Illustration of a bunch of men deadlifting.

Hypertrophy Training Volume: How Many Sets to Build Muscle?

How many sets should you be doing per muscle group per week to build muscle? If you train efficiently, optimizing every factor for muscle growth, then you may be able to maximize your rate of muscle growth away with as few as 9 sets per week.

On the other hand, if you’re training for other goals—strength, power, fitness, or endurance—then you might be gaining less muscle per set, and so you’ll benefit from a higher training volume.

So in this article, we’ll start by going over the ideal type of volume for building muscle. Then, once we’re training efficiently, we can talk about how much volume we should do to build muscle as quickly as possible.

Before/after illustration of a skinny man becoming muscular.

What is Training Volume?

Before we can talk about the ideal training volume for building muscle, we need to define what training volume is, at least in the context of hypertrophy training. There are two popular definitions:

  • Training Volume = total pounds lifted per exercise: number of sets × number of reps × weight lifted. For example, if we did 10 sets of front squats for 5 reps each, with a load of 225 pounds, our weekly squat volume would be 11,250 pounds.
  • Training volume = number of challenging sets per muscle per week. For instance, if we did 5 challenging sets of front squats on Monday, 5 more on Friday, the training volume for our quads would be 10 sets per week.

Both of these definitions are correct, and both can be useful, too. For example, if we’re trying to improve how much overall work we’re doing per week (work capacity), then the first definition is better. That’s not particularly useful information when trying to build muscle, though.

When training for muscle mass, we don’t need to know how much work we’re doing, we just need to know how much muscle growth we’re stimulating. Since challenging sets stimulate similar amounts of muscle growth regardless of how much work we’re doing, a better way to measure our training volume is to simply count the number of hard sets we’re doing. (I think this idea was popularized by Nathan Jones.)

Training volume is best defined as the number of challenging sets you do per muscle per week. For example, if you do 5 sets of the bench press on Monday, 5 sets of push-ups on Wednesday, and 5 sets of dips on Friday, then the weekly training volume for your chest is 15 sets.

The Ideal KIND of Training Volume

If we’re defining training volume as the number of challenging sets we do, we need to make sure that the sets we’re doing are similarly efficient at stimulating muscle growth.

For example, let’s imagine that you’re trying to build bigger triceps, so you decide to do 10 sets for your triceps every week. That’s totally reasonable. But let’s say that you choose an exercise that isn’t great at working your triceps (such as the bench press). And you only do 5 reps per set. That training style isn’t an efficient way to build bigger triceps.

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

Now let’s imagine that you’re doing 10 sets of skull crushers, that you’re doing 12 reps per set, and that you’re bringing those sets within 1–2 reps of failure. Now you’re training efficiently.

Because these two ways of training stimulate a different amount of muscle growth per set, we can’t weigh them equally. That’s why we need to talk about the ideal kind of volume before we can talk about the ideal amount of volume.

There are a few things you can do to get more muscle growth out of every set that you do:

  • Choose good lifts. Lifts that challenge your muscles through a deep range of motion tend to stimulate more muscle growth. For example, deep bench presses for your chest, front squats for our quads, and deadlifts for your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Take your sets close enough to failure. Stopping 1–2 reps away from failure often works best.
  • Lift within the hypertrophy rep range. Anywhere from 4–40 reps will stimulate muscle growth, but sets of 6–20 reps are more efficient, allowing you to build more muscle with every set.
  • Rest long enough between sets. If you’re trying to build more muscle with every set, resting 2–5 minutes is often best. With that said, short rest times can be great for building muscle, just keep in mind that they stimulate less muscle growth per set. You may need to do 2–3 drop sets or rest-pause sets to get the same stimulus as a regular set. The same is true when you cut your rest times short, starting your next set before you’ve regained your strength.
  • Challenge each muscle at least twice per week. A challenging workout stimulates a few days of muscle growth. That means that to keep our muscles growing all week long, we need to train them every few days—at least twice per week.

For more, we have a full article on how to train for muscle growth.

The Ideal AMOUNT of Training Volume

Okay, now that we’ve gone through the various factors that affect our ideal training volume, we can talk about the ideal number of sets per muscle per week.

I’ll go over the research and opinions of the two leading volume experts, but this is a constantly evolving field, so these aren’t meant to be the final word, just the best recommendations we can garner at the moment. I’ll do my best to update this article as more research comes out.

How Many Sets Per Muscle?

