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“How many sets should I do?”
“When should I add more volume and how?”
These are questions I get all the time, and especially lately. That’s because some recent studies have shown that basically, the more you do in the gym, the more you grow.
Some studies suggest that doing as many as 40 sets per muscle group per week results in more growth than doing 20 sets.
Is that really true though? And if so, how many sets should you be doing every week for optimal growth? Should we just do as many sets as possible?
And on the opposite side of the coin, is there a minimum amount of volume we can get away with?
To help answer these questions, I invited James Krieger back onto the podcast. Not only is he a published scientist and researcher, but he’s an accomplished writer who’s published a humongous treatise on training volume on his blog Weightology. His work is a legitimate “bible” on training volume that’s examined just about every study you’d be able to find on this hot topic.
In this episode, James enlightens us on …
- The different methods of counting volume and which one’s best
- How many sets beginners should do and how that changes as you get more advanced
- Whether you can “resensitize” your muscles to volume increases
- If you should “cycle” your volume
- How to specialize certain muscle groups
- And a lot more!
So, if you want practical guidelines on how much volume you should do for optimal training, and how to keep making gains, and breach plateaus, listen to this episode.
7:02 – What is volume?
8:56 – Why do you prefer number of hard sets over total reps?
10:13 – How much volume should I be shooting for, for each of the major muscle groups?
14:23 – Why do you have to up the stimulus from intermediate to advance weightlifting?
20:02 – At what point should you consider doing more, how far can you take it, and why?
26:37 – How would you approach focusing on one major muscle group?
36:16 – With the studies that showed growth with lower volumes, were those with experienced weight lifters?
37:22 – Is there a point where volume doesn’t become a stimulus anymore?
45:11 – What are your thoughts on direct versus indirect volume?
49:42 – Where can people find you and your work?
Mentioned on the show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hello, my lovelies welcome. Welcome to the latest and greatest episode of the Greatest podcast on the internet, actually, duh. Where we talk about how to get more jet, of course, where we answer the deepest and darkest questions that have been plaguing mankind since the beginning of time. Like what are the best workout splits and how often should I train my biceps every week?
And how much volume should I be doing? And that last question is what you’re gonna learn all about in this episode. I think you’re gonna like it because my guest, James Krieger, does a great job boiling a lot of research down to some simple practical. Takeaways. And this is something I’ve been getting asked about more and more over the last year.
So a lot of people want to know, how many sets should I be doing? And that breaks down into, well, how many sets should I be doing in an individual workout? How many sets per major muscle group, for example, in a workout, can I do? At what point does it become counterproductive? And then how many sets should I be doing per week per major muscle group?
Can I do. 10 sets and make progress. Should I be doing 20, should I be doing as many as 40 sets per major muscle group per week? As some people have said, good luck trying that. Try to program that out and see what that would actually take. And so I understand why there’s a lot of confusion around volume because.
The research is not easy to understand. There’s a lot of information to go through and there are a lot of technical details you have to consider. There is quite a bit of subtlety and quite a bit of nuance that you have to process and you have to be thinking with and who better to break it all down for us then James.
Krieger. Now, if you’re not familiar with James, he is a published scientist himself and he’s a researcher. He’s also an accomplished writer who recently published a huge breakdown on training volume over on his [email protected] wait ology.net. And if you just Google radiology set volume for muscle size, you will find his.
Massive breakdown. It’s like a very in-depth research review basically. And James is also on the scientific advisory board of my sports nutrition company, Legion Athletics, where he has helped give input on new formulations that we’re working on, including brand new products and updating the formulations of our existing products.
Cause we’re always working on new stuff, we’re always working on new products, completely new products. And then new formulations of existing products because as time goes on and as research continues on individual ingredients and then also on ingredients that can provide certain types of benefits, we are always looking for opportunities to incorporate that into.
Our product line. And so in this podcast, you’re going to hear James’ thoughts on training volume. And again, this is really just him kind of boiling down the key takeaways from this bible of training volume that he put together [email protected] that involved examining about every. Study you could find on the topic.
Again, I’m impressed with the amount of work that he put into this. And so some of the things that James is gonna share on this episode are how the different methods of counting volume produce different results in which method he thinks is best and his most practical. He talks about how many sets beginners should be doing.
He talks about both in terms of individual workouts and in terms of weekly programming targets and how that changes as you get more advanced. He talks about whether you can resensitize your muscles to increases in volume. This is something that’s more relevant to intermediates and advanced weightlifters, but there is a theory that you can do this, and he talks about it.
He talks about cycling volume. That’s another intermediate or advanced technique that is, I guess maybe controversial or questionable. And he talks about that. He talks about how to specialize in certain muscle groups. So if you have a muscle group you really want to bring up, how should you adjust your, so if you like what I, not just muscle group, but all of your muscles elsewhere.
Let’s do that. Definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion. Which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world, and we’re on top because every ingredient and dose in every product is backed by peer-reviewed scientific research.
Every formulation is 100% transparent. There are no proprietary blends, for example, and everything is naturally sweetened and flavored. So that means no artificial sweeteners, no artificial food dyes, which may not be as dangerous as some people would have you believe. But there is good evidence to suggest that having many servings of artificial sweeteners, in particular every day for long periods of time may not be the best for your health.
So while you don’t need. Pills, powders, and potions to get into great shape. And frankly, most of them are virtually useless. There are natural ingredients that can help you lose fat, build muscle, and get healthy faster. And you will find the best of them in legions products to check out everything we have to offer, including protein powders and protein bars, pre-workout, post-workout supplements, fat burners, multivitamins, joint support, and more.
