbbell flyes using the same bench. May as well just do them right away. And then set up for rows afterwards. That’s fine. It’s just making your workouts convenient.

          For another example, maybe you need to rest 3–4 minutes between your sets of squats to maintain your strength between sets. Maybe you do your sets of curls during your rest times. So you squat, rest 90 seconds, curl, rest 90 seconds, and then squat again. You’re mixing an isolation lift into your compound lifts, and that can work really well for keeping your workouts efficient. You get plenty of rest between your squats and your workouts aren’t overly long. It works great.

          In our Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell programs, we use a bunch of those supersets, and we design them so that there are a couple of lifts done at every station. If someone is in a power cage, say, then front squats and chin-ups work great, since they’re both done in the same place, and neither interferes with the other. But mixing squats with lat pulldowns doesn’t work as well, since it would mean alternating between two different pieces of equipment. It’s not that it’s a less effective combo, it’s just less practical.

          So I don’t think James Krieger is doing anything wrong there. But if you wanted to switch the order up, that’s probably fine. I’d just do it in the way that’s the most convenient.

  8. George Mylonas on November 17, 2020 at 10:42 am

    “To illustrate this, a recent study was just published showing that guys training their quads twice per week saw maximal growth with six sets per workout (12 sets per week). In fact, the groups doing nine and twelve sets per workout (18 and 24 sets per week) actually saw slightly less growth, although those results weren’t significant. This is just one of many studies, of course, but the results line up with the meta-regression Krieger performed on all of the relevant research.”

    So given I work out every body part roughly 3 times a week (and I say roughly because I practice calisthenics). Should I do 4 sets per exercise (x3=12 sets per week) for maximum muscle growth or 6 (x3=18 sets per week)? I’m asking bc I cannot understand whether the sum of weekly sets should be optimally 12 or it’s more about sets per workout and not per week. Because, if 6 sets 3 times per week build more muscle than 4 sets 3 times a week, then obviously I will opt for the former.

    By the way, the movements I use are inverted rows, pull ups, handstands, inverted hang shrugs, bridges, leg raises, squats and deadlifts (which aren’t calisthenics but wtv). Does that affect the number of reps, since they are all compound movements and so I should do less for each, or not. What do you recommend?

    • Shane Duquette on November 17, 2020 at 4:46 pm

      Hey George, start low, see how your body responds. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

      Are 4 sets enough to fatigue your target muscles during the workout? Do you get a nice pump? Does your workout leave you sore during the next day or two? If so, your volume is probably good and you don’t need to increase it.

      Are your workouts leaving you so sore that they’re impairing your performance during your next workout? If so, try doing less volume or fewer workouts per week. Maybe two workouts per week per muscle instead of three.

      Or are your workouts leaving you feeling fresh, you aren’t getting a pump, and you don’t really feel any soreness during the next couple days? Most of all, are you struggling to outlift yourself from workout to workout, unable to add weight or get extra reps? If so, try doing more volume per workout (or choosing different exercises).

      • George Mylonas on November 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm

        If I feel just a little bit sore on my next workout, but not so much so that I impair it, is that good or bad?

        Are you supposed to be a little sore on your next workout, or not at all?

        • Shane Duquette on November 21, 2020 at 12:02 pm

          For hypertrophy training, when training for muscle size, it’s not too bad to be training when sore, provided that you’re able to gradually add weight to the bar. Thing is, you’ll be accumulating some fatigue over time, and so it’s important to occasionally take deload weeks where you let yourself fully recover.

          When trying to gain strength, it’s often better to feel pretty fresh during your training. That way you’re learning how to fully engage your muscles when they’re at full strength.

          As a general rule of thumb, as an intermediate lifter, I’d recommend training your muscles after the soreness has dissipated. Or at least using a different exercise. So, for example, you do some heavy bench press on Monday, and your chest is still sore on Wednesday, so you do some close-grip bench press or overhead press. Your chest is sore, and your chest is being worked a little bit, but you’ve switched the emphasis to your shoulders. Then by Friday, perhaps, your chest is back to feeling fresh, and you go back to the bench press (or push-ups or dips or whatever). That way you’re letting your prime movers recover before hitting them hard again, but you’re keeping the training frequency fairly high overall.

          But it sounds like what you’re doing is good. I just wouldn’t go increasing the volume just yet. Seems like you’re already at the upper limit of it 🙂

    • Joe on April 14, 2021 at 1:07 am

      Great write up. I am getting stronger but not gaining mass- in fact I appear to be getting more cut at times. Is my volume to low. I tend to lift heavy in the 6-8 range for most compounds compound movements and then 10-12 reps for isolation work. Thoughts?

      • Shane Duquette on April 14, 2021 at 9:31 am

        If you’re failing to gain muscle but succeeding at losing fat, it might not be your training that’s preventing you from making progress but instead a lack of calories! Are you gaining or losing weight? To build muscle, it really helps to gain at least a little bit of weight every week.

        If you’re gaining weight while also appearing more cut, that sounds like you’re indeed gaining muscle—and quite leanly to boot! That’s a great sign.

        If you’re gaining weight but struggling to make progress on some lifts, it could be that volume is the issue. You can try adding sets. Your rep range and overall approach sounds good 🙂

  9. Peter Hatziadoniou on November 19, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Hey, if you had to choose between a weekly volume of, 4 sets per exercise per workout strictly 3 times a week (12 total weekly sets per excercise), or 6 sets per exercise per workout strictly 3 times a week (18 total weekly sets per exercise).. Which one would you choose for optimal hypertrophy?

    • Shane Duquette on November 21, 2020 at 8:56 am

      It depends on the person, the muscle, and which lifts you’re using. For example, I worked up to a 315 bench press by training my chest with 4 sets per workout, 1.5 times per week, and it was absolutely wrecking my chest. If I had done more, it would have just taken me even longer to recover from my workouts, preventing me from training as often. But to get my arms up to 15″, I was doing around 18 sets for both my biceps and triceps for a few months, and they were getting less sore than my chest was.

