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Ep. #1152: Milo Wolf on High-Volume Training


Mike: Hey, Milo, thanks for taking the time to come and talk to me and the listeners. 

Milo: Hey, man, it’s a pleasure to be on. I’ve been watching the show for a while, so it’s, it’s good to finally come on. 

Mike: Yeah, I appreciate that. So we’re here to talk about training volume. And as I mentioned, just offline, the idea for this conversation came about because while I myself have, I don’t know if I’ve actually produced a single long form piece of content like this, On training volume specifically, however, I’ve commented on it tangentially in many different contexts over the years.

However, recently I had another guest on to talk about low volume training more in the context of maintenance or maybe minimal progress, which is maybe more even relevant to my current circumstances. Like that’s where I’m at kind of maintenance, minimal progress. I’m happy with that. However, it occurred to me that.

I should get somebody on to talk about the other end of the spectrum. So let’s, let’s talk about people who want to maximize progress. And most people listening know that the biggest button you can push is going to be volume. That weightlifter, your newbie gains are long gone. You’re approaching your genetic limit for muscle growth and, uh, and muscularity and strength that.

You’re just going to have to spend more time in the gym. You’re just going to have to work harder. And that doesn’t mean just lift heavier weights. You can’t just take, uh, let’s say a low volume program and then try to tinker with the loading or try to tinker with maybe the progression model. You can make some improvements in those dimensions, but there is a point where you’re just going to have to do more volume.

You’re just going to have to work harder and spend more time. And so that again is understood by most people. However, over the last couple of years, there’ve been A number of studies that have been looking specifically at this point and how much volume Should you be targeting for then if you’re trying to maximize progress?

Are the results purely linear? Is it just do as much as you can possibly get away with without getting hurt or burning out or whatever or? Is there a threshold beyond which you reach diminishing returns? Or is, is, is there some other way of, uh, approaching this? And so, that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Milo: Hey man, for sure, I’m here for it. I think you touched on a lot of interesting things here, but I know you have, uh, some questions written down, so I think it might be worth going one by one, as opposed to me rambling on for 60 minutes straight. 

Mike: Sure, sure, I mean, or we can just start where you think this discussion is going.

Should start. Um, I mean, probably, probably just a short overview and make sense to give for just kind of the state of the research because I’m sure people listening. I’ve heard some of these studies and some of the studies appear to be conflicting in terms of particularly this point of a linear dose.

Like, okay, so should I just try to work up to 50 sets per week for my chest? Is that what I should be doing? Or, uh, that’s not very practical and I’m, I’m exaggerating or to maybe E. Parrot, what Lyle McDonald has been saying for a long time that once you get beyond 20 to 25 hard sets for an individual muscle group, and those would be sets taken close to muscular failure, maybe in some cases to muscular failure, not sub max sets, you’re not going to see much more in the way of hypertrophy, and you’re probably just going to get hurt.

Those are those, for example, just kind of two conflicting opinions. And there, there has been more research now that has come out that I think that lends a bit more insight. 

Milo: For sure. So I’ll give the current perspectives on volume from the evidence first. For a long time now, the way of conceptualized volume is us following a sort of.

Inverted U shape relationship with hypertrophy. So when you consider volume, we’re typically talking about how many sets are you doing per week per muscle in the context of hypertrophy, right? For strength, that can be different. We’re looking at how many sets a week of squatting or squatting like work are you doing?

For hypertrophy, it’s about sets per week per muscle. For a long time, we thought that there was such a thing as not doing enough sets per week to see any appreciable muscle growth. And that’s essentially what my good friend, Dr. Pack, spoke about when he recently came onto the show is essentially, where does the inverted U shape start happening?

When do you start seeing appreciable muscle growth occurring? How few sets can you get away with per week and still see appreciable hypertrophy? So that’s one end of the spectrum. Then our conceptual understanding of volume is that as you add more and more sets, you get More and more hypertrophy, but eventually that likely has to slow down and stop, right?

You couldn’t just do hundreds and hundreds of sets per muscle per week in all likelihood and still see more and more growth There probably is such a thing as a an upper threshold past which doing more sets won’t benefit you anymore simply because your body does have recovery limits in place. And so at some theoretical point, additional volume isn’t going to cause additional hypertrophy.

Now that’s our conceptual understanding of volume and how it should interact with hypertrophy. And that’s largely been confirmed by studies on volume, where generally, if you look at the research on volume, you see that the more volume is being performed, at least to a certain point, the more muscle growth we see.

And that seems to be Very often the case when you’re comparing 10 to 20 sets to doing under 10 sets, for example. So in a meta analysis by Schoenfeld and colleagues from 2017, at the time, we didn’t have many studies looking at volumes in excess of 10 sets per week. And so we essentially just looked at 10 sets per week or more versus 10 sets a week or less.

And when we simply categorize things that way, yeah, doing more than 10 sets per week per muscle was better for hypertrophy. Now, fortunately, since 2017, we have gotten more data looking at higher and higher volumes, far in excess of just 10 sets per week per muscle. Specifically, we now have a more recent meta analysis by Basval and colleagues from 2022 looking at trained lifters.

So one common criticism of the meta analysis by Schoenfeld and colleagues was that, well, this is an untrained lifters. It doesn’t really generalize to me as someone who’s been training for several years, a decade or even more. And so in this case, and the meta analysis by Basval and colleagues looking at all the studies on volume.

They found a few things. They categorized volume into being either low, that is to say below 12 sets per week per muscle, between 12 and 20 sets per week per muscle, medium volume, or high volume, that is above 20 sets per week per muscle. They further subcategorized hypertrophy results into either being in the biceps, the triceps, or the quadriceps.

For the biceps and quadriceps, they found that 12 to 20 sets per week per muscle optimized hypertrophy. For the triceps, on the other hand, they found the best hypertrophy when performing 20 or more sets per week per muscle. Importantly, If you look past just statistical significance, you can see that the effect sizes did, for all three muscle groups, lean in favor of 20 plus sets being favorable.