Head over to www.buy Legion. Dot com, B U Y legion.com. And just to show how much I appreciate my podcast peeps, use the coupon code M F L at checkout and you will save 20% on your entire first order. So again, if you appreciate my work and if you wanna see more of it, and if you also want all natural.
Evidence-based supplements that work, please do consider supporting Legion so I can keep doing what I love, like producing more podcasts like this. Hey James. Welcome back to my podcast. It’s been a little bit, yeah, yeah. Thanks
James: for having me on
Mike: again. Yeah. I’m excited to talk to you about volume, which is very topical these days.
I feel like it’s the new frequency. A couple years ago, I remember a lot of people were saying that frequency was the. Thing that was the key. You had to train whatever muscle groups you want to grow the most. You have to train them at least, I mean, two times a week could be a minimum. I remember people saying three or four times a week is much better than twice a week.
And now there’s a lot of talk about volume and especially in the context of frequency and people saying, okay, frequency per se. Doesn’t seem to make that big of a difference, but it does allow you to get in more volume. And volume seems to be a much more powerful mechanical driver of muscle growth along the, probably in the same league as progressive tension overload.
So here we are to talk about volume and get to some, I think, some good, practical recommendations of. How much volume is enough? How much is not enough? How much is too much, and how do you use that information to program your training more effectively? So I think where we should start is, what is volume? I think we should just define the term.
Cause there are different ways of looking at it, right? And people ask me to say, should I think of it as in terms of total reps or total hard sets as Greg Knuckles likes to say? Or should it be total weight lifted? How should I look at volume and why?
James: Yeah, I like to go with what the Greg Nickels definition of just the number of hard sets.
And the reason is, is because if you try to define V volume in other ways, it’s kind of, you run into a lot of issues. So for example, some people like to define volume as volume load, which is basically the reps times the sets, times the weight. But the problem is you can’t compare volume loads across different rep ranges.
So, You know, three sets of 10 to failure versus three sets of 20 to failure, you’re actually gonna get a much bigger volume load with three sets of 20 to failure, but you’re gonna get similar hypertrophy. So it’s not really meaningful. Volume load to me is not really a great metric for, for assessing, you know, how something is gonna determine hypertrophy.
And then part of the problem is volume load doesn’t take into consideration too, just the effort you’ve put into a set. So, yeah. So for example, if I do 10 reps with a hundred pounds, that’s a thousand pounds of volume load. Or if I do 10, one rep sets with a hundred pounds with three minutes rest, that’s also a thousand pounds of volume load.
But the effects are quite a bit different between the two. So you might not be able to walk out of the gym. Yeah, it doesn’t take into consideration the effort level and things like that. So I’m not really a fan of those metrics of volume. I think the number of hard sets. Seems to be a fairly good metric, assuming you’re doing at least sets of six to eight reps.
If you start going lower rep sets, then it’s becomes a little bit different. But you know, if you’re doing at least sets of six to eight, you know, three hard sets of eight is gonna be roughly equivalent to three hard sets of 15 in terms of hypertrophy, at least. Why do you
Mike: prefer number of hard sets, which for people listening, you can just think of it as working sets.
It’s your muscle building sets, it’s the sets that you’re taking close to, you know, technical failure. Why do you prefer that over total reps? Cause that’s also a common way that people like to track volume. For
James: example, total reps doesn’t consider the load. And even total reps doesn’t consider the effort level.
You know, one set of 20 reps to failure is different from doing two sets of 10 reps each to failure, even though the total reps is the same in both cases. So, so again, that’s why I just kind of like the number of hard sets and the research tends to support that. We do know that, you know, there’s a fairly wide rep range you can use for hypertrophy as assuming you’re taking sets to near failure.
So, Like I said, a hard sets of eight are pretty much the same as hard sets of 15 or hard sets of 20, or even hard sets of 25 to 30. Now, once you start getting wider than 30, 35 reps, there’s data suggests that it probably starts to become inferior, but the hypertrophy rep range is fairly wide. Makes sense.
Mike: So, all right. That’s how we’re gonna be thinking about volume in terms of the technical definition for this discussion. I think we should probably just start with the general, then get to the more specific, so something I get asked about fairly often is, how much volume per week should I be shooting for, for each of the major muscle groups, let’s say the ones that, that I want to improve on.
So, you know, if it’s a, an intermediate weightlifter, for example, it might be hard to get in. An optimal amount of volume for each and every major mouse group, unless you’re gonna spend a lot of time in the gym and you can recover from that much training. But what are your thoughts on, and you know, you just recently published a, a long in-depth guide to volume, you cover a lot of research there.
So if you wanna quickly tell people where they can find that, because it might be helpful for them to look through it, research background of the stuff you’re about to go into, but. Yeah, if you wanna share where people can find that. And then I think we should start with how much volume per major mouse group per week should we be shooting for and maybe for beginners and intermediates and advanced.
James: On my website, tology.net, it’s called the Volume Bible, and basically I go over every single study related to training volume and hypertrophy. I cover everything from the effects of the number of sets on muscle protein synthesis, on satellite cell activity. Then I go into studies that actually look at changes in muscle size and, and I look at the different studies and try to explain why sometimes you see different results for different studies.
And I mean, it’s like a, I wanna say I don’t remember. I’ll call off the top. It’s like a 15,000 word piece. It’s extremely in depth and I consistently update it as new research comes out. But yeah, for people that wanna find that, it’s just, you know, ology.net and you just look up the volume Bible and, and it’s in there.
But yeah, I mean, you know, if I wanted to start right away with practical recommendations for beginners, you really don’t need that much volume. And I would say the data seems to suggest that beginners don’t benefit as much from changes in volume as experienced trainees do. So literally you could just do a beginner can do two to three sets per muscle group in a training session.