      So it really depends. I’d start with doing 4 sets per exercise, putting more emphasis on picking the very best exercises—the ones that really hit your target muscles hard. And then if you aren’t getting that sore, or if you’re struggling to make progress, try adding extra volume 🙂

  10. Kevin on November 25, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Great advice on starting with the lower end of the volume ranges and adding volume lift-by-lift for those muscle groups that aren’t making progress.

    To that end, I have a question about the volume in the Outlift programs. Depending on how you count, some muscles come in at 6-7 sets/week on average for the 4-day programs (while others are up in the 10-12+ range). Is the idea that the Outlift programs don’t try to get *every* muscle in the 9+ sets/wk range, but gets them most of the way there and we use the target area accessory lifts to push the ones we care about most in to the 9+ range?

    If I look at every muscle I want to develop (quads, hams, glutes, erectors, lats, upper back, traps, pecs, front/mid/rear delts, biceps, triceps, neck), it’s hard to fit in 9+ sets/wk for each, especially if I don’t count some secondary muscles (e.g. triceps on bench press). What are your thoughts on trying to get in to the optimal hypertrophy range for all muscles at the same time?

    • Shane Duquette on November 25, 2020 at 10:21 am

      Hey Kevin, yeah, that’s exactly it. Outlift is designed to have a good foundation of the compound lifts and enough overall volume to stimulate a good amount of growth everywhere, but the idea is that you customize it to drive the volume higher for your target areas.

      Quads often respond fairly well to lower volumes, especially if you choose really good exercises for them, such as front squats, leg presses, and leg extensions. Those work the quads in a big stretch, the quads are definitely the limiting factor, and they’re big muscles that are capable of working quite hard. So your quads should be okay.

      The glutes are worked by both squats and deadlift variations, and they get a little bit of work from barbell rows. They aren’t always the limiting factor, but they do a lot of work in a lot of movements, so you should be okay there.

      Traps and erectors, with a barbell-based routine, these are getting hit left, right, and center. They’re worked by almost every lift to some extent. And we’re deliberate about it, too. With a front squat, for instance, we’re intentionally working your upper spinal erectors, which are the ones that aren’t usually hit as hard. So you probably don’t need to worry about them, either.

      Lats and your overall upper back are worked by both the rows and chin-ups, so they should be okay. Nothing wrong with add in extra pulling work, though. And your lats may want some pullovers or some such to hit them harder.

      Pecs, side delts, biceps, triceps, and your neck do warrant special attention. I’d recommend choosing those muscles with your accessory lifts. The chest fly, lateral raise (or upright row), biceps curl, skullcrusher, neck curl, and neck extension are good picks.

      Are you going to get 9+ sets of direct triceps, biceps, neck, side delt, and etc all in the same phase? Probably not. But if you have some indirect and direct work adding together, you should be okay. And then you can rotate which muscles you put the most emphasis on. Outlift is set up to target the neck by default, but just switch that to whatever you want to emphasize (using the dropdown menus), and feel free to swap the emphasis from phase to phase.

      • Kevin on November 25, 2020 at 3:57 pm

        Thanks so much, Shane. You nailed it with pecs, side delts, bis, tris, and maybe lats being on my hit list for direct exercises. For whatever reason, I really like doing pullovers, so I’ll probably work those in to the mix.

        I’ve been through a few phases of 4-day Outlift and really like it. I’ve swapped in/out a few exercises but have mostly stuck to the defaults so far. I’m about to start a cut, where I’ll be judicious with the volume, but after that I want to try intentionally targeting certain areas and adding extra volume for arms. This article (and comments) helps steer that in the right direction.

        • Shane Duquette on November 25, 2020 at 4:19 pm

          My pleasure, man. That all sounds great 😀

          Good luck with the cut!

  11. JeremyS on December 26, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Not sure if I’ve seen an Outlift/B2B article on deloading – I’d love to see your take on it, covering different types of deloads, programmed vs deloading when required etc.

  12. Cliff Thomas on January 19, 2021 at 4:05 am

    Good points Shane. In my opinion, you should do 4 exercises per larger muscle groups (chest, back, legs) and 1-2 per smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps).

    • Shane Duquette on January 19, 2021 at 9:49 am

      Thanks, Cliff 🙂

      And I agree. That’s a great way of doing it.

      (I moved your URL to the URL box, linked from your name.)

  13. Tomasz on March 29, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Hi,

    Is there any difference doing 12 sets per week with one workout compared to two workouts with 6 sets each?

    • Shane Duquette on March 29, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      Hey Tomasz. Good question. And yeah, there is.

      Let’s say that we can benefit from up to 6–8 sets per muscle per workout. To be clear, that number will depend on the person, the exercise, how hard they lift, and a number of other factors, but that range is somewhere in the neighbourhood of being true.

      And then let’s say that it takes 2–5 days for our muscles to recover from that workout. Most people will be on the lower end of that range, especially once they get into the habit of workout out. Plus, a bit of overlapping muscle damage isn’t really an issue for hypertrophy, especially if you have deload weeks or vacations now and then.

      So let’s imagine doing 12 sets per muscle per workout once per week. For almost everyone, by set 6–8, there’s no additional benefit, just extra damage. This is confirmed by research showing that doing 10 sets per exercise doesn’t stimulate more growth than doing 5 sets per exercise (as explained in (our article on German Volume Training). And it only takes 2–5 days to recover, meaning that we’re spending part of each week not growing.

      Now let’s compare that to doing 6 sets per muscle per workout twice per week. For most people, 6 sets is a perfect amount of stimulus without going overboard on muscle damage or joint wear and tear. They’ll grow beautifully from that. And because we’re training twice per week, once every 3–4 days, we’ll spend the entire week growing.