There are a few good resources for figuring out our ideal training volume. One of my favourites is Mike Israetel’s volume landmarks for hypertrophy. What he does is go over the different muscle groups and give recommendations for the volume required to maintain or gain size. I’d highly recommend giving it a read, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Upper Back 10–25 sets per week with a mix of vertical pulling (such as chin-ups) and horizontal pulling (such as rows).
  • Chest: 10–22 sets per week with a mix of lifts that hit both the lower and upper chest, such as the bench press and push-ups.
  • Shoulders: 8–26 sets per week, including a mix of lifts such as overhead presses, face pulls, upright rows, and lateral raises.
  • Biceps: 8–26 sets per week in addition to general pulling work (such as rows and pull-ups). I’d count chin-ups as direct biceps work, mind you, along with all of the biceps curl variations.
  • Quads: 8–20 sets per week with lifts like squats, step-ups, and leg extensions. If we use lifts like front squats and Zercher squats, we can train our quads, glutes, and spinal erectors at the same time, removing the need to train them directly.
  • Hamstrings: 6–20 sets per week with lifts like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, and good mornings. If we use lifts like conventional deadlifts, we can train our glutes, traps, and spinal erectors at the same time, removing the need for directly training those muscles.
  • Triceps: 6–30 sets per week in addition to our chest and shoulder-focused pressing work.
  • Forearms: 2–25 sets per week with a mix of lifts like wrist curls (for the wrist flexors) and overhand barbell rows (for the brachioradialis).
  • Traps: 0–40 sets per week. Traps are trained in most compound lifts, including chin-ups, overhead presses, barbell rows, and deadlifts. As a result, even without any direct trap work (such as shrugs) they can wind up shouldering incredible amounts of volume.
  • Ab muscles: 0–25 sets per week. Compound lifts will often do a decent job of stimulating the abs, but for guys with small or stubborn abs, direct ab training can certainly help.
  • Glutes: 0–16 sets per week. If we’re already doing deadlifts and squats to bulk up our quads and hamstrings, then no direct glute work is needed. But if we want maximal glute development, we could add up to 16 sets of direct glute work per week with lifts like glute bridges and hip thrusts.
  • Calves: 8–16 sets per week. However, bulking up our calves won’t improve our strength, health, or aesthetics, so I’d consider calf training totally optional.
Illustration showing a man flexing the muscle he built.

Some muscles, such as our traps, are worked hard enough by compound lifts that they’ll often grow just fine without ever needing to be isolated. Other muscles, such as the muscles in our necks, aren’t stimulated whatsoever by any of the big compound lifts, and so if we want to see growth, we need to train them directly. However, most muscles benefit from being trained with a mix of compound lifts and isolation lifts. For instance, our biceps grow best when we train them with a mix of chin-ups and biceps curls.

Dr Israetel also points out that weekly volume needs to be split up intelligently over multiple training sessions, with around 4–12 sets coming from each workout. The best way to hit a weekly training volume of eighteen sets, then, would be to train a muscle three times per week with six sets per workout.

Also, keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better. In fact, most people get the best results while training someone in the middle of that range—somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12–18 sets per muscle group per week. We might be able to make good progress with less volume, though, and if a muscle is lagging, or if we’ve hit a size/strength plateau, then more volume might be the ticket. We’ve got a large range to experiment with.

Finally, Dr Israetel tends to start off bulking phases with the lower end of the volume range and then gradually work his way up to the higher end, eventually getting to a point where we can’t even fully recover from our training (overreaching). It’s possible—perhaps even likely that this increases muscle growth, but even if it doesn’t, it does seem to improve our lifting fitness and work capacity over time.

Dr Israetel’s research shows that most muscles grow best with a weekly training volume of around 8–25 sets per muscle per week, ideally spread out over 2–5 workouts. However, this can vary between people and also between muscle groups.

Does Doing More Sets Build More Muscle?

Another of my favourite researchers looking into the ideal training volume for muscle growth is James Krieger, MS. He’s famous for publishing a study known as the Volume Bible.

What makes Krieger’s research so cool is that over these past few years, there have been quite a few studies published showing benefits to very high training volumes—as much as 45 sets per muscle per week! However, all of that research uses short rest times between sets, presenting a potential confounding variable.

Krieger made his own meta-analysis of the studies while accounting for rest times, finding that shorter rest times (under two minutes) do indeed benefit from training volumes as high as fifteen sets per muscle per workout, or 45 sets per muscle per week. However, he also discovered that if we use longer rest times (3–5 minutes), that effect disappears, and we build just as much muscle with moderate training volumes. In fact, he found that muscle growth is fully maximized with six challenging sets per muscle per workout. For our biceps, say, that might mean four sets of chin-ups with two sets of biceps curls.

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

To illustrate this, a recent study was found 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.

If you’re taking long rests between sets, roughly 6 sets per muscle group per training session is a good target for most individuals looking to maximize hypertrophy.

James Krieger, MS

Krieger points out that training a muscle 2–3 times per week seems to be fairly ideal, putting the ideal training volume at around 12–18 sets per muscle group per week, but keeping in mind that volume is directly tied to both training frequency and rest times.

Furthermore, Krieger notes that we can do specialization phases where we reduce our training volume for some muscle groups so that we can free up recovery for others. For example, we could lower our leg volume to eight sets per week and raise our biceps/triceps/shoulder volume to thirty sets per week. (And, anecdotally, training my stubborn biceps and triceps with obscenely high volume for a couple of months allowed me to add around two inches to my arms, so I’m certainly a fan of that approach.)

It may be best to focus on a couple individual muscle groups, training them with very high volume, and using a maintenance volume on the other muscle groups.

James Krieger, MS

Finally, Krieger adds that there can be a benefit to volume cycling, where we start off a program with a period of lower training volume and then gradually progress to higher training volumes, eventually getting to a point where we’re doing more than the ideal amount (overreaching). This, too, lines up perfectly with Dr Israetel’s recommendations, although it’s worth pointing out that it’s still speculative.