A couple times a week, you know, two to three times, even once a week, but you know, maybe two to three times a week if you wanna avoid like soreness and things like that. And you’ll get, you know, pretty good results. I mean, even my own experience, you know, I remember when I first started weight training, I’d say a big chunk of my initial gains came off of a really basic low volume program where I was training each.
Major muscle group once per week, and I was only doing maybe four sets per muscle group, you know. Now obviously I eventually reached a plateau and I had to up my frequency and volume some, but, but I got some good gains just as, as a beginner out of that stuff. So, so
Mike: I, my beginners program, whether it’s for people who are new to weightlifting or new to proper weightlifting for men, for examples, bigger, lean or stronger, and it’s nine to 12 hard sets per Yeah, yeah, per major Most group, yeah.
And split up. In some cases it’s between two training sessions, and in the case of smaller muscle groups, you just do it. You know, you have one dedicated shoulder workout, you know, one workout where you’re doing some dedicated arms training. And not only did that program work quite well for me, when I.
First, I didn’t do it in the beginning of my weightlifting journey. It was probably seven years into it when I actually started learning how to do it properly. But now I’ve heard from thousands and thousands of guys over the years. I mean, I have hundreds and hundreds. I might even have now over a thousand success stories on my website over at Legion of Guys doing about as good as you can possibly do in your first year or so of weightlifting.
Yeah, like if you have a guy who gains 20 pounds of muscle in his first year doing that, what else can he. Possibly hope for doubling the volume is, is that even gonna do anything at that point?
James: No, it won’t. And the data’s fairly clear that beginners do have a little bit of a response to volume, but it’s just not quite, it doesn’t seem to impact beginners nearly as much as as experienced trainees.
You know, and it just, that makes sense from a adaptive physiology standpoint. I mean, if you’ve been weight training for a while, You reach a point where you’ve gotta up the stimulus somehow, you know, just constantly trying to do progressive overload, eventually isn’t gonna cut it and you have to up the stimulus once you start to moving into intermediate to advance.
Mike: And why? Why is that? I think we should talk about that point in
James: particular. It’s a good question. I think we’re just, what happens is your body adapts to a certain volume stimulus. And eventually, even if you’re training hard, it just doesn’t seem to, I don’t know what the physiological mechanisms are, but it just doesn’t seem to stimulate any further gains and to stimulate further gains typically than what you, assuming you’re not training with a high volume already.
Then typically what you try to do and you know, assuming you’re doing everything else, you’re still trying to do progressive overload and everything, then you think, okay, well why don’t we try adding some sets and see how that works and, and see if that stimulates some further gains, you know, and. And there’s data to support that.
There’s a, a study that’s soon to be published. I can say it publicly cuz I know the author DeSouza has already discussed it, some of the results publicly, but it was really interesting. This is a study outta Brazil and they had fairly well trained lifters. And the interesting thing about this study is they stratified the subjects into different groups based on what type of volume they’ve been training with previously.
And what he found is that the people that responded the best are the people who increased their volume relative to what they were doing before. So obviously that higher volume represented a novel stimulus that stimulated further gains. So, That paper actually should show up in journal strength and conditioning research any day
And that makes sense. And it is right in line with many people’s experience, mine, including mine, where many of the guys now, because I’ve been doing this for a number of years now and bigger than your strongest amount there for a number of years, I’ve seen it firsthand where it becomes a maintenance program.
And like you were saying, no matter how hard you try, now, it’s an AUTOREGULATED program, which there are pros and cons. I think it works well for. In that program, I think autoregulation on the big exercises doesn’t work so well. As you become an intermediate weightlifter and the weights start getting heavy and how you feel can really start impacting your workout versus what you actually can do if you just knew like put the weight on the bar, get this number of reps.
But what eventually what happens isn’t this happened to me, is the volume becomes maintenance volume and no matter what you try to do with changing. Rep ranges or just trying to, you know, force yourself to put more weight on the bar. If you just try to approach with a linear kind of mindset, you just remain stuck and the, it seems to be the most effective way to break through a plateau is assuming that your programming makes sense and you have a good progression model that you’re using and you are deloading and not just beating the shit outta your body, blah, blah, blah, is just to do more.
Period. Just do more.
James: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s true to a point though because,
Mike: and that was where I was gonna fall up and ask you about, so is say, okay, we’re at the beginners now. So for people who are new to weightlifter, new to proper weightlifting, would you agree that somewhere between probably six and nine hard sets per Major Musk group per week,
James: I think that works perfectly fine for beginners.
Mike: work quite well. And I guess in addition to that, you’re probably not gonna get too much more growth out of doing more. You can do more if you just wanna spend more time in the gym, I guess. But.
James: Yeah, no, I don’t think you’re gonna get much more growth by doing much more than that. And, and in fact, there was another paper just published on beginners that seemed to suggest that that was the case.
They did show a volume effect, but it wasn’t like this really significant boost with the increase in volume. Okay. So
Mike: then let’s shift to now an intermediate where, okay, so let’s say you’re at that point, you certainly can do more like my training right now, I’m following a. Program that, so I’m finishing up an updated second addition to a book called Beyond Bigger Strong, which is the follow up to bigger than Stronger.
And so I’m, I’ve been following that program for a number of months now and refining it, whatever, but it’s around 15, let’s say 15 hard sets per major muscle group per week. And there’s some periodization in there as well. So you’re not only using very heavy weights cuz they just, that just kind of beats the shit outta you in my experience And.
So what are your thoughts now on that transition from that more beginner volume where there’s no longer, it’s no longer working? Again, my personal take on the matter and what I have been doing personally is bumping it up into the range of 12 to 15. Yeah, and
James: I think that’s a pretty reasonable range for intermediates.