Now, whether or not you think that significance is something that we should live and die by is up to you, but it is worth noting that directionally, higher volumes were still favored in this And that brings me to the most up to date view of the data. We know reasonably well at this point that more volume is better for hypertrophy, at least to a certain point, which comports nicely with our understanding of the U shape, where more volume, at least to a certain point, leads to more hypertrophy.

Importantly, though, I’m not sure we found that upper end. We’ve definitely found the lower end, right, where more With this view as around five sets per week per muscle for a lot of people, you can start observing some robust hypertrophy. But as far as the upper end goes, I can’t say that we’ve for sure yet observed how much is too much.

Because as it currently stands, we have eight studies comparing more moderate volumes, quote unquote, which is interesting because this used to be what we’d call high volumes of 10 to 20 sets to more extreme volumes of 20 or more sets per week. We currently have eight studies comparing 20 plus sets to just 10 to 20 sets per week per muscle.

Across those eight studies. Four. Those are studies by Radeli and colleagues, Brigado and colleagues, Schoenfeld and colleagues, and the recently published study by Ennis and colleagues, the 52 set study that everyone was going crazy over. Those four studies, of those eight, found, broadly speaking, a benefit to doing over 20 sets per week per muscle.

Meanwhile, the remaining four studies, by Haselgrave, Ostrowski, Aub, and Amer Thiong’um, they found no benefit of going over 20 sets. But importantly, you’ll note I didn’t say that these studies found a benefit in favor of going under 20 sets. It was more so that there was not really a difference between 20 sets or fewer, or over 20 sets.

And so when eight studies find a benefit to one approach over another of hypertrophy, and the remaining four don’t find a difference, I would say the weight of the evidence still leans in favor of there being a benefit, potentially more modest, but still there being a potential benefit to be had by going over 20 sets per week per muscle.

Importantly, there’s a ton of caveats to these findings. Like whenever you look at a study, you got to consider context, just like you wouldn’t give someone who’s just started training, who’s elderly, who has poor recovery, a ton of volume to start out with. In these studies, you have to consider, all right, what are the rest times?

What are the populations being studied? a training program that comprised all muscle groups at once because potentially running super high volumes for all muscle groups at once might not be feasible. But broadly speaking, the current state of the evidence suggests that higher volumes lead to more hypertrophy, and that likely extends past 20 sets per week per muscle.

Mike: Before we continue, can you comment quickly on this 52 set study just in case people listening did hear about this and were maybe confused by it or trying to understand how to interpret it? 

Milo: Sure. So I think the 52 set expression, like many people cited this study as the 52 set study, it’s been inaccurate.

And I’ll delve into why now. In this study by Ennis and colleagues published, I think September of last year, September 2023, they compared three groups. In one group, they just trained their quads using the squat, leg press, and leg extension with 22 weekly sets. In the second group, they added sets week to week, four sets every two weeks, so that their average volume throughout the study was 32 weekly sets for their quads.

And finally, in the third group, the most extreme group, they added six sets every two weeks, such that their average training volume over the 12 weeks of training was 37 sets. Now, at the very end of those 12 weeks, when they had added the most volume, in that third most extreme group, they were doing 36 sets.

52 sets for their quads in a single week. That is a high volume, but that is not what they were doing the whole way throughout. So really discounting the fact that they were adding volume week to week, which presents other considerations, whether or not that’s even worth doing for hypertrophy and so forth.

But just looking at the average volume between groups, we’re comparing 22 sets to 32 sets to 37 sets. And by and large, The most favorable hypertrophy was seen in the highest volume group. Once again, how you interpret the findings exactly comes down to how you interpret significance. Nowadays, there’s more of a shift in sports science from, hey, we’re looking at things from a strict significance perspective to more of a, okay, well, is there potentially still a benefit here that we can’t consistently detect with small sample sizes, that we.

commonly used in sports science. And maybe there’s an effect that’s here, and maybe it’s not huge, but it might be relevant to you, dear listener, who’s looking to maximize hypertrophy. So, those are broadly speaking the results. I think the 52 set study, as it’s been coined, is a bit inaccurate. But, um, yeah, it was one of the studies that got a lot of press for its results.

Mike: And you mentioned a few factors that can help explain some of the mixed results. I think it’s probably worth commenting briefly on these like rest time between sets as anybody who lifts weights knows there’s a big difference, especially if you’ll say you’re training your lower body between a set with a minute and a half of rest time and maybe two and a half to three minutes of rest time before the next set.

Um, there’s proximity to failure of course. And you know, if you let’s say you’re doing. Several sets on an exercise. Anybody listening has experienced this. If you push, let’s say to absolute failure on that first set, your performance is remarkably worse in the sets that follow compared to coming close to failure, just leaving maybe one or two good reps in the tank.

Uh, so that’s another factor that needs to be considered. Right. And then also there is the method of. counting volume that can change from study to study. 

Milo: Yeah, no, for sure. All of those things can influence the training stimulus. I’ll touch on rest times and proximity to failure in these studies. As far as rest times go, I think that generally you observe rest times of between like one and two minutes most consistently.

Now, if participants are only resting for one minute between sets, the effectiveness of each set for hypertrophy does likely decrease. And that’s based on a. preprinted meta analysis that we actually published as of two weeks ago, I think, at this point, looking at the effects of rest times on hypertrophy.

And all else being equal, if your rest times go from, say, two minutes to one minute, with one minute, each set does likely become slightly less effective. And so if you’re doing, say, 30 sets with one minute rest, that might be the equivalent of 20 or 25 sets with two minutes of rest. So the numbers that you see in literature might need to be adjusted downward slightly if your rest times are substantially longer than what you see in the literature.

With that being said, in our meta analysis, we did observe, by and large, the most favorable hypertrophy with just one to two minutes of rest. So it’s not like you need to rest a ton of time in all likelihood to observe maximum hypertrophy, but if you’re resting for less than 60 seconds, as is sometimes done in these studies, then that’s not ideal.