      So it’s usually better to do two workouts with 6 sets each. This is confirmed by research showing that spreading our training volume out for each muscle over 2–4 workouts per week is ideal for building muscle (as explained in our article on training frequency). With that said, the differences aren’t huge. If you greatly prefer doing a split routine where you blast one muscle group per workout, that’s okay. You can still grow well that way.

      I hope that helps, and let me know if you have any more questions about it 🙂

  14. Tomasz on March 30, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Thank you Shane – this clarifies.

    I was missing this time to recover (2-5 days) but now it is clear. I believe that recovery time depends on quite many factors but let’s not go into that :-).
    So now I see I can shorten my workouts from 14 sets to let’s say 8 and still have some energy for other body parts. What would you suggest as optimal workout combination for upper body part? Now I do chest and biceps in one workout and back with triceps in the other one. Legs come as a third workout type. Any suggestions?

    • Shane Duquette on March 30, 2021 at 11:10 am

      That’s a good way of doing it, yeah. That way some of your muscles are hit twice per week. For people training 3x per week, we usually default to a full-body workout split, using three full-body workouts each with a slightly different emphasis. Another approach would be to do a push/pull split, alternating between the workouts 3x per week:

      Monday: Push
      Wednesday: Pull
      Friday: Push
      Monday: Pull
      Wednesday: Push
      Friday: Pull

      The push days having lifts like the squat, bench press, overhead press, maybe a triceps extension. The pull days having lifts like the deadlift, chin-up, maybe a row, maybe a biceps curl.

      Tons of options, though, and keep in mind that even splits that aren’t perfectly optimal can still be great. Perfection isn’t required. So feel free to go with your preference.

    • Ree Turner on January 21, 2022 at 3:16 pm

      Biceps /triceps are denser and, like our calves, can handle higher training volumes. In my experience, I got the best gains from doing biceps/triceps back-to-back before resting. So for example, dumbbell curls then cable pushdowns, then rest. Or preacher curls and then skullcrushers with the same EZ-bar.

  15. Spurzo on March 30, 2021 at 10:57 am

    Due to my work schedule, I’m currently doing a push/legs/pull workout 3 days per week, so each muscle is hit 1 time per week.

    Would it be ok to do 9 working sets per large muscle group, 3 sets per exercise? Example:

    Chest day: Bench, Incline, Pec Fly

    Quads: Squat, Leg Press, Leg Extension

    Shoulders: Dumbell Press, Upright Rows, Side Laterals

    • Shane Duquette on March 30, 2021 at 10:58 am

      Hey Spurzo,

      If you’re limited to just 3 workouts per week, you’ll get more bang for your buck with full-body workouts. But if you want to do a push/pull/legs split—which is totally fine—we’ve got a sample workout routine here: https://outlift.com/push-pull-legs/

      Or to adjust your current routine, something more like:

      Push (chest/shoulders/triceps): Bench press, dumbbell overhead press, triceps extensions

      Legs (quads/glutes/hamstrings): Squat, Romanian deadlift, leg press

      Pull (back): Chin-ups, rows, biceps curls

  16. John Lerry on April 30, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Hi Shane, what are your thoughts on full body workout consist of 3 sets of 6-8 reps for weighted pushups, inverted rows, and bulgarian split squats, performed 3 times a week, while following a dynamic double progression model:

    Monday (Weighted Pushups)
    Set 1: 50lbs x 8
    Set 2: 50lbs x 8
    Set 3: 50lbs x 8

    Since I hit the first set with the top range of reps, I will increase the weight next workout:

    Wednesday (Weighted Pushups)
    Set 1: 55lbs x 6

    And since I hit the first set with the low range of reps, I will not increase the weight for the following sets to be able to do 6-8 reps:
    Let’s say I did:
    Set 2: 50lbs x 7
    Set 3: 50lbs x 6

    • Shane Duquette on May 1, 2021 at 3:45 pm

      Your lifts are good. If you want a more detailed breakdown of how to build muscle with bodyweight movements, though, check out this bodyweight hypertrophy training article.

      I normally prefer to do straight sets or reverse pyramid sets. So I either always use the same weight or always reduce it. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with dynamic double progression. It shouldn’t affect your results positively or negatively. It’s one of many good ways of progressively overloading your lifts. So, yep, that’s great 🙂

      • John Lerry on May 3, 2021 at 11:27 pm

        Do you think periodization of training is important? Based on my workout, is the total volume per week enough? Should I change it to 4×8-10 or 3×8-10?

        • Shane Duquette on May 5, 2021 at 4:55 pm

          The research on periodization for hypertrophy is somewhat split, but at worst it seems to be neutral, and at best it seems to help. There are also plenty of circumstances where it can help to change up exercises, try different rep ranges, take a break, or try something different.

          We always periodize our programs. How important is it, though? It’s hard to say.

          Defaulting to 3 sets per exercise is okay. Increase the sets if you aren’t tired after your workouts, you aren’t getting sore, and you feel like you have more energy that you can invest into your training, especially if you stop making progress.

          (We plan to write a full article on periodization at some point.)

    • Ree Turner on January 21, 2022 at 3:21 pm

      If you hit your rep target, always do 1 more set, even if it’s just for a single rep!

  17. JakeDaniels on May 6, 2021 at 12:32 am

    I tried making a workout plan based on this information. I only kept it at 4 exercises per day because, even though I have all the time in the world, I get bored of the gym easily if I find myself spending hours there.

    Day 1: Bench, Cable Fly, Overhead Press, Row
    Day 2: Deadlift, Leg Ext, Preacher Curl, Tricep Push-down
    Day 3: Incline bench, Lat pull-down, Face Pull, Calf raises
    Day 4: Squat, Romanian DL, Hammer curl, Tricep kickback
    Day 5: Pendlay row, Chin-up, Upright row(or lateral raises), Decline bench

    Does this seem fine? For the most part everything is in 3 sets of 8-12. How can it be better? I’m not new to weightlifting but I’ve always kinda just winged it really.