Now, that’s assuming you’re taking sufficient rest between sets, and we can get to that a little bit later. I think there’s a volume rest interaction, you know, assuming you’re taking two to three minutes rest between sets, so you’re definitely well recovered between sets. Yeah, I think that those teens are a really good range for people to be in.
Uh, in terms of weekly volume, and again, I recommend, you know, splitting that up into two to three sessions, not doing it all. You know, say if you’re doing 15 weekly sets, not doing it all in one session, you know, split it up into two, you know, seven sets, you know, each session or something like
Mike: that, or, yeah.
I have that as a, a question. I want to get to that point specifically of how much should you be doing per session, but we can get to that in a minute. So, good. So for an intermediate, we have in the. Teens and then now we get into the high numbers. There’s a bit of controversy over how far can you take it.
And you just mentioned a minute ago that you only can do this. Yeah. So much. There is only so much volume you can get away with. Even if theoretically you’re at a point in your training career where. 40 hard sets per week would be optimal per major mu group per week would be optimal for growth. Like, go try to do that and see what happens.
So what are your thoughts on that? One other question there that I, I would like to hear your take on is how do you know, so let’s say you’re an intermediate and you’re doing in the teens, at what point should you consider doing more? And then, okay, how far can you take it
James: why? Yeah. So that, that’s a, a really good question.
I think for advanced trainees, I think, you know, if you wanna get some higher volume in a, in a particular body part, I think specialization is the best way to go. So rather than, you know, let’s say you wanna get some sets in the twenties for a particular muscle group, and why would you want to, because once you’re an advanced trainee, it gets really, really hard to put on even a little bit of muscle.
So there could be an advantage to occasionally doing some specialization. To target like a weak body part or some body part you’re trying to bring up. And the way that I would recommend doing that is by increasing the, not necessarily increasing the volume in each session, but maybe increasing the frequency, but keeping the volume per session the same.
So let’s say your biceps are your weak point and you’re doing basically seven sets per week, or seven sets per session on bicep twice a week. So 14 says per week on biceps. Well then maybe what you do is you add another session. Somewhere in the week where you’re doing another seven sets, so now you’re doing 21 sets per week on biceps.
You know, I think that’s a reasonable approach to take because you can’t start doing every body part, you know, up into the twenties and thirties. It’s just, you’re gonna be in the gym all the time. You’re just gonna run into potential systemic recovery issues and everything. If nothing out,
Mike: your joints are eventually not gonna joint anymore.
James: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a thing too, you know, you gotta be aware of. So just to that
Mike: point, one of the guys who works with me, He did. It was a Greg Knuckles crazy bulk two a day program. It was probably for the lower body and 30 ish sets per week. It was in the twenties to thirties for all the major, the big, major muscle groups per week.
And it was, I think he was eating 5,000 calories per day, a thousand grams of carbs a day and keeping his fat, uh, around 60 to 70 grams per day. Like one meal that he would have was a loaf of bread. He would eat a, a loaf of bread and he would eat pasta with, you know, no fat really in the sauce every day.
It was actually just kind of disgusting to even watch, and he’s 24 years old, so he figured, Hey, I’m, I’m invincible. This is the only time I’d ever be able to try something like this. And he, he meant to do eight weeks, that was his plan. But by week six, so again, this is a 24 year old sleeping well, eating well, eating a shitload of food, knows what he’s doing in the gym.
Following good programming, extreme programming, but still good programming. And after six weeks he was like, everything hurts. I, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can’t, I can’t make it another two weeks. I think I need to stop. But when it was all said and done, he gained about three ish pounds of muscle. And he’s a pretty experienced trainee, I would say at this point.
He probably has. Three or four years of good proper lifting under his belt. So that’s pretty impressive for six weeks. I mean, he had to work his ass off for it. But yeah.
James: So I would think that’s the only way you can do it, really. It’s the only way that really makes sense is just special. And
Mike: specifically, would you choose one at a time?
So like for a training block, you’d be like, all right, I’m gonna blast my biceps for the next four weeks. Yeah,
James: yeah. Just one or two muscle groups. It could be biceps, it could be just biceps and triceps. Something like that. I mean, I know. My, uh, friend Jacob Sheez from Australia, he did something like that on arms.
He did a specialization routine on arms. Now he actually did it for quite a long time, but like the before and after pictures and he was an experienced trainee on his arms were just unreal. Like it was just now one caveat there is he had been training as a power lifter for a long time, so I think he was a little bit sensitive to a volume stimulus after training like a power lifter for so long, but still having trained for so many years and then to suddenly see the arm growth.
I mean, it was visible arm growth. He’s got like a before and after picture. And yeah, he was doing probably about 30 sets per week on arms, but of course everything else, he was just basically put on maintenance though. That’s an important
Mike: point to make is if you’re gonna program that, would you say that, I mean, one, there’s the time factor.
How much time do you have if you’re doing 30 hard sets of biceps per week, what about everything else?
James: Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s like. And I know Brian Kron also definitely does this with his clients. He does a lot for his more advanced clients to do specialization, stuff like that. It’s very easy to maintain muscle.
It takes very little volume to do that. So you can back way off on volume on other body parts and just maintain everything else and just focus on one or two muscle groups that you really wanna really wanna boost for a short-term specialization routine.
Mike: And what would that maintenance volume look
James: like for you Can do literally as little as.
You know, six to eight weekly sets, you know, maybe three or four sets per session twice a week is certainly enough just to maintain gains. Takes much less training to maintain your gains versus actually getting, you know, more
Mike: gains. And especially if you use those sets on just the big exercises. Okay. Do some squats, do some deadlifts, do some bench presses and some overhead presses.