As far as proximity to failure goes, most of these studies do try to have participants trained to failure. And that’s where I’ve heard a common critique of the high volume research. I think Lamé Thoreau has said this, I think a few other people have said this, that in these studies, participants didn’t really train to failure.

And I think that’s a valid critique. I think If you’ve ever been in a lab or even tried to analyze the incentives presented to trainees objectively, you would have some reservation about that critique. Basically, in the lab, you are being observed, you’re being encouraged by research assistants to actually push the set.

Oftentimes, you’re being financially incentivized to push the set close to failure. Meanwhile, when you’re in the gym, you’re not really Often being watched by people. So you don’t really have someone watching you and telling you, Hey, keep going. You don’t have encouragement. You’re not really being financially incentivized.

So outside of the few of us that truly do love training hard and truly do push every set to failure. There’s a pretty good likelihood that the people in these studies were pushing sets harder than you are. And so just consider that when you make that critique on average, these results might actually be quite generalizable to the general public.

because the general public doesn’t also push all that hard. But if anything, on the net balance, if you look at the incentives presented to participants within these studies versus just the average trainee on the street, there’s a good chance that the people in the study were actually training harder on average.

And certainly from my experience as a researcher, I would say people do tend to push pretty hard. Is it always RP10 true failure? No. But is it pretty close usually? I would say so. So I would say there’s a few things you have to consider when looking at the research. Differences in rest times between the study and what you do differences in how close to failure you train.

Like if you love training to failure now and always might your volumes need to come down a little bit compared to what you see in the literature. Yes. But then even as regards rest times, for example, we have the study by innocent colleagues where on average in the higher volume groups, they were resting around three to four minutes between sets.

So they reported total session duration. And given that we know how many sets they did per session, we can. reverse engineer their rest times on average, and they were resting three to four minutes between sets. And even with those relatively long rest times, which should presumably lessen how much volume you need to optimize muscle growth, but they still observed a benefit.

So I would say broadly speaking, without looking too far into the minutia of interplay between volume and relative intensity and rest times and what have you, the broad finding that we can have reasonable confidence in is that more volume does seem to cause more growth. And there is a parallel here.

with relative intensity, or how close to failure you train. Where, as I’m sure you know, last year a meta regression by Robinson and colleagues was published looking at the relationship between how close to failure you take a set and muscle growth from that set. And all this being equal, the closer a set is taken to failure, the more muscle growth it tends to cause.

So, both volume and intensity. So how many sets you do and then how close to failure each set is taken seem to display somewhat of a dose response relationship with muscle growth. So to a large extent, when you see people in the gym or successful bodybuilders or what have you generally training with relatively high volumes and relatively close to failure, and they’re observing good hypertrophy, there is likely a reason behind that.

These two factors seem to explain much of the hypertrophy you observe. And whether or not you decide to emphasize pushing closer to failure over adding more volume, or whether you prioritize adding more volume, but not pushing each side quite as close to failure. At this point, it is mostly personal preference.

We don’t have solid studies to tell you which one you need to prioritize. We do have new analyses coming out. For example, I know Josh Pelland from Data Driven Strength is working on that analysis, kind of trying to weave this all together. Look at the interaction effects, like how does higher volume input hypertrophy when we’re talking specifically about more submaximal sets.

We have those sort of analyses coming out. We have study designs coming out in the next few years that are trying to answer those questions. For the time being, all we know is that higher volumes tend to cause more growth, and training closer to failure tends to cause more growth. But the specifics are difficult to nail down.

Mike: And for most people, So, listening, they’re going to choose higher intensity just because it becomes impractical to spend several hours in the gym. If you’re trying to combine high volume with, uh, at least moderate rest times, and you are making that trade off for, for intensity, we’ll get ready and you’re an experienced weightlifter.

Get ready for two to three hour workouts. Workouts. And I see people in the gym who it’s usually younger people and that’s what they like to do. I mean, for them, it’s, there’s also a social component to it and that works. And so if they want to spend two or three hours in the gym, then they actually have to do that, either that, or they just don’t.

have to do a workout and stand around, but if they want to be kind of working out for that entire time, you’re not going to be able to do two or three hours of lifting, pushing most sets close to failure. 

Milo: Yeah, no, 100%. And I think that realistically, whenever you’re pressed for time, like you’re busy, and you feel that you couldn’t, you know, you read this research, and you’re like, I couldn’t just do more sets, I don’t have the time to fit it within my lifestyle.

Uh, that is a perfectly valid response and there are tools you can use to both make higher volume training more practical, like more feasible in terms of time commitment, but there are also other tools that you can use to just make your training more time efficient in terms of muscle growth, right? Like whether it’s pulling on the lever of training closer to failure versus pulling on the lever of just doing more sets, training closer to failure doesn’t take you any additional time doing more sets will.

And so when you have the choice and you have limited time availability. Going closer to failure more often than not is going to be your choice, but there are other tools to make training with higher volumes a bit more time efficient. Like for example, potentially on every exercise as your last set, do a drop set.

You get more volume in that way, it doesn’t take much additional time, it doesn’t interfere with performance of those earlier sets, so overall that might be a decent option. And in fact, we have a meta analysis by Coleman and colleagues comparing drop sets to traditional training, generally finding similar hypertrophy.

Likewise, things like supersetting to opposite or antagonizing motions, like supersetting a set of bench press with a set of rows, or a set of overhead press with a set of pulldowns, or a set of leg extensions with leg curls. Essentially, two movements that involve opposing muscle groups, whether the muscle groups involved in each movement do not overlap.

So whether you do leg extensions first or not, it won’t impact performance on your leg curls because the muscle groups involved are completely dissimilar. That can extend even further into things like Let’s say you want to train your side delts and your calves in the same session, you could do a set of lateral raises.

And then while you’re resting for a minute or two between sets anyways, just to set of calf raises, there’s a good likelihood it won’t impact your performance on the side raises. And therefore you’ll get the same hypertrophy from both movements, but by saving around 50 percent of the time, there are strategies you can employ to make this stuff more practical.