Krieger’s research into training volume shows maximal muscle growth while training each muscle 2–3 times per week with six sets per workout, yielding an ideal training volume of 12–18 sets per muscle per week.

When Should You Add More Sets?

You’ll know you need to add more sets when your workouts stop giving you a pump, making you sore, or causing strength gains from week to week. Until then, it’s often wise to stick with what’s working.

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.

Graph showing that the ideal training volume for building muscle depends on what you've already adapted to.

This study shows that it might be wiser to focus more on gradually increasing our volume rather than immediately trying to hit the optimal number of challenging sets per week.

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. Ideally, we want to find a training volume that helps us steadily gain strength on our lifts without making us feel overly worn down or fatigued. By gradually working our way up, we get to see which training volumes we respond best to.

Illustration of a man doing a front squat

For an example of how to put this into practice, let’s say that right now you’re squatting 3 times per week, doing 3 challenging sets each workout. That’s a total of 9 challenging sets per week, and that’s perfect… for now. Eventually, 3 sets might not give your quads the same pump, won’t leave them feeling sore afterwards, and you may have trouble adding more weight to the bar each week. At that point, consider adding a fourth set, bumping your training volume up to 12 sets per week. When you adapt to that, try adding another set.

When the ever-increasing volume starts to become unmanageable or hard to recover from, take a deload week to recover, dropping the volume back down to just 2 sets per muscle per workout, and leaving at least 3 reps in reserve on each set. And then you can climb back up again, maybe using a slightly different exercise or rep scheme.

The Minimum Volume Needed to Build Muscle

Doing 2–5 sets to failure per muscle group per week is often enough to stimulate at least some muscle growth. It’s not ideal, but it’s an efficient way of training that can still yield steady muscle growth.

So we’ve talked about the ideal amount of training volume. Now let’s talk about the minimum amount of training volume required to build muscle and gradually get bigger. The good news is that the minimum effective volume isn’t as much as you might think! Most research shows that higher volumes produce at least slightly more growth, as we’ve shown above, but there’s also research showing that we can reliably build muscle with lower training volumes, too:

  • One systematic review found that untrained lifters were able to gain muscle in their upper bodies with as few as three sets per week.
  • And a new study came out showing steady strength gains on the squat and bench press with as few as 2–3 sets per lift per week. Note that the average strength of the study participants was something along the lines of a 220-pound bench press 1RM and a 330-pound squat 1RM.
Illustration of a man doing the barbell bench press.

If we look at the research overall, most of it shows that we can reliably build muscle with just a few challenging sets per week. Mind you, most of these studies have the participants lifting to failure, so one takeaway is that if we’re lowing our training volume, we might want to take at least our final sets to failure.

Now, are these lower training volumes totally ideal for building muscle? No. For optimal muscle growth, we’d want to be doing 2–5 workouts per week, each containing somewhere between 3–8 sets per muscle group. But are these lower training volumes enough to gain muscle and strength? Yes, they can be.

And there are a few reasons why we might intentionally want to train with lower volumes:

  • Minimal training volumes can still be quite effective. The law of diminishing returns kicks in fairly early with training volume. Sometimes there’s a sweet spot where we can do half the work while still making 80% of the progress. For some of us, that’s worth it, especially for muscles that aren’t high priorities.
  • We can train with a lower volume on some muscle groups to free up energy for muscles we’re more eager to grow. For example, maybe we train with the minimum effective volume for our quads to give ourselves the time and energy to train with ideal volume for our shoulders (or vice versa).
  • We can put building muscle on the backburner, freeing up time and energy to focus on other aspects of our lives. For example, we might be happy building muscle more slowly if it means that we have more time for exams, work, family, or managing stress.
  • Lower training volumes can make our muscles more sensitive to higher volumes. If we get used to bulking with lower training volumes, when we increase our training volumes in the future, we might expect to see more growth. For example, if we go through a few months of doing minimal volume for our biceps, they might respond better to a specialization phase that ratchets the biceps volume way higher.

So, How Many Sets to Build Muscle?

The ideal training volume for building muscle is around 9–18 sets per muscle per week. And if you’re choosing good lifts, doing 6–20 reps per set, and bringing those sets within 1–2 reps of failure, the bottom end of that range is often enough to maximize muscle growth.

Illustration of a man with burning biceps flexing.

Also, keep in mind that we want to work our volume up gradually and as needed, rather than immediately jumping all the way to the highest training volumes. More isn’t necessarily better, and starting with 3 sets per workout is often plenty for a beginner.

If you’re trying to take a more minimalist approach, you can do as few as 2–5 sets per muscle per week and still expect to maintain your progress. And if you’re a beginner, you may even gain some extra muscle size and strength.

Cover of our Outlift intermediate bulking program.

If you want a customizable workout program (and full guide) that builds these principles in, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. Or, if you’re still skinny or skinny-fat, try our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program or Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 65 pounds at 11% body fat and has ten years 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

48 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.

  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 🙂

  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.

  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.)

  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 🙂

Leave a Comment