Yeah. And then use the rest of your time and your volume to focus on, let’s say it’s, if it’s your biceps and triceps, or if it’s your shoulders. If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world.
Now, what would be your take on a bigger muscle group? What if you wanted to really hit your lower body? Would you do just that or would you go, oh, I’ll do my biceps and my legs? I think it
James: depends. I think if you’re gonna do legs and if you really wanna do some specialization on legs, I’d probably just focus on either just hamstrings or just quads, not both.
Oh, interesting. Yeah, just because you know when you start incorporating, you know, like if you really wanna blast hamstrings and quads with really high volume, I mean, now you’re talking a lot of Romanian deadlifts. I mean, you could probably do that for really short periods of time. But you know, I think it also probably depends on the length of how long you wanna do your specialization routine for.
And also, I think definitely when you’re doing specialization, definitely bring in a lot of isolation work, because you can definitely do that volume on that isolation work, you know, without necessarily being as systemically taxing as. Having all your stuff coming from squats and things like that, you know, and that’s also what makes some of these specialization programs doable is if you’re doing a fair amount of isolation work it, it ends up not nearly being as bad as it sounds, you
Yeah, that makes sense. In the program, again, that my buddy was doing, I think he was leg pressing every day. Oh yeah. That’s, I think it was leg press and bench press every day, and then all your other workouts on
James: top of that. That’s not something I would recommend for a specialization program, but, uh,
Mike: uh, so, all right, now let’s talk about higher numbers, 30 plus hard sets per week, or let’s say even 40 plus hard sets per week.
Cuz there was a study that you co-authored that has been criticized by some people as being either just. Outright wrong or just highly impractical. So who cares? Like it might just be a straw man, which is, I’m just gonna serve it up and then you can take it, is that, oh, well, it was claimed that this study supported the idea that there’s just a direct linear relationship between volume and muscle growth, and you can just blast the shit outta yourself up to even 40 plus hard sets per muscle group per week, and you’ll just keep on getting bigger and stronger.
And so if you’re not doing that, then. You might be doing it wrong.
James: People who have made those criticisms have basically just been strawman the shit out of us. Like that’s not what we ever claimed or what we even believed from that study when we published that study. My only thought at the time, I just thought, well, hey, you know, maybe the upper limit of volume is higher than we think.
That’s all what I thought. But. I also never said that, oh, everyone should start doing 40 some sets per week, per body part. And I mean, some people were trying to claim that. I mean, they were going as far as trying to claim that we had manipulated the data and everything. It was just ridiculous crap that was coming out and like it, it was an interesting paper because you know what, a lot of people don’t realize that it was actually a replication of another study that was done by a completely independent research group, an author named Radi.
Basically, our study designs were very, very similar. And radios was on untrained subjects, but their study was on military recruits, like Brazilian military recruits, like Brazilian Navy or something. So they had ’em captive on the, uh, aircraft carrier. So they were able to put ’em through a training program for like six months at the time or whatever.
But, but they had similar results. I mean, they were doing up to, you know, 30, 40 some sets per week and they saw increasing gains up to the highest volumes. And we saw the same thing. And then now there’s this other study that just came out by Brido and Colleagues, which also found something similar. They did up to like 30 some 32 weekly sets, and they saw increasing gains all of the way up to the highest volume.
So that’s three different research groups that have found the same thing. Completely independent research groups. Now at the same time, there’s been other research groups that have found very different things where they’ve found. The gains to plateau at much lower volume. So there’s one that’s, uh, I’ve already mentioned Dusuza, that’s gonna be published any day now.
They did three different levels of volume on quads, and they didn’t find any further gains beyond the lowest volume. The lowest volume was six sets twice a week, so 12 sets. So they compared, I think, 12, uh, 18 and 24 weekly sets. And they didn’t see hypertrophy continuing to go up. There’s another study published not too long ago.
Hesselgrave is the name of the author. Similar thing. They found bicep gains to get better from going to nine to 18 weekly sets, but then when you got up to like 27, it actually got worse. And then there’s another study, Ostrowski, which they also found gains seemed to plateau once you kind of got in the teens in terms of weekly sets.
So the question is, Why is it, we’ve got three studies showing, you know, gains all the way up to 30 to 40 weekly sets, and then we’ve got, you know, three or four studies showing, not showing that. And if you look at the study designs, the one key factor that differentiates all of those studies is the rest intervals.
So, you know, the study I did with Brad Schoenfeld, we used fairly short rest intervals, 90 seconds. Between sets and you know, these were guys doing squats and to failure and stuff, and if you’ve ever done squats or leg press to failure, 90 seconds is not that much time between sets. This study by Brido and colleagues, they did one minute rest between sets.
Ugh. The radio study, it sounds terrible. I know they did 92nd rest between sets. That’s
Mike: interesting that those times were chosen when you, the
James: reason the researchers chose those times, including Brad, is. Is it was the only way to make the training session short enough to be practical for the subjects, you know, otherwise, the training sessions would just be way too long.
And so that’s why those short rest intervals were chosen. But if you compare that to like the Dusuza study that’s gonna come out, Dusuza used three minute rest between sets. The Trows study, they did three minute rest between sets. The Hegra study, they did three minute rest between sets. So there’s seems to be this volume rest interval interaction and this matches pretty well up.
With the research we know on rest intervals. So we do know there’s research that actually I published along with Brad Schoenfeld that compared one minute and three minute rest intervals, same number of sets gains. Were way better with three minute rest intervals. Like way better. Like it’s almost like you got twice the gains with three minute rest intervals versus one minute rest intervals.