    Love the article man, really appreciate any help.

    Thanks

  18. RS on May 28, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    You probably want to update that article because you cite a paper that was so wrong that the authors retracted it themselves (probably they discovered that they couldn’t do basic data management and statistics).

    • Shane Duquette on May 28, 2021 at 9:16 pm

      Thank you, RS!

      I’ve been following the Barbalho drama. A number of his studies have improbable data patterns. Greg Nuckols wrote a good article about it on Stronger by Science.

      I didn’t see that reference tucked in there. You’re totally right. Definitely not a study we want to be citing.

      I’ve updated it 🙂

  19. Ayaan on October 5, 2021 at 5:02 am

    Bro i am training 6 days a week ,chest triceps on monday Back biceps on tuesday then legs and shoulder on Wednesday. i feel its not good for me my biceps are growing nor my triceps .should i lower the volume

  20. darrell on November 21, 2021 at 10:35 am

    This is the most pertinent comment I have read in years: “Gradually increasing our volume also makes sense when we consider that different people (at different points in their lives) respond best to different training volumes.”

    I used to train to failure every set. 5 sets of 6-13 reps. 3 exercises per body part. I am now 61. I backed off a bit on the weight but upped the reps. Last year, at 60, I broke my dip record with 225lb bodyweight for 72 reps—proper reps. However, no way could I do 15 reps with my brother on my back like when I was 23.

    I have now started focusing on volume over intensity every set. I.e., 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps, and then on the last 2 sets, I often fail at 7-8 reps. When the last sets are at 10 reps as well, I knock 5 seconds off the rest period. I keep doing that until I am down to 30 seconds between sets.

    The result is that whilst going to absolute failure every set equalled more reps, now I just need a minute to recover between sets. This system costs me a couple of reps, BUT it’s also 2 minutes quicker overall.

    My arms are now a solid 18.8 inches. My waist dropped 2 inches. The workouts are based on an old Vince Gironda workout routine. It is easy on my joints and the recovery period is better.

    Different strokes not only for different folks but also as you age and change.

    • Shane Duquette on November 26, 2021 at 7:56 am

      Thank you! And congratulations on the new PR! And you’ve got 18.8inch arms! That’s amazing 😀

  21. Kane on November 27, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    Hey, so I recently started lifting and made myself a Push/Pull/Legs program. Is doing 4 sets of 12 reps per muscle group per day enough? Also, say that I hit the gym on Monday. Can I do b2B triceps training or is it not a good idea to do b2B for the same muscle groups?

  22. Monte on May 1, 2022 at 7:04 pm

    I’m not looking to look like a ripped guy or anything, I just want to be in better shape, and look more toned. I know weight training is good for fat loss, too. Right now I’m at 205 pounds, and I’d like to get down to 185 or 190. Here’s the equipment I have available to me:
    Dumbbells of 15, 20, and 25 pounds, and a barbell up to 95 pounds. I also have a “fitness” ball.

    So with that equipment, what kind of gains can I get, and what kind of weight loss can I get if I lift two or three times a week? I’ll be incorporating DDP Yoga into it as well. I’m wondering how many total reps I should do (because I’ve seen articles that focus more on “reps” rather than “sets” when it comes to volume) with these weights?

    Also, with such light weight for the barbell, is there a “substitute” for the bench and squats, or can I actually get good gains with the 95 pounds on the barbell?

    • Shane Duquette on May 2, 2022 at 5:40 pm

      Hey Monte, those goals sound great!

      You can lose weight with just a calorie deficit. Your workout program will help determine what KIND of weight you lose, but the rate that you lose weight is all about the deficit. If you eat in a deficit of around 500 calories per day, you can expect to lose about a pound per week. And then weigh yourself every week, adjusting your intake based on how much weight you’re actually losing on the scale. If you’re losing weight more slowly than you’d like to, trim out some extra calories or add in some extra exercise.

      If you’re limited with the weights you have access to, you’ll want to focus on taking your sets close to failure, ideally ending those sets before you get to around 30–40 reps. So if you can row that 25-pound dumbbell for 25 reps, stop at around 23–25 reps. And then next workout, aim for 24–26 reps. Always try to improve, lifting more weight or getting more reps than last time. You always need that progressive overload.

      When you can do more than 30–40 reps with your heaviest exercise, find a more difficult exercise variation. And feel free to use plenty of bodyweight stuff. No need to be doing dumbbell bench presses when you’ve got a perfectly good floor to do push-ups on, you know? If push-ups from the floor are too hard, raise your hands up on a bench. When push-ups from the floor get too easy, raise your feet up on the bench.

      For squats, if 95 pounds is too light, you can do one leg at a time. Think of split squats and Bulgarian split squats. When those get too easy, you might need to switch over to something like pistol squats (holding onto something with your hands to keep your balance). Same deal with deadlifts. When 95 pounds is too light, train one leg at a time. You can do Romanian deadlifts with a split stance, working one leg at a time, using the other leg just for balance.

      You may also want to get a pull-up bar or some gymnastic rings—or both. That way you can do chin-ups, pull-ups, and also lifts like bodyweight “inverted” rows.

      I’d start with 3–4 sets per exercise, choosing at least one exercise per muscle group, and trying to train most muscles at 2–3 times per week. Maybe that means doing 3 full-body workout per week. Or maybe that’s training your lower body one day, your upper body the next, doing 4–6 workouts per week. Totally up to you.

      Just make sure to bring those sets close to failure and to always be trying to outlift yourself!

      Good luck, man! You got this. Don’t sweat the details too much too soon. Just get started and build from there. If your first workout is a bunch of dumbbell curls, lateral raises, and push-ups, that’s still a good start.