But definitely like this high volume research for some people, it is not the most practically applicable stuff ever. Like, I don’t know many people out there who are actually doing 37 weekly sets on quads. They, they are out there. Like, I think if you look at Ronnie Coleman or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s highest volumes during training, oftentimes they were getting up there, but for most people.

You will likely need to use these tools to make it more practical, or you’ll have to err a little bit on the lower end of volume and push intensity a bit higher. 

Mike: And that’s a perfect segue to my next question is, practically speaking, how should we go about thinking with everything that you’ve explained so far?

So we accept the premise that generally more volume is going to be better. There are a couple of these dials we can play with regarding rest times and proximity of failure. Fine. Uh, but how do we take that and maybe consider it in the context of our goals and our programming? And so maybe a way to, to, to start looking at that is cause I can, I could imagine that a question that many people are having, so these are people who are looking to maximize progress, not maintain, or just make a minimal amount of progress, and they’re willing to spend a fair amount of time in the gym and they know that’s what it’s going to require.

And so they might be thinking. Okay, so this is what I’m doing right now. This is where my volume is at. And this is what I’m seeing in terms of progress. Where should I go from here? And then from there we can probably talk about some just practical programming tips. I mean, you mentioned, for anybody listening, if you pull up your spreadsheet and you just even try to go to 20 to 25 sets per muscle group per week, it starts to get impractical, I think for most people.

at that amount of volume. And so often, practically speaking, it requires specialization, where you’re just going to, you’re going to do a training block where, you know, you’re going to have to dedicate a fair amount of time. You might be doing 25, 30 sets for your target muscle group for that training block.

And you’re going to reduce volume on other muscle groups to make sure that you don’t lose anything, but just to save yourself time. And then, and then you mentioned recovery too. And so anyway, uh, I think that would be a, uh, great kind of final phase to the discussion of what can we do with this theory.

For sure. 

Milo: So I’ll break it down in a few ways. First, before we go into specific volume recommendations for lifters that are more advanced or newer to the gym, I want to make clear that these numbers can be more or less achievable depending on the muscle group you’re talking about as well. If you’re talking about getting 30 or 40 sets of back training in a week, that is going to be a lot of work.

Like that’s going to be 10 sets of back three times a week. That can really add up and take a lot of time. But if you’re talking about the biceps, for example, keep in mind that every back movement like rows and pulldowns will count towards your weekly set volume for biceps. And would you count that one to one?

For simplicity’s sake and for the ability to make generalizations from the evidence to your own training. Yes, there is certainly merit to saying that a set of pulldowns, well, a set of rows specifically might not be as good for your biceps as a set of curls. In fact, we have one study comparing rows to curls finding greater hypertrophy in the biceps from curls.

However, for certain movements, that doesn’t seem to be true. Like, for example, we have a study comparing the pulldown to the bicep curl and measuring bicep growth and actually finding similar hypertrophy in the biceps. Importantly, The other issue I take with counting different movements differently, as far as volume goes, is that we don’t have perfect knowledge.

So the numbers you’re using to estimate how effective one movement is for this muscle, they are largely just educated guesses. So all that combined between it being more simple, it being more generalizable from the evidence, and finally, not having super solid evidence, or information to rely upon, I think you should just count it as one to one.

It’s much more practical realistically. So for certain muscle groups, it can be a lot more achievable to even get into those ranges. So just keep in mind that if you’re doing like a upper lower split four times a week or what have you, so four days a week, upper twice, lower twice. If you’re doing 20 sets in your upper body sessions and you know you’re doing five sets for back, like three sets for um, your shoulders and three sets for biceps, oftentimes that can already land you above 20 for your triceps for your biceps or what have you.

So it doesn’t need to be a ton of volume or a ton of work to get into those ranges. But I’ll break it down into beginner and then anyone who’s been training for more than six months. So beginners less than about six months and more advanced trainees, anything over six months. So For beginners, I think there’s kind of two volume ranges you have to concern yourself with.

If you’re really new to training, like you’ve never trained, I think somewhere between five or ten sets a week per muscle is a great place to start. If you’ve never trained before, this will get you probably most, if not all, of your hypertrophy, and it just is a nice place to start making progress.

Appreciable hypertrophy gains as a beginner. However, if you’ve been training for more than a few weeks, or you want to really maximize hypertrophy as a beginner, in my opinion, you probably want to be training somewhere between 10 and 20 sets per week per muscle. As someone who hasn’t been training for that long, that volume will likely optimize your hypertrophy results.

Many of these studies are in Less trained lifters finding more hypertrophy with over 10 sets, but some of these studies aren’t more trained lifters. Like that recent study by Ennis and colleagues I mentioned, the average lifter in that study could squat three plates. So not entirely untrained. And so potentially for more trained lifters is where these higher volumes start having more applicability.

So if you’ve been training for more than six months, I would break down volume into kind of three realms more so. First, we have the sort of five to ten set range, which is where most trained lifters will start seeing appreciable hypertrophy. So if you’re pressed for time and you really just want to keep making progress, but you’re just in the gym a couple times a week, five to ten sets per week per muscle is a great place to be.

If you’re in this realm and you still want to make the most of your time in the gym, use the things I mentioned earlier. Like taking each set really close to failure, potentially supersetting antagonistic motions, potentially drop setting the last set. Use those tools to make each set you do in the gym count, but you can absolutely see appreciable hypertrophy even at those lower volumes, quote unquote.

Second, we have the sort of sweet spot for most muscles at most times, so I would call it, which is kind of between 10 or 20 sets. Most of the time for most muscles you want to grow, you will probably want to be between around 10 to 20 sets per week per muscle. as a train lifter. This will definitely provide a solid hypertrophy stimulus, and for most people, most of the time, it’s something you can tolerate on probably all of your muscle groups at the same time.

Unless your recovery is very poor, I think most people can fall within this range for every muscle group at once and recover just fine week to week. And time wise, it might take you three or four days in the gym a week with sessions that are still quite manageable. But then there’s the final zone, and that’s the sort of more, more intense volume or highest volume zone, which is where you might want to go if you want to really optimize hypertrophy of a given muscle group.