There’s another study that I know that’s in review. That had similar findings basically for the same number of sets, the short rests intervals, just you got much less hypertrophy. And the interesting thing about that study is they had another group in the short rests group just do more sets, right. To try to make up for maybe the short rests.
Yeah. And then that short rests group then got the same gains as the long rest group by doing more sets. So to circle back around to these studies, The reason you’re seeing these gains up to these super high volumes in some of these studies, like Brad’s study and the Brido study. Is because the short rest intervals are basically impairing hypertrophy, so you have to do way more sets to make up for it.
Right. So you see this volume effect, but the, but the interesting thing is if you compare the gains, the percentage gains, like in the Schoenfeld study and the Brito study Yeah. At like 30 some weekly sets, it’s similar to the gains that you see in the teens with these other studies. So basically, Both groups of studies have a volume effect, but the volume ceiling is much higher when you use short rests intervals.
But that doesn’t mean you’re gonna get more gains. It just means
Mike: that you have to make up for what you’re losing.
James: Yeah. You have to make up for what you’re losing. And so that’s what’s happening with these different studies, in my opinion. It’s just becoming more clear to me now, especially with the new Borg Gado study.
Getting similar findings to what we found, but again, we use short rest intervals, so, so the thing is some people will do short rest intervals to try to save time. In the gym, but you’re not really saving time because if you wanna get the same hypertrophy, you gotta do more
Mike: sets. And not only does that take more time, it also results in more wear and tear, especially if you’re a, an intermediate lifter or an advanced lifter moving some weight, you know?
James: So I’m of a, of the opinion that the super high volume studies, they don’t tell us how you should train. I think the rest intervals are a huge, huge factor in those studies. They do tell us, yeah, if you’re using short rest intervals and you wanna maximize hypertrophy, you gotta do a lot of sets. You can also just use longer rest intervals and you don’t have to do as many sets.
So, so I think that’s really where I’m at. You know, I, my thinking on this continues to evolve. Like any good scientist, you know, I mean, a good scientist will continually evolve their thinking as new data comes out. And that’s why I’ve been doing even with this, I mean, like I said, when Brad and I published our study, You know, we replicated the results of Radi.
At the time I thought, well, maybe the upper limit is higher than we thought. But then, you know, I saw this research by DeSouza and stuff, but then this study by Brido, I’m like, in my thinking, I’m like, well, why are some studies showing the higher gains all the way up to the really high volumes and why are some studies not?
And to me, the one common factor was the rest intervals. And when you start looking at the research on rest intervals, it just makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. It lines up and so, so that’s how my thinking continues to evolve. And it may evolve even more. We may get more research out that. Causes my thinking to evolve even more on this, but that’s kind of where my thinking is right now, is there’s a definite interaction between the rest intervals you use and the number of sets you need to do to maximize hypertrophy.
Mike: That makes sense. Uh, out of curiosity, the studies that showed commensurate or approximately equal growth with the lower volumes were those with. Experienced weightlifters resistance or, yeah.
James: Yeah, they were. So like the new study by DeSouza, that’s gonna be out very soon. They were actually fairly well trained lifters.
They could squat quite a bit. I don’t remember the exact amount, but these are pretty strong Lifters had been training for a while. That’s good to know.
Mike: It’s practical. So yeah,
James: now, now I will say again though, as I mentioned earlier though, but also what DeSouza found in that study is that the, the lifters that got the best gains were the ones who did increase their volume relative to what they were doing before.
Mike: that’s a good segue into one of the other questions that I had for you is, and you had commented on this earlier, is you only can. Take this so far. You know, there is a point where, and we’ve been talking about why that is, it’s not practical to try to do 30 hard sets per major muscle group per week with let’s say two to three minutes of rest.
Probably closer to three depending on the exercise. So one solution is specialization, but is there a point? Where, and this might just be something that you’re saying, Hey, based on all the, all the data and all the research that I’ve gone through, here’s my opinion. But is there a point where volume no longer becomes much of a stimulus anymore?
It would seem there would be some point. And then is there anything else? This would be more for the advanced weightlifters, but I’m just curious. So I
James: do think there’s an upper limit. Like some people
Mike: say, sorry to interject, but this is something you that Yeah. I would like to hear your comment on is some people say, oh, well maybe you could cycle your volume so you get up to a point.
You know what I mean? So, and then, oh, maybe you can kind of desensitize while maintaining, then you can kind of renew your, your
James: gains. Yeah. So I do think there’s an upper limit in terms of the amount of effective volume you can do in a single training session. So, You know, in my volume Bible, I ran this big meta-analysis on all the studies, and I kind of fit this curve to the data, and it seemed to suggest that anywhere from around six to eight sets in a single session was about.
Where gain seemed to peak. So doing anything more in a single session for
Mike: an individual
James: muscle group, right? Yeah, for an individual muscle group, probably isn’t effective. And that’s actually supported by some recent protein synthesis data by, um, it was actually out of, I think Stew Phillips, I think was in on this study, but, They looked at muscle protein synthesis, comparing eight sets to 12 sets in a session and 12 sets.
Didn’t really bump muscle protein synthesis up any higher than eight sets did. So I’d say that yeah, probably you know that six to eight sets in a session and then you can use frequency to kind of modulate your weekly volume. So, Eight sets in a session that’s 16 sets a week. If you’re doing twice a week, that’s 24 sets a week.
If you’re doing three times a week, but then you reach a point where you can’t just keep adding more days of frequency or adding more sets in the session, it’s not gonna work anymore. So what do you do? I think there are some theoretical benefits to possibly volume cycling. It’s purely, I would say, hypothetical at this point.