      • Valentina on July 13, 2022 at 5:38 am

        Hi,

        This article has been very very helpful thank you. I would just like to confirm something please in relation to training legs.

        For movements such as: squats, hipthrust, reverse lunges & deadlifts which engage multiple muscle groups (glutes and quads), how does one calculate weekly volume per muscle group?

        For example, if I did 3 working sets of squats and Hipthrust and I’m calculating weekly volume, would i count it as 6 sets for glutes and 6 sets for quads as both movements engaged both muscles?

        Hope that makes sense

        say I do 3 working sets, when calculating volume for each muscle group, would I calculate it as 3 sets per quads, and glutes for one of these exercises

        • Shane Duquette on July 15, 2022 at 11:21 am

          Hey Valentina, that’s a good question!

          It depends on whether the exercise works the muscle hard enough to stimulate growth. And even then, it will depend on the limiting factor, how good the exercise is, and exactly how hard it’s working that muscle. So finding the right volume for each muscle group is a bit of an art. Try to listen to your body and see. Is that muscle being worked hard by the exercise? Is it being worked hard enough that it’s losing a bit of strength from set to set? Does it feel tired at the end of the workout? Does it feel sore the next day or the day after that? And when you show up to your next workout, are you able to progressively overload the exercise—was the workout enough to actually make that muscle stronger?

          Squats are normally limited by your quads, especially if you keep a fairly upright torso and get a deep knee bend. If you stick your butt back and get more bend at your hips, it’s possible to be limited by your glutes instead of your quads. Either way, you’re probably doing a pretty good job of working both your quads and glutes. I’d count squats as working both of those muscle groups pretty fully. So a set of squats is a set for both your quads and glutes.

          But I think you should have at least one exercise that is limited by the muscle you’re trying to grow. So if squats are limited by your quads, make sure to include a glute exercise, too, such as hip thrusts. Or if your squats are limited by your glutes, make sure to include another quad exercise, such as split squats, leg presses, or leg extensions.

          I normally consider hip thrusts more of a secondary exercise because they challenge the muscles at shorter muscle lengths, which isn’t quite as good at stimulating growth. You normally need more sets of those exercise to get the same amount of stimulus. They’re also more of an exercise for the glutes than anything else. You can count them as a full set for glutes, but I’d recommend having another exercise that’s limited by glute strength as your main glute exercise. Think of an exercise like deadlifts. But that’s up to you. If you use hip thrusts as your main glute exercise, you can always just do more sets. Maybe 1.5–2x as many sets. And you can push them all the way to failure, especially on your final set of the workout.

          I wouldn’t count hip thrusts as a quad exercise. Your quads won’t be worked hard enough to stimulate muscle growth.

          For your legs, a workout might look something like this:

          3–5 sets of a deadlift variation, focusing on working your glutes (and hamstrings, lower/upper back). That’s 3–5 sets for your glutes, hamstrings and back.
          3–5 sets of a squat variation, focusing on working your quads (and also your glutes). That’s 3–5 sets for your quads and glutes.
          That’s a good base. You can add from there.

          3–5 sets of leg presses. Again, 3–5 sets for quads and glutes, and you can shift emphasis with your foot position.
          3–5 sets of hip thrusts. These are 3–5 sets for your glutes.
          3–4 sets of Romanian deadlifts or good mornings for your hamstrings and glutes (and lower back).
          3–4 sets of leg curls for your hamstrings.
          You could do calf raises, too, if you want.

          And then you could do even smaller exercises like donkey kicks or side planks for the smaller muscles in your butt.

          You don’t need to do all of those exercises. You can pick and choose based on which muscles you’re trying to grow and how much time/energy you have. And different workouts can focus on different exercises. You don’t need do all of those accessory exercises every workout.

          With a base of squat and deadlift variations, you’ve got a really solid base to build upon.

      • Monte on October 12, 2022 at 7:42 pm

        Hey, Shane. I have another question regarding curls. What’s your opinion of “dumbbell” curls vs “barbell” curls, and what are the pros and cons of each? Is one “more effective” than the other? Is it OK to switch every other set or workout (i.e. doing 4 sets of curls where 2 are barbell and 2 are dumbbell)?

        And how effective is a weight training workout (especially given what I have available) once per week? I have a yoga-style workout I usually do, but I’d like to incorporate more weight training into my exercise regimen.

        • Shane Duquette on December 8, 2022 at 12:16 pm

          Both barbell and dumbbell curls are great. Barbell curls are a little bit easier to progressively overload. You can move up in weight more incrementally. They also supinate your hands (bringing your palms up), which is great for activating your biceps. The downside is that some people get elbow pain from doing barbell curls. Curl-bar curls, aka EZ-Bar curls, attempt to solve that problem by reducing the degree of supination (allowing the palms to face each other a little bit more), which is still great for your biceps and might work your brachialis a little bit more. Dumbbells fully solve the elbow pain issue, allowing your hangs to rotate freely. That isn’t necessarily better for building bigger biceps, but it’s a godsend if you’re prone to elbow pain. The other advantage to dumbbells is that you can do variations like incline curls, allowing you to get a deeper stretch on your biceps at the bottom of the range of motion. I love using incline curls as a secondary curl variation.

          If you’re training your biceps multiple times per week, I think it makes sense to switch your variations every workout. Monday is barbell curls, Thursday is dumbbell curls. That kind of thing. That way you’re stressing your biceps and your elbows a little differently each time. It sounds like you’re only training your arms once per week, which is totally fine, so what I’d do instead is focus on one biceps curl variation for a few weeks, or maybe even a few months, and then switch to the other. Or you could start your workout with barbell curls and finish it with incline curls, yeah. Start with two sets of each, and work up to three sets of each if you’re having trouble making progress 🙂

  23. Umar Bin ahmar on August 19, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    how many total sets of all muscles should be done in a week?