Like you mentioned earlier, if you want to specialize on it, let’s say, for example, you’ve been training for five years. For some reason, your arms just aren’t growing as much as the rest of your physique. And for you to be happier with your physique or for you to bring up a more balanced physique for a show or what have you, you need to bring up your arms.

That is when you would want to go. much above 20 or maybe 25 sets per week per muscle. Importantly, I think that if you go much above like 20 to 25 sets per week per muscle, you will have to start making compromises elsewhere in your program. If you start doing more than about 25 sets per week per muscle, say for your chest and back, you might need to reduce volume at the same time to like five or 10 sets for your arms because otherwise the overall training load might be too much to handle.

Importantly, this is. mostly conjecture based. On the one hand, most of the studies on volume we have are only on a select few muscle groups at once. So in that sense, they’re essentially specialization studies because they’re not looking at training everything with those high volumes at once. They’re looking at taking a few select muscle groups and taking them to those high volumes.

On the other hand, Very few instances of overtraining or not benefiting from more volume or getting hurt by doing more volume, whether it’s actual injury or whether it’s seeing less growth. Very few of those instances have been recorded in the evidence. Like I mentioned earlier, out of eight studies we have on super high volumes, none of them really observed substantially more hypertrophy by doing less.

And likewise, So far, at least, there’s been no evidence to my knowledge finding that, hey, if you go too high in volume, you almost always get injured. Like, that’s just not really a finding. So, I tend to think that those are kind of the three ranges from a practical perspective. 5 to 10 sets per week per muscle to start making solid gains.

If you’re pressed for time, use those tools at your disposal to push up the intensity and get more hypertrophy. 10 to 20 sets for most muscles at most times to get a really solid amount of growth. And if you really want to, amp it up and maximize your hypertrophy in a few muscles at once, try above 20 or 25 sets per week per muscle.

The important thing, if you experiment with those high volumes, is going to be paying attention to recovery. If your performance is consistent week to week, so you’re hitting the same numbers, so the same weight for the same number of reps and the same exercise week to week, and that’s pretty consistent or even going up over time, you probably don’t need to worry about recovery.

You’re recovering just fine, what you’re doing isn’t too much. But if you notice that your performance is creeping down week upon week, and there is no other Obvious explanation, like for example, if you’re losing a ton of weight, like you crash dieting, that can happen. It doesn’t always have to do with your diet, with your training.

But if there’s no obvious reason as to why you’re losing strength, say two weeks in a row, it might be that you’re overdoing it and you’re unable to recover between sessions on time. In that case, try dropping volume a little bit, but otherwise those higher volumes will likely allow you to gain more muscle.

Can you talk about 

Mike: exercise selection and how that impacts how much volume you can do for, especially with, with the lower body, but also at the upper body. If you have someone who let’s say they like, they like doing a lot of bench pressing. Yes, but you can only do so much and you’re not going to do 30 sets of bench pressing per week.

I promise you. 

Milo: For sure. So I think there’s a few considerations here. One is how time efficient is the exercise, because for a lot of people who have constraints on time, if you pick the wrong exercise, like for example, if you’re getting all of your lower body volume in by just doing the barbell squat and the barbell deadlift, for a lot of people, that isn’t a super time efficient exercise, and so it will take you a long time to get up to like 20 plus sets per week.

So for a lot of people using the wrong exercises can directly impede how much volume they’re actually able to in the first place. And, and sorry 

Mike: to interject, but can you, can you come on a little bit more on that point? Because many people probably think of those exercises as very time efficient exercises because they’re compound and they train multiple muscle groups.

And I just want to make sure that people understand that distinction. 

Milo: For sure. So for most people, I think the people listening to the show are likely relatively advanced. They’ve been training for at least a few years and they can, you know, for most men, I imagine squat two to four plates for multiple reps, warming up for that movement can take quite a while.

I think most people warming up for the squat, for example, will typically take like five to 15 or maybe even 20 minutes. And that’s fine. But ultimately, if you compare that with something like a split squat, right, for most people warming up for split squats, you do one set of bodyweight split squats, you do one set with like some relatively light dumbbells, and you’re ready to go.

For most people that cuts it down on warm up time. by 10 minutes or more sometimes. And ultimately, as far as your legs are concerned, the range of motion being gone through at the knee joint, at the hip joint, the stress being imposed upon your quadriceps, glutes, adductors, etc. is very similar. So for hypertrophy, certain movements tend to just be way more time efficient.

I’ll give you another example. If you’re comparing, say, good say, a stack loaded leg press to a barbell squat. Obviously, there’s going to be some differences in terms of movements here. Loading the plates on a squat to be sufficiently heavy to reach a certain rep range can take a fair amount of time. You have to set up the rack first.

You have to set up the barbell. You have to do your warm upsets. You have to set up the plates. Sometimes in a busy gym, finding the plates can be difficult. That can take quite a while. Versus a stack load leg press, where you essentially sit down, adjust the machine, it takes about five seconds, and then you just plug and play.

You select the load, and you start lifting. Certain exercises just tend to be more efficient, in terms of time. Generally, those are going to be compound movements, they’re going to be stack loaded machines, they’re going to be dumbbell movements, because you can, again, just grab the weight and get going, there’s less setup required.

Those movements just tend to be more time efficient. And importantly, if you’re doing, say, 50 sets a week, across your training week, as compound movements, that’s going to be very different than if you’re doing 50 sets a week across your week as just isolation movements. So if you’re really trying to hit a variety of muscle groups at once, get effective volume in, get more bang for your buck, typically compound movements are going to be a better way choice of exercise versus more isolation movements.

And then finally, I do think there is a benefit to be had from in general picking the right exercise. Like I do think certain exercises are better for hypertrophy than others, but more specifically to pick exercises that are more varied. So I think for hypertrophy specifically, especially if you’re relatively new to training, one mistake I see people make transitioning from beginner to intermediate is that they don’t sufficiently change exercises throughout the week.