In my volume Bible, I do discuss. Some research that I would say it’s highly speculative at this point, but, and so the way that you would volume cycle is basically, you know, once you’re up to that, you know, six to eight set per muscle group per session, and you finally hit a plateau and you’re just not getting anywhere, and let’s say you’re already doing each muscle group, let’s say three days a week, and you’re just like, you know, I can’t just add any more volume anymore.
What am I gonna do? You know, I’m not getting anywhere. Then the idea is to basically bring your volume back down to a maintenance level. So cut it way back down, you know, maybe two to three sets per muscle group per session that will maintain your gains and then theoretically, at least, possibly, you know, resensitize your muscle to a new volume stimulus for the future.
Mike: How long would you stay at that maintenance
James: volume? You know, this is purely just guesswork on my part. Speculation. So if you were to do it yourself though, at least, yeah, I’d wanna say at least four to six weeks, maybe longer. And then what you can do is then you start to solely ramp volume back up, you know?
So again, this’s all speculative, it would
Mike: only be really applicable, right. To the advanced weightlifter who has gotten to that point where they’re like, I’m working my ass off and nothing’s happening.
James: Yeah. And again, it’s very speculative. There’s very limited data to say, ah, yeah, it might work, but no one’s actually researched it, so who knows if it, I know Mike Isra is a big fan of that type of volume cycling.
You know, the guys at RP have gotten great results with some, you know, their clients and stuff using those methods, so, Man, I know Mike does it himself for his own training. You know, it’s something worth trying. If you’re an advanced trainee and you’ve just kind of hit a plateau and, and you’re just not even sure what else to do, you can give it a try and see if it works for you, you
Makes sense. Now, we may have already covered this. I mean, it may not be anything else to say on it, but for people wondering what’s the best way to go about increasing volumes, we have this, okay, this is where you’re at. And you haven’t maxed out, you haven’t got to that point where it is now just completely impractical to try to do more.
I just, I can hear some people thinking, so should I just like jump straight to max volume? I’m doing nine hard sets per week right now. Should I just like jump up to 20 or should I go to the midpoint and then stay there for a while and, and then wait until that doesn’t work anymore and then go up? What?
What are your
James: thoughts? Yeah, usually I favor either A, a more gradual increase in volume. So yeah, you wouldn’t go from nine up to 20 right away. Yeah. Maybe go to the midpoint or even, and why number one? Because when you do a really big jump in volume, initially what’s gonna happen is you’re gonna cause a bunch of, because it’s such a novel stimulus, you’re gonna get a bunch of soreness and muscle damage.
And then there’s some thought right now, It’s hard to say whether this is really true or not, but there’s some thought that what happens is that your body puts its resources just into repairing that muscle damage rather than actually growing the muscle. I’m actually developing more and more of the opinion that probably best to kind of try to limit muscle damage.
You want all your muscle protein synthesis going into actually growing the muscle and not necessarily causing a bunch of muscle damage, and so, so that’s why I favor more gradual increases in volume and certainly if you look at the scientific data, The limited day that it does exist. I know there’s one study, and I don’t remember recall the details off my head, but they had two groups of people.
One group just started at like this certain level of volume and then the other group worked up to it and the group that just started a certain level of volume, they started off, they had got, had a bunch of soreness, blah, blah, blah. Eventually it got better and went away. The other group worked up to it.
They didn’t have really any soreness, anything like that. Both groups got the same amount of gain, so it’s not like there’s any advantage to. Immediately jumping up to a bigger volume, it’s certainly not gonna help you. And if anything, it is just gonna make you maybe feel sore and stuff. And it’s certainly not gonna enhance hypertrophy.
So that’s why. That’s why I just favor a more gradual approach in volume and plus it’s probably just better for your joints and stuff anyway. You know, just allowing your body to more adapt to the volume level. Yeah, that
Mike: makes sense. Make your workouts more enjoyable. And there’s probably something to be said for point of diminishing returns.
You’re gonna go. As opposed to looking at it of a, what’s a minimal effective dose or even very effective dose of volume like we were talking about earlier. Okay. Beginners, you can get away with nine-ish per week, and then you gotta move into the teens and then eventually when that doesn’t work, you gotta move probably up toward 20, low twenties.
If you’re at nine, it sounds like you probably wouldn’t. Let’s say for the next six months of training, you’re gonna increase your volume. You wouldn’t expect to do better going from straight, from nine to 20 than maybe nine to 15 or 14 or something like that.
James: Yeah, there is definitely a point of diminishing returns, like you’re gonna get much better gains going from the single weekly digits up to the teens.
Versus going from the teens to the even higher volumes and you won’t
Mike: feel like you’re about to break.
James: Yeah. So I have felt that I think the best bang for your buck. So in terms of the gains you get versus the amount of time investment, It’s probably gonna be in those teens. I think for most people that now that’s not to say you’re not gonna get more gains by doing more, but it’s just, like I said, you’re gonna be in more, I would say, the sweet spot of the curve in terms of the time investment versus what you’re getting out of it.
Mike: it just makes me think of the, the volume adage, I guess you said it’s been kicking around for a while, is 10 to 20, maybe 25 hard sets per major mouse group per week, like. That’s the rule of thumb. If you’re new, you’re on the low end. If you’re advanced, you’re on the high end and trying to go beyond that, even though theoretically it might be better, it becomes very hard to do physically and logistically.
So it’s just in inapplicable to most people. For most people it’s 10 to 20, maybe 25, and and then you have to work the rest of your programming around that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Your thoughts on direct versus indirect volume? So just for people wondering, so there’s obviously an overlap in muscle groups if you’re doing barbell Rose, right?
How should you think about that in terms of, okay, sure, it’s volume for your back muscles, but what about your biceps? Yeah,
James: so there’s a lot of debate about that. You know, how it should be counted because yeah, if you’re doing any type of back work, your biceps are generally involved. Any type of pressing movements your triceps are involved.