    • Shane Duquette on September 6, 2022 at 11:04 am

      The best way I can answer this is with the article. It really depends on all kinds of factors. If you want to keep it really simple, you could aim for around 10 sets per muscle per week. For more specifics, the article goes over all of them.

  24. Nima on October 12, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    What the hell does soreness and “pump” have to do with the workout being effective? This is meme worthy

    • Shane Duquette on December 8, 2022 at 12:19 pm

      Think of muscle soreness and muscle pumps like clues.

      Muscle soreness can be a good sign that you’ve stimulated a certain muscle. If you train your biceps, and then your brachialis gets sore the next day, perhaps you haven’t actually succeeded in training your biceps. Same thing if you’re trying to train your hamstrings but only your glutes get sore. Or if you’re trying to train your lats but only your rear delts get sore. If NOTHING gets sore, it might be a sign that you can work harder without running into any recovery issues.

      Muscle pumps can be similar. Imagine that you’re trying to train your lats but only your rear delts are getting pumped. Or you’re trying to train your upper chest but only your lower chest is getting pumped. The trouble with muscle pumps is that training at short muscle lengths can be really good for getting muscle pumps, but training at short muscle lengths isn’t nearly as good for stimulating muscle growth. That’s why a muscle pump is just a clue. Just one clue among many.

    • Amir on April 14, 2023 at 4:17 pm

      Hello Shane, I hope you are well. I made a program based on this. I used to use Brother Split style and I could not get a good volume from these exercises. I want to change my training routine to full body and increase my calorie intake to 3300 and my exercises are full body with a focus on Let me do the shoulders. My routine is like this. First day, squat, chest press, overhead press 8×4, barbell row 12×4, and three isolated movements. On the second day, deadlift 6×4, chest press, dumbbell 8×4, shoulder press 10×4, and Dumbbell bent 10×4 and three pot isolation movements on the third day, squat from the front 8×4, dumbbell chest press 10×4, upright row 3×10 and cable bar 10×3 and three pot isolation movements, and I dedicated an extra day for my arms. In order to train with more volume, also the dedicated arm day is psychologically beneficial for me. What do you think about this program of mine? Is there anything to improve?

      • Shane Duquette on May 16, 2023 at 12:26 pm

        Hey Amir. That looks pretty good to me. Is it working? Are you making progress?

        If it were me, I’d mix in some push-ups or dips along with the pressing. That way you’ve got some exercises where your shoulder blades can move, working your serratus. I think you’re already using a mix of dumbbell and barbell lifts. That sounds nice.

        I’m not seeing vertical pulls, either. Lifts like chin-ups, pull-ups, or lat pulldowns. I’d replace some rows with vertical pulls.

        You might also want to have some days where you mix up the other of your exercises. It looks like pressing always comes before pulling, and legs always come before upper body. Maybe have some days that start with some chin-ups or presses.

        If it’s working, and if your joints are feeling good, I’d stick with it. If something isn’t progressing, or if something is hurting, or if something isn’t feeling right, then you could address that specific problem.

  25. Anudeep on January 12, 2023 at 5:08 am

    Here 18 sets per one muscle group right .
    Flat bench press 3 sets
    Incline db presss 3 sets
    Cable flys3 sets
    And doing the same next time on that week
    9+9 =18 sets
    What i understand is right or wrong ?

    • Shane Duquette on January 21, 2023 at 9:39 am

      Yep! You’ve got it right. That sounds great 🙂

  26. Ruban Kishore on January 15, 2023 at 11:59 pm

    Currently I can do 15 clean pushups and 4 dips.
    My goal is to reach 30 pushups and 10 dips asap and build muscle mass.

    I decided to do 5×10 pushups and
    6×2 dips per session, twice a week.

    What do you think about this?

    • Shane Duquette on January 21, 2023 at 9:42 am

      Hey Ruban, instead of doing a specific number of reps each set, I’d push yourself hard on each set, however many reps that gives you.

      If you can do 15 push-ups, you should be doing 13–15 push-ups during your first set of push-ups. That way the workout is challenging right from the first set. That way your first set is hard enough to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains. Maybe in your second set, you’re tired, so you only get 12–13 reps. That’s fine, too. You’ve pushed yourself. Maybe by the fifth set, you’re only getting 9 reps. That’s great.

      Same with dips. If you can do 4 dips, doing 2–3 dips in your first set is great. Maybe by the sixth set, you can only do 1–2. That’s okay, too.

      Write down what you’re able to do. Write down how many reps you can get each set. Next workout, try to beat it. Try to get more total reps than the previous workout. That’s progressive overload. That’s how you get bigger and stronger over time.

      Good luck, man!

  27. Ayan on May 5, 2023 at 10:23 pm

    “When the ever-increasing volume becomes unmanageable, take a deload week, dropping the volume to just 2 sets per exercise and leaving at least 3 reps in reserve on each set. Then you can climb back up again, maybe using a slightly different exercise or rep scheme.”

    Hey Shane 🙂
    In case a man is bulking and gaining around a pound per week, what change (if any) would you recommend to his diet during such a deload week? I’ve noticed you mention in several other places that it’s often during this deload (after an overreaching week) that the most muscle growth takes place. Better to keep up the caloric surplus? Possibly up the calories a bit? Or would it be better to drop down to a minor surplus or even maintenance calories during the deload week?

    Thanks in advance, man 🙂

  28. Spurzo on June 2, 2023 at 5:20 am

    How do you count compounds towards arm volume? Say I do 6 sets of presses and 6 sets of pulls, would I count that as 3 sets for triceps and 3 sets for biceps?