We have a systematic review of metanalysis published a couple of years ago, looking at the effects of just doing one exercise versus getting a couple, at least like two to three exercises in per week for a given muscle, like just squatting versus doing some squats, some leg pressing and some leg extensions, for example.

And across those studies, generally you do see better muscle growth when you use different movements. So for one, you’ll probably see more muscle growth if you use at least two movements per muscle, I’d say, like, that’s a pretty conservative estimate, maybe a bit more for muscle groups like the back where the back has a lot of different functions, a lot of different muscle groups.

And so if you just pick two, you might still be missing out on growing certain areas to their fullest extent. But beyond even just. maximizing hypertrophy. I think that for most people, if they try and get 20 sets a week of just squatting in, that’ll be challenging. But if they break that down into five sets of squatting, 10 sets of leg pressing and five sets of leg extensions, that becomes both more fun because they’re not just stuck to the squat rack all day and it becomes more feasible and potentially just better for overall muscle growth.

So I’d say consider all of those things. Most of your volume should likely be from compound movements, especially if you’re pressed for time, but some of your volume should come from isolation movements and get a variety of exercise in there. 

Mike: Two other benefits probably worth mentioning are less, less of a chance of developing repetitive stress injuries by just changing, uh, doing, doing several exercises as opposed to trying to only squat and do a very high volume squat program, and then also.

There’s probably something you said for, especially with like a split squat or even a lunge that you can get a good training stimulus with less weight. And so that’s, that’s going to be just less stress on your joints. Again, comparing back to a back squat, especially if you’re, if you’re pretty strong and you’re trying to rack up a fair amount of volume, the sheer amount of stress on the joints catches up with you, especially if you’re not.

20 years old and invincible. 

Milo: For sure. So I’m going to speak as a coach and as a lifter here. That is definitely something I’ve noticed. Like, obviously my expertise isn’t in, uh, physiotherapy or what have you, or I’m not a DPT, but as a lifter and as a coach, I would say that when someone experiences pain during a movement, oftentimes, especially for hypertrophy.

it is easier to just change out the movement for something else, and that will often take care of the issue altogether. And just as an anecdote, the powerlifters I coach, and the powerlifters I speak to in the gym, well, how are you? Eventually, they just tend to get pain on pretty much all three of the big lifts.

Do I think that means that powerlifting is inherently more injurious? No, not necessarily. But I do think being too selective and too specific in your exercise selection can be to your detriment because eventually most movements kind of start hurting at some point or another and having the flexibility of saying all right well i’m going to use two or three different movements across the week as opposed to just squatting can be a welcome change of pace and having the flexibility of changing something out when it does start hurting.

It’s beneficial in my opinion 

Mike: and is something that more conscientious lifters in my experience are resistant to and I’ve been that person so I understand where I have a program. I like it on paper. I like what I’m doing and I want to stick to it. But I know that this set of 10 reps on the deadlift, which I’m supposed to push close to failure, not to, I wouldn’t go to failure, but it’s starting, it’s not feeling, it’s not feeling too good anymore, but I want to do it.

And so I’ve made that mistake and ironically. Now I’m dealing with, it’s not an acute injury. It’s a repetitive stress. My SI joint started to bother me and I should have backed off sooner. And, uh, you’d think I would know better, but I was stubborn and I wanted to finish my training block and I was making good progress.

And so for people listening, if you’ve been there, I know I’ve been there too. But unfortunately, in my experience with. Such niggling kind of problems where it’s not an acute injury. It’s just something that starts to bother you more and more that the most important thing that you can do is stop doing whatever is continually aggravating it.

You have to, you have to get away from what is hurting. And sometimes that’s what it’s the, maybe the exercise might be your favorite exercise and you don’t want to stop, but just know that if you don’t stop, if you continue aggravating the issue, no amount of other types of therapies. It’s going to fix it.

At least that’s, uh, that’s been my experience. 

Milo: I agree with that. And, um, just anecdotally, I think this can also extend past just pain and injury where there’s a saying in Russian sports science, like the old Soviet coaches, and I could be entirely making this up. It’s pretty much just hearsay, but I think the saying went, a change can be as good as a recovery.

And both as far as dealing with like minor pains and training, and as far as dealing with just psychologically getting a bit bored with training or not enjoying the process as much, even if you think you’re dealing with high fatigue or your motivation to train has gotten lower, oftentimes you don’t even need a dealer necessarily.

Just changing a few things about your training routine, especially your exercise selection, my experience can make a lot of that go away pretty quickly. Oftentimes, especially from a conscientious lifters, as you mentioned, who are more routine driven and who tend to just. do the same routine week upon week upon week upon week for months and years on end sometimes.

Having some variation in your routine, especially if you’re not a strength athlete, and you don’t have a need to be that specific, that can really come in clutch for restoring motivation to train, restoring that drive, or at least being a temporary aid while you regain your motivation in general. Right. I think that’s very underrated from a coaching perspective.

Mike: Are there some other changes that you will commonly make in your own training or people you coach that seem to reinvigorate? I 

Milo: would say specialization, funnily enough. I would say that when you’ve been training with a more broad aim of just growing your whole body relatively evenly, and you’ve been doing that for a while, Switching to a specialization phase for certain muscle groups and kind of just doing more of what you currently find fun even, that can be really nice.

And then eventually you’ll get bored of that and you can return back to your good all around training. Or you can specialize on different muscle groups or what have you. But I find that for my hypertrophy focused trainees, specialization is a great way to break out the monotony, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to more muscle growth over time.

Like, who knows, right? Maybe down the line we’ll have this huge study across years and where it turns out that just staying in that sweet spot of like, 10 to 25 sets per week per muscle consistently leads to more growth than if you were to specialize and kind of like ramp certain body parts up while you deal with others.

Essentially, who knows, but the very least specialization phases from a applied perspective do seem to breathe some life back into training sometimes. 

Mike: Yep. That’s exactly what I was going to suggest. But, but you, you nailed it. And I think picking the muscle group that, especially if you are more of an everyday gym goer, you’re maybe, uh, a lifestyle bodybuilder, so to speak.