Your shoulders as well. Yeah. For me personally, I tend to just count it one to one. You know, I know in my volume Bible with all the meta-analysis stuff I did, that’s how I counted it. So when I do say, let’s say 18 weekly sets on triceps, that would actually include your pressing movement. So
Mike: that’s interesting.
So on the deadlift, for example, How do you,
James: it depends on the exercise. Now, if there’s a particular muscle group that isn’t necessarily, it may be involved, but it’s not like really a main mover, like the lats on
Mike: the bench press. You’re not counting that. Yeah, yeah.
James: Not counting lats on bench press. You know, for example, on a bench press count that for anterior shoulders, but not necessarily medial or rear deltoids, of course, you know, I mean, You know, for bench press, basically I count that towards pecks and triceps, basically, and anterior shoulders.
Those are really, really active muscle groups in that type of exercise. You know, deadlifts are kind of interesting, like a regular deadlift, even though your quads are active in a regular deadlift. They’re not going through a big range of motion. I mean, it’s really a deadlift. It’s really mainly your spinal erectors are really the big thing.
Mike: would you count a traditional deadlift toward the hamstrings?
James: Probably not a traditional deadlift, because the hamstrings really don’t, because you’re flexing the leg at the bottom of the movement quite a bit. The hamstrings never really get to any. There’s really no big stretch component unlike a Romanian deadlift or something like that, so, so I probably would not count a deadlift.
Towards hamstrings. Doesn’t that feel
Mike: wrong though, to say, did that lift you get zero sets for your lower body?
James: I know it does sound kinda wrong, but really when you think about it, I
Mike: mean like go do a, a set of eight to 10 reps hard deadlifts, my quads are on fire at the end of
James: those sets. I’m not saying you shouldn’t count.
I mean, I don’t wanna say you shouldn’t count it, it’s just.
Mike: I mean, I understand what you’re saying. It’s just funny. It’s counterintuitive cuz when you do it, it definitely, you’re like, my legs are definitely working. There’s stuff going on down
James: there. I mean, another perfect example is like the hip thrust, right?
The hip thrust works your quads. I mean, we know that, that it works, the quads, but typically, at least personally, I usually won’t count a hip thrust towards quad sets.
Mike: That makes sense. So in the case of the deadlift, you’re treating it as a back exercise first and foremost. Especially,
James: particularly, it’s like a, yeah, a back exercise or, I mean, spinal erectors are really the big thing on the deadlift.
Obviously it affects every muscle. It, it hits all your muscle grip, but the spinal rector is the ones that really bear the biggest brunt of the load, you know? So,
Mike: yeah, and the lats take a quite a bit too, if you use ’em, right? Am I, am
James: I right there? I’m not a biomechanics expert, so I don’t know. I’d have to go back and look at the literature.
No worries. I
Mike: was just curious.
James: Yeah, you know, well, actually one guy recommend Chris Beardsley. He writed some really good stuff on. Training various muscle groups and how different exercises might impact those muscle groups based on the biomechanics and EMG and all that other stuff, you know? So Cool.
Mike: Okay, good. So those are all the questions I had. This was a great overview of the topic, and again, anybody who is still listening and is interested in learning more, definitely check out James’s volume Bible. A lot of work went into that and it’s a very. Good review of the research and kind of a, an even deeper dive into all the stuff that we’ve been discussing here, but I think James did a great job breaking it down into simple practical guidelines that people can use to better.
Program their training and particularly breakthrough plateaus for anybody who is, feels stuck right now. Maybe listen to this again, because one of the most effective things you can do to get unstuck is just to work harder in the gym, just to do more sets. And that’s assuming again, that you’re doing the other important things mostly.
Right. But if you are, and I know I’ve been there where you are doing. All the important things, right? You’re just stuck. Do more, you know, even if it’s just an increase of three max five hard sets per major muscle group per week, and maybe it’s not even for all of the muscle. Maybe it’s just for on your big lifts, for example, and you say, all right, I’m gonna squat and bench press and deadlift a bit more.
That alone can be enough to unstick you, so. Well, let’s wrap up, uh, James with where people can find you and your work and your research review in particular, which is great. One of the few out there that I. Wholeheartedly endorse. I really like the work that you do. Yours, the guys at Mass, those are really the two main ones that I fall.
I know there are a number of other ones out there, but, and if there’s anything else new, uh, and exciting that you want people to know about.
James: Yeah, people can go to my site ology.net. Yeah, you can check out the volume Bible there. You know, my research review, basically I cover eight studies per month.
Mike: A lot of body composition stuff, a lot of fat loss stuff, and
Yeah. So basically anything related to muscle gain or fat loss. That’s mainly what I focus on. So it’ll be, you know, definitely usually a range of training studies and nutrition studies usually. So, yeah, uh, people wanna check out my side. All my social media accounts are there, uh, people wanna check those out.
Some unrelated stuff. Coming out this year, I’m working with Chad Landers on a project where, you know, a lot of personal trainers out there sometimes kind of struggle with their finances, so that’s another thing. People maybe want to be on the lookout for, it’s gonna be called Fit Pro Financial. So be on the lookout for that, for people that are in, in that type of stuff when it comes to like retirement investing and you know, that’s different from physiology, but that’s another, another thing that’s gonna be coming out from me this year.
So you could also
Mike: call it unfuck your financial fitness. That’d be a trendy title these days. Well, all right man, I really appreciate you taking the time. Uh, it was enjoy talking to you and getting your take on body composition things and I look forward to the next one. Yeah, man, thanks for having me. All right.
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