Recommendations for Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Repetitions.

What is the Ideal Training Volume?

The ideal training volume is an often discussed question and a decisive factor in your training. If you asked ten people about this in the gym, you would definitely get ten different answers. And yet fundamentally different approaches all seem to work somewhere. So the question arises: “Does the ideal volume training even exist?” To answer this, the following article summarizes the scientific recommendations on the subject of volume and explains which restrictions and additions apply in practice.

What is Volume?

Volume describes the number of training sets and repetitions that you do in your workout. You can either refer to the total number per workout or to the volume per muscle. Furthermore, a distinction can be made between daily volume on a training day and weekly volume. Volume is one of the most important metrics in your training, as it describes the mechanical load that is placed on your muscles. This makes the volume an ideal control variable for training adjustments.

On the one hand, therefore, the question arises as to which volume is necessary to achieve adjustments of the muscle in terms of strength and hypertrophy. On the other hand, you should think about how much volume still makes sense. As we shall see, the training volume does not follow the rule “the more, the better”, but rather lies in the middle between the two poles “too little” and “too much” volume. This is the area to be reached.

While too little volume does not initiate any noteworthy stimulus and therefore cannot trigger muscle building, too much volume does not bring any further advantage from a certain amount. For example, a study that compared the well-known 10 x 10 German Volume Training with a 5 x 10 program found no benefits of the 10 x 10 in terms of strength and muscle mass.

In addition, additional volume can always lengthen the regeneration phases, stress the central nervous system and increase the risk of injury. So you could say that training volume that exceeds a certain threshold not only has no effect, but can also have significant disadvantages.

Further studies support these assumptions and have been able to show that a weekly training volume of 5 to 10 work sets per muscle showed the best effects. On the other hand, 15 or 20 sentences brought no additional advantage. 4 to 6 sets per muscle achieved the best results per training session. That sounds very little to most trainees with a little training experience, but it does mean, conversely, that these sets should be designed to be as effective as possible. Volume is an important metric, but not the only one. So it's also about the intensity.

The Intensity.

The fewer sets you complete, the more intense they should be. A set or repetition is effective when as many muscle fibers as possible are activated. You can achieve this primarily with weights of 80 percent or more of your 1RM (weight with which only one repetition is possible). Such intensities activate all fibers of a muscle from the first repetition. With lower weights, you need a few more repetitions until you reach all the fibers due to the increasing fatigue. For this reason, easy sets in theory involve a certain number of "ineffective" repetitions. One possibility to train in moderate intensity ranges would be to complete light sets for the same muscle only after a heavy exercise, as it is then already pre-tired. At this point she emphasizes that this does not apply to warm-up sets.

The available volume should therefore be used as sensibly as possible. Many sets with low intensity, such as pumping out after training or drop sets, tend to count towards unnecessary volume, which hardly creates any significant stimuli, but can lengthen the recovery time. This has already been confirmed in studies.

The Training Frequency.

Recommendations for Intensity, Volume, Frequency and Repetitions.

Of course, it's not just how much volume you do in a single training session, just as a single training session can't build muscle. Therefore, the weekly volume should also be taken into account. This is decisively determined by the frequency of the stimuli, i.e. by the training frequency.

With 5 to 10 sets per muscle per week and 4 to 6 sets per muscle per training unit, it makes sense to assume a training frequency of two units per muscle per week. And indeed: studies show that with the same volume, two weekly training units per muscle lead to better muscle growth and strength gains than just one unit. It was not investigated whether three units per week are even better. However, with the same volume, no difference could be found between three and six weekly units. It can therefore be assumed that the training frequency also tends towards a marginal benefit.

Further studies, on the other hand, found no difference in one, two or three units per week and muscle and concluded that the volume was the more important parameter and the training frequency was a good way to adapt it to the optimal range.

The Number of Repetitions.

In addition to the number of sets and weekly workouts, the number of repetitions also plays a role in the volume. Again, there seems to be an area beyond which there is no additional benefit. The number of repetitions is often given as a factor that determines the effect of strength training. As we have seen above, however, the total volume is also important. The right number of repetitions not only exists per set, but also per training unit and muscle.

Various studies have already examined the influence of the total number of repetitions per workout and muscle and have come to the conclusion that the optimal number is between 30 and 60 repetitions per unit. Depending on which split you are currently training, this number appears a lot or a little.

A full-body training plan that consists mainly of heavy basic exercises could only reach this range with difficulty, whereas a higher split with several exercises per muscle would be significantly higher. These results do not mean that more repetitions cannot be useful in individual cases. However, it shows that for most trainers there is no added value with repetitions over 60 reps per muscle and training.

The rules for intensity described above also apply here in order to cut unnecessary volume from your training plan and to train as efficiently as possible. A good way to do this is to use rest-pause reps, as found in many training approaches. At the end of a set you take a short break of a few seconds and deep breaths and then do a few more repetitions and repeat this for several rounds. In this way you “save” yourself unnecessary sets and repetitions and have integrated a high number of effective repetitions into your training.

Training Recommendations.

The take-home message of this article is that more volume doesn't mean better. Studies cannot provide any information about the individually required volume, but represent a good order of magnitude. Anyone who has so far trained 12 sets of biceps in addition to their back training can assume that most of these sets were no longer stimulating to speak of. On the other hand, the minimalists can consider the 3 x 3 bench press to be sufficient for optimal gains, and possibly increase their training volume.

In summary, a number of sets per muscle and week of 5 to 10 sets and a volume of 4 to 6 sets per workout have repeatedly proven to be particularly beneficial. A repetition number of 30 to 60 repetitions per muscle and training also provided the best results in terms of strength and muscle mass. With a training frequency of two to three units per week and muscle, you can optimally achieve this volume.

So if you deviate significantly from this recommendation so far, give the "optimal" volume a chance and adjust the intensity accordingly. Perhaps it is just the thing to overcome a current plateau. In any case, you can set a new training stimulus, try a new split or, in the worst case, have an experience.

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