And so it’s not, it’s not, Essential that you have the perfect physique to bring on stage. I mean, everybody wants to have a balanced physique and wants it to look a certain way, but you have flexibility and what you can specialize in just going with whatever sounds the most interesting or whatever you think would be the most fun at the time is perfectly reasonable.

And again, in my experience, more conscientious lifters are even resistant to that. Cause it’s all about optimization and efficiency and rationality. And let’s just take emotion out of it. And let’s take preferences out of it. Let’s take fun out of it. I don’t need to have fun. And again, I’ve been that person.

I understand that mentality, but I’ve made a bit of a shift in my own training as I’ve gotten older. And, and as I’ve accepted that, especially considering that I like to stay relatively lean, I’m not going to be gaining a large amount of muscle from where I’m at. At this point, unless I were willing to carry around more body fat and work very hard over the course of several years to gain what would be, um, it would be an appreciable amount of muscle, but it’s not going to transform my physique.

That’s just not in the, in the genetics, the genetic cards for me. And so again, just speaking personally, um, I can, I can vouch for exactly what you just said. 

Milo: A hundred percent. I think that as an advanced trainee, you’ve already been through the. through the road work so much that it can feel like Groundhog Day.

And I think that if you’re already inclined towards conscientiousness, it can make you stick to something that you don’t necessarily enjoy anymore. And that’s a trap I think some advanced trainees fall into, which I would, I would urge you to just think about what components of training you do enjoy and that you find yourself consistently putting high effort towards maybe specking a bit more heavily into those for a while, or essentially just investing a bit more into those for a while and see whether or not that breathes some life back into your training.

Mike: One more question regarding the high volume approach. So how would you Recommend people think about increasing volume from where they’re at to where they could go with it. And we can assume practically that yes, it is going to end at a certain point. But let’s say somebody is doing 15 sets per week right now for a muscle group and they and they want to specialize in that muscle.

But they want to do a training block and just. see what they can, what they can do with that muscle group. How would you recommend they ramp that volume up? Sure. So what I would 

Milo: do is a two fold approach. First, I would gradually increase volume. So in this study by Anderson colleagues, for example, They increased sets by four to six sets every two weeks.

So on average, they were adding two to three sets for a given muscle in a given training week. Right. That is even a bit on the higher end. Like I might even slow it down a little bit and say, add only one or two sets per week per muscle to be on the safe side. And the second key to this approach would be paying attention to your performance.

Unfortunately, as currently stands, we don’t have many good practical proxies for recovery, right? Like we have ways in sports science studies to assess muscle damage and recovery, like for example, assessing blood creating kinase levels or measuring sarcomere popping and that sort of stuff. But that is, uh, far beyond what most people actually can do.

However, the good news is that Whilst things like your perception of soreness might not actually be the best gauge of whether or not you recovered, like you can be very sore and yet the recovery might still have occurred. One really practical way of assessing whether or not you’re overtraining and overdoing it, and therefore you need to back down on the volume a little bit, is to simply look at performance week to week.

If your numbers in the gym are consistent this week with what they were last week, but you’re doing more volume, Recovery is still occurring. You’re still performing consistently at the same level week to week. That is a good sign that at the very least you’re not overdoing it currently, and potentially that you would benefit from doing a bit more.

That is the most practical advice I can give is to gradually ease into those higher volumes and then pay attention to performance as the leading indicator of whether or not you’re overdoing things, or you can potentially tolerate more. 

Mike: And for finding your upper. Threshold, I suppose then you could repeat that process until you see a significant decline in performance.

And that could change probably fairly significantly from person to person, depending on various circumstances. 

Milo: Absolutely. And that’s, that is ultimately one of the only things in sports science that we can do. Relatively wholeheartedly recommend to assess whether or not a training change is too much for you is to simply look at performance and that’s one way in which we can truly individualized training, right?

Currently, we don’t fully know why people, why some people need more volume than others. And so if you come to me and you tell me all about yourself, I might be able to make some educated guesses as to whether or not you would benefit from more volume. Like, for example, if you have great sleep, your nutrition is always on point, you have low stress, you’re relatively young and so forth, I might think, okay, this person can likely benefit from more volume.

But ultimately, when it comes to actually tweaking volume from week to week. There’s not a ton of things we know that really correlate with or predict recovery very well. But performance is one of those things. If performance is good or even improving week upon week, there’s a good chance you can benefit from more.

So I think it’s the most practical way of going about it. 

Mike: And, uh, one final comment, just because, uh, many people are, uh, I’ve spoken with just, just are surprised by this. And let me know if, if you disagree or there’s, uh, additional nuance that I’m missing is that as far as. Uh, systemic fatigue as far as the stress that, that we have to recover from in addition to there’s the localized muscle damage and so forth, but volume is more systemically stressful than load, so, which is a bit counterintuitive.

Many people assume that a heavy set of a. Set of three taken not to failure, but close to failure or set to five, that that is more systemically stressful than more reps, but then also more sets. And so the intensity or the load of of the training is less of a driver of the systemic fatigue than just the sheer amount of volume that you do 

Milo: for sure.

I think. There’s a couple of things I would mention there. First, the way people can conceptualize it is that volume is ultimately a proxy for sort of energy expended through training, right? If you were comparing the fatigue generated by sprinting 100 meters, right, or 40 yards, or what have you, that fatigue would still be much lower than if you’d walked 20 miles, right?

Simply because the amount of work being performed is much greater in one case than the other, no matter what the intensity of that activity was, a volume at a certain level, the amount of work being done does cause fatigue the most predictably, right? Like it scales pretty linearly with volume. And so when you’re doing, say, 15 reps instead of three reps in a set, that is, all else being equal, going to be close to five times more work, right?

A bit less than that, because you’re using less weight. But broadly speaking, we’re talking about a large increase in volume or work being performed. Importantly, that is what we observe in the research as a coach and as a lifter. And as someone who’s done both powerlifting and computer bodybuilding, I think that We’re somewhat failing to pick up on the fatigue from heavier training.