    • Shane Duquette on June 2, 2023 at 11:26 am

      If the muscle is challenged, I count it as a set. So if you do 6 sets of presses, and your triceps feel like they’ve been worked quite hard, I’d count those sets. If they don’t feel like they’ve been worked, I wouldn’t count them. For example, 6 sets of a close-grip bench works my triceps, chest, and shoulders quite well. I count each set as a set for all of them. But if I’m doing wide-grip bench press, my triceps are barely worked, so I won’t count it as anything.

      I also try to use a balanced mix of exercises. Pressing and pulling won’t work the longer heads of the biceps and triceps, so a balanced routine needs to have curls and extensions. If I’m doing 6 sets of pulls and presses, I’ll also do 3 sets of curls and extensions. If those pulls and presses work my arms, I might count that as 9 sets for biceps and triceps.

      Counting compound lifts as half sets is fine, too. I’ve done that in the past. It’s a good rule of thumb when you’re following a balanced program and trying to bulk up overall. It’s just lately I’ve been finding more value in being more precise, especially if you’re programming your own workout routines, trying to make them balanced.

  29. Ayan on June 7, 2023 at 2:16 am

    “When the ever-increasing volume becomes unmanageable, take a deload week, dropping the volume to just 2 sets per exercise and leaving at least 3 reps in reserve on each set. Then you can climb back up again, maybe using a slightly different exercise or rep scheme.”

    Hey Shane
    In case a man is bulking and gaining around a pound per week, what change (if any) would you recommend to his diet during such a deload week? I’ve noticed you mention in several other places that it’s often during this deload (after an overreaching week) that the most muscle growth takes place. Better to keep up the caloric surplus? Possibly up the calories a bit? Or would it be better to drop down to a minor surplus or even maintenance calories during the deload week?

    Thanks in advance, man

    • Shane Duquette on June 11, 2023 at 11:31 am

      Hey Ayan, that’s a good question. It might even deserve its own short article.

      The first thing to consider is that shorter, easier workouts burn fewer calories. Maybe a typical workout burns 300 calories, whereas a deload workout burns only 150. You can remove those calories from your diet. You aren’t spending them, so you don’t need to eat them. I made a calculator for that here. You don’t really need to worry about that, though. It’s a small difference in the number of calories you burn.

      As for your calorie surplus, I’d keep it about the same. You’re still stimulating muscle growth with your deload workouts, and we want to make sure you get enough calories to get ahead on recovery. If you prefer eating in a more minor surplus, that’s okay, especially if you aren’t hungry. I always try to keep gaining at the same pace. I think that makes for the best default.

      • Ayan on June 11, 2023 at 11:42 am

        Thank you so much, Shane. Excellent advice as always. 🙂

  30. lyto on July 31, 2023 at 5:02 pm

    What a great website and content. Everything I read through many books and watched on youtube from gurus in one place short and precise.

  31. AMIR on January 10, 2024 at 11:12 am

    Hello Shane, I hope you are well. My opinion is that it is better to calculate the volume in one session, because this is how we can achieve the maximum growth, and I personally believe that we should not consider the training volume based on the week. We can have a 10-day period in Consider, for example, I train the chest with 12 sets in a session, chest press, fly, and high press. After five days, I train all my muscles like this, and I got much better results than full body or upper body. I must also say that I train in my home gym, and maybe this style of training is not suitable for someone who has little time, however, this is a good way to divide volume and frequency for muscle growth.

    • Shane Duquette on January 10, 2024 at 11:34 am

      Yeah, that’s fine. You can divide up the periods in different ways.

      Instead of 14 sets per week, you could do 8 sets every 4 days, or 4 sets every 2 days. Same thing, just a different way of thinking about it and scheduling it.

      2-day, 3-day, 6-day, 8-day, and 10-day cycles are all fine. Most people live on a weekly schedule, though, so it makes sense to design a workout routine that fits into a standard week. There’s no disadvantage to it—a weekly cycle works just as well as a 6 or 10-day cycle—so may as well.

  32. Etta on January 20, 2024 at 5:45 pm

    Well this is all good to know and it would be nice to use your programs if I wasn’t apparently pre-disqualified from regimens of Beastliness by having tit shapes attached to me

    • Shane Duquette on January 21, 2024 at 9:22 am

      Men and women tend to have different goals, different questions, and slightly different physiology. I’m sure we could have done it a different way, but we thought we could do better by making different programs designed for each gender. We thought about merging them at one point, but when we asked our members, they liked having the coaching communities separate.

      Have you seen our Bony to Bombshell Program? If that isn’t what you had in mind, let me know, and we’ll see what we can do.

  33. Keith on March 10, 2024 at 11:27 am

    “Cross-sectional area and sum of lateral thigh muscle thickness showed no between-group differences ( P = 0.067 and P = 0.076, respectively). However, an inspection of 95% confidence intervals suggests a potential dose-response relationship, with results appearing to plateau in the higher volume conditions.”

    “By the end of the program, the third group was doing 52 sets per week for their quads. That sounds like it would be more than they could recover from, but it wasn’t. They gained over twice as much muscle mass as the group that stuck with 22 sets per week.”

    Hi Shane, I’m confused by these two quotes. The first is from the abstract of the volume study by Enes. The second is yours in discussing the same study. They seem to contradict each other. Can you help me understand? Did the 52 set group get stronger, bigger, or both when compared to the 22 set group?

    • Shane Duquette on March 11, 2024 at 9:44 am

      Hey Keith,

      The 52-set group got bigger and stronger, and the researchers are confident that the strength gains were from the extra sets. They’re less confident that the extra muscle growth was from the extra sets. There’s no contradiction between the two quotes you posted, but your confusion makes sense.

      The quote from the abstract is talking about statistical significance (p-value). The researchers are saying there’s a 7–8% chance of getting results like these even if higher volumes don’t stimulate extra muscle growth. Researchers don’t like that chance to be greater than 5% (a p-value less than 0.05), and these findings don’t quite cross that threshold, so they’re deemed statistically insignificant.

