The Three Fundamentals of Building Muscle, Part I: Volume
For the best results in training for muscle gain, there is no doubt that your training has to be dialed in.
To do this, you need to be monitoring and adjusting training volume, intensity and frequency to ensure you are pushing yourself a little more each time you enter the gym doors. In this series of posts, we’ll be telling you exactly how to do that.
Before we go any further…to grow muscle you have to be in a calorie surplus. Eat too little and you won’t be maximizing muscle growth. However, eat too much and you’ll start to gain body fat. Our advice? Track your calories, weight, circumference measurements too (waist, chest, hips, thigh, arms are a good set to take but make sure it’s the same spot every time!) and take progress pictures. No muscle gain or change on the scales? Bring calories up 5-10% for 1-2 weeks and re-assess. Weight up massively and noticeable gain in body fat? Drop calories down 5-10% for 1-2 weeks and re-assess as you may have gone too high. (For more information see our trainer Dave’s blog on how to effectively eat to get on the gain train: https://www.storm-fitness.com/eat-for-muscle-gain/)
In this first post, we will start with training volume.
What do we mean exactly when we are talking about ‘training volume’? This refers to the number of reps x the number of sets x the weight lifted.
70kg bench press x 5 reps x 5 sets
70kg x 5 = 350kg
350kg x 5 = 1750kg
So, what is the optimal training volume for muscle growth? Unfortunately, the answer is probably not what you were after…it depends. What we can say is that there is a range between 40-100 reps per week per muscle group that results in hypertrophy. However, where each person falls within or on either side of that range is very individual. This comes down to age, training experience and genetics to name three main factors here.
The best place to start with, like any goal is really defining what you want to achieve. How much muscle mass do you want to build? How long will you give yourself to do this (hint: give yourself longer than you think)? In terms of putting down some numbers for training then, let’s get into sets and reps.
First off, everyone will find they have individual differences with different set and rep schemes. Whilst some people can pack on a whole lot of muscle doing heavy triples, others simply seem to not respond, which is why it is good to experiment with rep ranges in different phases of training. However, if we were to put some general numbers in, 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps per exercise, per session would be a good place to start for hypertrophy. We would always encourage the pursuit of getting stronger over time and you can absolutely do so in a higher rep range. However, you may miss out on training some of the neurological qualities of lifting heavier for less reps, such as being able to maximally produce force on a big lift.
To start with, if you are a beginner you will find that less reps will probably induce muscle growth just fine. Remember, you don’t want to be using all your tools at once so start at the lower end and slowly build up. If you are an intermediate lifter, moving up towards the top end will likely suit you better. Of course, this all depends on how well you can recover from sessions. Remember, the higher the volume of training, the higher the volume of recovery work.
If you’re asking yourself, ‘this is all well and good, but how the hell do I put this all together?’. Worry not! We’ll be explaining how to organise training intensity and frequency in the next two parts, but in the meantime, have a look at the example sessions below:
A1. Back Squat 4x6
B1. RDL 4x8
C1. DB Walking Lunge 3x12 each leg
C2. Hamstring Curl 3x12
D1. Quad Extension 2x10
D2. Hanging Leg Raise 2x15
(80 reps for lower body push, 68 reps for lower body pull, 30 reps for abdominal muscles)
A1. Bench Press 4x6
B1. Chin Ups (weighted if possible) 4x8
C1. DB Floor Press 3x10
C2. DB One Arm Row 3x10
D1. Tricep Push Down 3x12
D2. Cross Body Hammer Curls 3x10
D3. Ab wheel roll out 3x10
(54 for upper body push, 62 for upper body pull, 66 for arms-36 push, 30 pull, 30 reps for abdominal muscles).
Add in a third day for full body and you’re going to be able to hit close to 100 reps per week easily.
You might be thinking, ‘well, if I can easily hit 100 reps I might as well go for 200’. Hold on to your horses cowboy/cowgirl. Whilst having periods of training (called over-reaching periods) where you would go above a volume you could consistently handle, this isn’t something you can do all the time. Think of the law of diminishing returns. More is not necessarily always better, and if you’re always pushing a volume so high your chasing your tail to recover…the likelihood is you’ll be swapping your gym membership money for physio fees. To do this, you would increase volume over a number of weeks, say 8 for example, with week 9 dropping back down to where the volume started but an increase in weight on the bar/dumbbell/kettlebell etc.
Here is an 8 week training programme with double the volume at the end than at the start:
Week 1: 65 reps per movement pattern
Week 2: 70 reps per movement pattern
Week 3: 75 reps per movement pattern
Week 4: 80 reps per movement pattern
Week 5: 85 reps per movement pattern
Week 6: 90 reps per movement pattern
Week 7: 100 reps per movement pattern
Week 8: 110 reps per movement pattern
Week 9: 65 reps per movement pattern, heavier weight used compared to week 1.
Coming up next in this three part blog is training intensity, where we will discuss why its not just all about the quantity, but the quality too.
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