I do think there’s something difficult to quantify currently about how heavier training can be fatiguing, right? Like if you’ve ever been doing heavy training consistently and you think about next week’s squatting, for example, and you’re like, ah, shit, I did a 500 pounds for a set of five last week. And now I got to do 510 next week.

And that is just somehow uniquely fatiguing. Like I can’t really quantify it, but I do think it’s something we might be missing in the research. But just going from the research, we do have studies comparing low rep sets and higher upsets and objectively assessing fatigue after those sets, right? And one training closer to failure is more that that is likely the case.

And it likely remains more fatiguing even as you get used to it. Like for example, a recent study looked at the effects of training to failure or just a couple reps shy of failure by following colleagues, looking at fatigue caused by those two protocols. And even after eight weeks, training to failure was still more fatiguing than not training to failure.

Right. But even beyond that, just doing more reps also seems to be more fatiguing. So going from a set of. three to a set of 12 is inherently more fatiguing in terms of how long it takes your performance to recoup from that set. Like if you look at the timeline of recovery immediately after a session, you’ll be able to lift less weight if you did a set of 12 versus set of three.

Six hours after the session, same thing. 24 hours after, same thing. 48 hours after, same thing. That’s, those are results from a study by Perejablanco and colleagues, for example. So higher repsets or more fatiguing on us being equal. Training closer to failure is more fatiguing while else being equal. And there is likely reason to believe that doing more sets is also just more fatiguing all else being equal.

So there’s a lot of things that are more fatiguing. Unfortunately, they also happen to be the ones that tend to produce more growth. So it’s kind of a double edged sword in that sense. 

Mike: Yeah. The reason I bring that up is, um, I’ve, I’ve just heard from people over the years who they, because they are not doing.

Heavy sets. Let’s say that they’re, they’re never even getting below six reps. Uh, they were surprised at, at how much systemic fatigue they were experiencing because in their mind, if they’re doing a lot of sets of 10 or 12, even if it’s relatively close to failure, those sets in, in many ways, they feel easier.

They’re hard toward the end, but for the first half, they certainly feel easier than the heavy set of three or, uh, four or five or six. And because the weights are lighter as well, there was just a perception that, oh, that type of training isn’t, isn’t nearly as fatiguing as the power lifting, which to comment on that, um, is, I wonder if there’s something unique about one, if there’s a threshold of, of Just loading that when you get built and it would be relative to body weight, maybe some other things that once you get above that, you get this overdrive of fatigue.

Uh, because I, I haven’t, I can’t say I’ve experienced that maybe as much as you have, because I’ve never gotten as strong relative to body weight as you have, but I have experienced a bit of that in, in my strongest, uh, performances when I’ve never done pure power lifting kind of power building. And I agree, But anyway, that’s why that’s why I wanted to bring that up.

Milo: It’s an interesting line of reasoning. I think it’s what people used to call central nervous system fatigue or like my CNS is fried, right? I do think there is something to that. Now the idea that it’s central nervous system related has largely been debunked by people who research that stuff. But I do think that psychologically there might just be something to have your training that is more demanding.

It might be sort of anxiety related. It might be sort of feel related of like, oh, if I’m feeling a squat with 4, 500 pounds on the bar, you know, that is. Somewhat dangerous or at least my body perceives it as dangerous, you know, whereas if I’m squatting 225 for tempo reps for the 15th rep, I can probably overpress that weight or something, you know, like I can get away with it and my body kind of knows it a little bit more maybe.

But, um, psychologically, certainly, I think the two can feel very different and heavier training can feel uniquely fatiguing in that sense. 

Mike: Yeah, yeah, that could definitely be part of it. And that also might be why, um, if, if you are trying to get really strong, you are going to probably include some work just to acclimate yourself with, with heavier weights, uh, even if it’s partial reps or even starting with just putting the weight on your back and feeling what that feels like and, and just bracing yourself, but not actually even doing anything.

Yeah. That that’s uniquely a power lifting or just strength training technique that you, you’d have to think is at least partly psychological, like what is really occurring, not much physiologically. 

Milo: Yeah, no, for sure. And that’s, there is some research around super maximal loading, where you go above your maximum weight and just hold it.

Potentially, it could be beneficial. And I don’t think, as you mentioned, there’s a whole lot of physiological mechanisms at play there. It’s largely psychology related, probably. I think with any form of training shift, whether we’re talking about transitioning into higher volumes and potentially going hypertrophy focused approach to a more strength focused approach, being a bit more gradual about is generally going to be a good idea.

Mike: Well, I know we’re running up on time here. So, uh, that, that was the last question I had. So perfect timing. And again, a great discussion, great advice. Thank you again for taking the time before we sign off here. Let’s just let people know where they can find you, where they can find your work, or if there’s anything in particular you want them to know about.

Milo: For sure. So I think the, the three places I’d like to shout out here, or one, my YouTube channel, that is where I’m most active nowadays, trying to put out informative, long videos on scientific topics like this and how it impacts your training. That’s Wolf Coaching on YouTube. You can find me on Instagram at Wolf Coach.

That’s my last name in coach. I didn’t just pick Wolf for the fun of it. Um, and then finally, if you’re interested in getting training advice in the future, in the next few months, actually, we’ll be launching a training app called MyoAdapt. That’s M Y O Adapt. You can find that at myoadapt. com and sign up to be notified when it gets released.

But yeah, we’re really excited for that launch because I do think at this point, there is nothing else like it out there as far as training apps go, and we’re aiming to make it the most evidence based thing out there, updating it as research comes out, like for example, this volume research, we use that to inform how it works, research on range of motion and the stretch being really important.

We use that to inform the app on which exercises it recommends most consistently, all that sort of stuff. So check out my lab. com sign up and you’ll be notified when it gets released. But otherwise, man, I just want to say, thank you for having me. It’s been a real honor. 

Mike: Absolutely. My pleasure. Great discussion.

And thank you again.





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