      This type of strength and hypertrophy research has relatively little funding, so the studies tend to be shorter and have fewer participants. You’ll find nutrition studies (such as the Nurses’ Health Study) with 250,000+ participants that have been collecting data for several decades. This Enes study had 31 participants and lasted 12 weeks. That’s normal for a lifting study. When studies are this small, it’s fairly common for them find a strong effect (in this case 2x as much muscle growth) that still fails to meet statistical significance. That’s what happened here.

      My quote is describing the effect they found. The group that added the most sets gained over twice as much muscle as the group that suck with 22 sets per week. We can’t be completely certain that those results are from the extra volume, but it certainly seems that way.

      You wouldn’t want to reach a strong conclusion based on results of a single study, especially when that study is small, and especially when the findings didn’t reach statistical significance. It’s much better to wait until there are many studies. At that point, you start getting meta-analyses and systematic reviews that take into account all of those studies. We have some meta-analyses with volume, which we covered in the article, but even then, there isn’t THAT much research on training volume. We can’t be that precise with or certain of our recommendations.

      As we wait for more years and decades to pass, we have to use the best evidence we have. That’s where studies like this one come in. They give us tentative information we can take into consideration when making our workout routines.

      • Keith on March 11, 2024 at 3:56 pm

        Hi Shane, thanks for your thoughtful reply! Everything you said makes sense. I appreciate you clarifying the details. I’m super curious how to tell what is applicable in the face of diffefent results. Is 22 sets the optimal number as suggested by Kreiger’s analysis? Or is 52 as suggested by Enes’ study? Thankfully we can try them out and see what works for us.

        • Shane Duquette on March 11, 2024 at 4:59 pm

          My pleasure, man! It can be confusing.

          The findings aren’t really at odds with each other. Krieger’s review of the research shows that when people are following full-body workouts routines and using reasonably rest times, 10–22 sets per muscle is enough to reach the point of greatly diminishing returns, and may very well be enough to maximize muscle growth. That could very well be true, but perhaps more importantly, we know that it works very well. Many of the best muscle-building programs have training volumes somewhere in that range.

          The Enes study was training just the quads, and they gradually worked up to 52 sets before stopping. It’s just one muscle group, and they were only doing the full 52 sets for 2 weeks. We don’t know what would have happened if the participants were doing 52 sets for every muscle group. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to recover. We also don’t know what would have happened if they had kept doing 52 sets for many weeks. Maybe recover would have fallen off or the benefits would have plateaued.

          Right now, considering both studies, my thinking is:

          1. 10–22 sets per muscle is good for full-body programs, leaning higher for the stubborn muscles/muscles you’re most eager to grow, and perhaps lower for the muscles that get stimulated/sore easily. That would give you a fairly conventional hypertrophy training program. You can be pretty confident it would work amazingly well.

          2. Specialization programs can bring the volume for some muscles very high. For example, if you’re doing an arm specialization program, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to gradually work up to doing more than 22 sets per week for your arms. Maybe you even work up to as many as 52 sets per week (for a couple of weeks). I tried working up to around 40 sets each for my biceps and triceps. I really liked it. More than that felt like it might start wearing on my elbows, and the workouts were already long enough as is, so I held back from going all the way to 52.

  34. Jim W on April 3, 2024 at 5:52 am

    Great conversations. Some independent variables I am looking for in studies are:
    1) Age of lifter. Testosterone levels among other variables matter. At 27 my T level was 780. I’m 56 now & at 236 (& NO HRT)

    2) Correspondingly, natural or enhanced lifter. I’ve been both. The difference is dramatic. I won’t even mention those levels.

    3) Other individual variabilities, particular those related to recoverability.

    4) Correspondingly, study designs where the Period is not a week, but 5 or 8 days.

    I just got back to lifting after serious time off to heal a serious shoulder re-injury. I am working out a periodization type scheme. I plan to run through the gamut of intensity techniques largely in the interest of maintaining interest because consistency over time span is perhaps the most important consideration for growth. While I will measure progressive overload primarily from poundages on work sets, there are lots of way to increase intensity.

    I’m not too old to make a good “comeback” since my goals are reasonable but overall joint & connective tissue health and avoiding injury and certainly re-injury of existing chronic problems is key. Injury=interruption of consistency.

    You young or otherwise tough bucks, man enjoy it and ride it hard but be sure to learn about injury prevention. I will painfully share that some issues don’t become issues until down the road.

    Now let’s get to work!

    • Shane Duquette on April 3, 2024 at 5:33 pm

      Thank you, Jim!

      Those are good things to consider. I’ll throw some cents into the well. You can tell me if there’s any sense in them.

      We have an article about how age affects muscle growth. Here’s the gist of it: if you got within spitting distance of your genetic potential while you were younger, you won’t get much further now that you’re older. That has nothing to do with age, though. It’s just that our frames can only hold so much muscle. If you still have room on your frame for muscle growth, age shouldn’t be a limiting factor until at least 60, but probably closer to 70-80.

      What changes have you noticed as you got older?

      There was a study published two months ago where they tested different training volumes on people in their 80s. The low-volume approach (1 set per exercise) didn’t work for everyone. The higher-volume approach (4 sets per exercise) worked for all of them.

      The older you get, the more your metabolism can decline, making it harder to recover from higher-volume routines. But those age-related declines are mostly seen among sedentary people. If you keep fit, or if you gradually become fit, then you should be okay. For example, many runners are able to run marathons into their 80s. Running is far more stressful than lifting. Marathons are far higher volume than hypertrophy training. You just need to be progressive with it. I think your comeback will go great.

      I’m a natural lifter who coaches natural lifters. All of the research is on natural lifters. I’m not sure how any of this would apply to enhanced lifters. I’ve heard whispers of PEDs improving muscle more than tendon recovery. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s easy to imagine how being enhanced might throw wrenches into almost every part of this article. I’m suspect you know more about that than I do.

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