Is Higher Volume Better for Muscle Growth?

In this post I will answer one of the most highly debated questions that has reigned throughout bodybuilding history; a topic that still remains misunderstood to this day.

This is the topic of high volume training vs. low volume/heavy intensity training for producing superior muscle gain.

But before I continue, let me summarize both sides of this debate.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to training for muscle gain.

 

1. Training with very high volume using moderate weight will result in the best muscle growth.

2. Training with moderate or low volume but very heavy weight (usually to failure) will result in superior muscle growth.

 

From what I’ve seen, there generally seems to be a split consensus on which one of these is actually best for muscle growth.

Bodybuilding legends of the past like Arnold and Serge Nubret were pioneers of training with extremely high volume. Needless to say their results were pretty damn good.

Then there were others like Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates who swore that lower training volume with much higher intensity was superior for muscle growth.

While both camps have their reasons for believing that one training method is better for muscle growth than the other, the majority of research indicates that there is in fact a better way of lifting that will almost always produce the most muscle growth.

The answer:

High volume.

Specifically, multiple meta-analyses have shown a dose-response relationship between training volume (via more sets) and muscle growth.

For instance, Schoenfeld and colleagues (1) found that performing 10+ sets of exercise per week induced superior muscle growth versus performing <5 sets and 5 – 9 sets per week.

These findings are in accordance with a previous meta-analysis by Krieger (2), which found increasing effect sizes for muscle growth with each increase in the number of sets performed.

Furthermore, numerous studies have shown increased protein synthesis elevations when higher volumes were performed compared to lower volumes (3 – 5).

 

Where Training Frequency Comes Into Play

Now given these findings, does this mean that rather than doing 3 – 5 sets per muscle group, you should instead smash each muscle group with 10+ sets to induce maximum muscle growth?

Well, in theory you could, but what must be considered is the impact of training frequency.

This is because research has generally found a benefit of higher training frequencies for muscle gains compared to lower frequencies (6).

Therefore, rather than smashing each muscle group with so much volume that it needs an entire week to recover, it may be more beneficial to lower the volume of your training sessions, while increasing your training frequency to maximize weekly training volume.

In addition to this being a viable strategy for increasing your weekly training volume, research has shown that protein synthesis only remains elevated around 36 hours following training in experienced lifters (7).

Therefore, common sense suggests that by training more frequently, not only does this increase our weekly training volume, but it also “spikes” the protein synthesis response at a more frequent rate.

Hopefully this clears things up.

 

References

  1. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073–82.
  2. Krieger JW. Single vs. multiple sets of resistance exercise for muscle hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1150–9.
  3. Burd NA, Holwerda AM, Selby KC, West DW, Staples AW, Cain NE, et al. Resistance exercise volume affects myofibrillar protein synthesis and anabolic signalling molecule phosphorylation in young men. J Physiol. 2010 Aug;588(16):3119–30.
  4. Kumar V, Atherton PJ, Selby A, Rankin D, Williams J, Smith K, et al. Muscle protein synthetic responses to exercise: effects of age, volume, and intensity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012 Nov;67(11):1170–77.
  5. Burd NA, West DW, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, Moore DR, et al. Low-load high-volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low-volume resistance exercise in young men. PloS one. 2010 Aug;5(8):e12033.
  6. Schoenfeld BJ, Ratamess NA, Peterson MD, Contreras B, Tiryaki-Sonmez G. Influence of resistance training frequency on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jul;29(7):1821–9.
  7. MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec 1;20(4):480-6.

 

Comments

  1. Would it work, then, for example, to do as many push-ups as you can every other day? Could you be increasing volume in that way?

    • It must be remembered that volume is one determinant of muscle growth. So while doing tons of push-ups will accumulate a lot of volume, it neglects other aspects such as mechanical tension (which can be optimized with heavy loads). Many experts also believe that there is a ‘volume threshold’ to where performing more sets or total reps will not further enhance muscle gains. While performing lots of push-ups will work initially, eventually you will have to find a way to increase the load (which can be done with harder push-up variations or just lifting weights).