Muscle Growth: Are Multiple Working Sets Necessary?

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Physical Performance
strength training
Man lifting weights

Strength training is a popular form of exercise that has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including increased muscle mass, improved bone density, and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. However, one of the key factors that can influence the effectiveness of strength training is the volume of training, which refers to the amount of sets, reps, and weight lifted in a given workout or training program.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at training volume for strength and explore the optimal amount of training needed to achieve maximal strength gains. We’ll also discuss the relationship between training volume and recovery, as well as the importance of proper programming and periodization in maximizing strength and minimizing the risk of injury. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, understanding the role of training volume in strength training can help you achieve your fitness goals and reach your full potential. So let’s dive in and explore the fascinating world of strength training volume!

What is training volume?

Training volume is a critical factor in determining the effectiveness of any strength training program. It refers to the amount of work performed in a given training session or program, and typically includes the number of sets, reps, and weight lifted for each exercise. The total training volume (tonnage) can be calculated by multiplying the number of sets, reps, and weight lifted for each exercise.

The training volume is a critical factor in determining the level of muscle activation and adaptation that occurs during a training session. Most studies have shown that slightly higher training volumes can lead to greater muscle activation, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and strength gains. However, it’s important to note that training volume must be balanced with proper recovery to avoid overtraining and injury, plus doing more sets doesn’t always equal more muscle growth and strength gains – meaning you can structurize your training in a more efficient way which allows you to get away with less overall volume and still experience great results.

There are different approaches to manipulating training volume depending on the specific goals of the training program. Typically, a higher training volume may be beneficial for muscle hypertrophy, while a lower training volume with heavier weights may be more effective for developing maximal strength. Additionally, periodization, which involves manipulating training volume and intensity over time, can be used to optimize results and prevent plateaus.

It’s important to note that training volume should be individualized based on the individual’s fitness level, goals, and recovery capacity. Beginners may benefit from lower training volumes with lighter weights to develop proper form and technique, while more advanced lifters may require higher volumes to continue making gains.

Overall, training volume is a critical factor in strength training and can greatly influence the results achieved. By understanding the principles of training volume and incorporating them into a well-designed training program, individuals can optimize their strength gains and achieve their fitness goals.

Let’s now move on to the interesting stuff, that is how to build more muscle with less weight!

How to build more muscle with less work?

If you’re familiar with my work, you are probably already aware of what I call “The Death Sets” which are single sets taken to multiple concentric, isometric and eccentric failure. This method allows one to kill a working muscle group in less than a minute. It’s a high-intensity and high-density training technique utilised to go through a workout in a more time-efficient manner. It all sounds all nice and fancy but what if you actually need to accumulate some volume as you’re not peaking ATM but rather focusing on building the foundations?

Well… Have you ever heard of my AMSAP method?

The original AMSAP method involves performing a lot of 5s with your ~10rm and 120s rest periods until you notice a power drop. Then you deload and move on to the next block where you increase the weight by 5% (counting from your 1rm) and reduce the reps by 1. Finally, you repeat the process with triples and you end up doing multiple triples with your previous 5-6rm. Some even went as far as completing over a dozen triples with their previous 85% 1rm.

Again, it all does sound nice and fancy but what if you don’t have the time to blast out 20 sets of bench press each workout and you really need to build up some volume before you jump straight into another peaking cycle?

You are not mistaken, I also have an answer to this question and it’s called Pre-Exhaustion Cluster Sets!

Pre-Exhaustion Cluster Set is a set taken to multiple concentric failure in a very short time. It allows you to both accumulate volume and achieve muscular failure more than once in a single set in a way allowing you to also build foundations for the further peaking cycle.

The Execution

  1. Pick a 10-12rm and aim for an AMRAP
  2. Rest 15-20 seconds and halve the reps
  3. Repeat the process until you fail to complete the desired number od repetitions

In practice, it could look like this:

  • 10 reps to failure
  • 15s rest
  • 5 reps
  • 15s rest
  • 5 reps
  • 15s rest
  • 5 reps
  • 15s rest
  • 4 reps to failure

Such an approach allows you to complete 29 repetitions in a single set. If you add up total rest time, you will end up with 60s of rest between a total of 5 sets. Then, assuming that each repetition takes 2 seconds to complete, you end up with around a minute of work (constant time under tension) and another minute of rest. That’s 29 repetitions, double muscular failure and many repetitions executed close to failure in just 120 seconds.

The method is essentially a single all-out set followed by a couple of back-off sets where instead of reducing the intensity, you reduce the volume (by decreasing the reps) and it’s all performed in incomplete recovery conditions which serves well for building up the metabolic stress which, in turn, facilitates hypertrophic adaptations.

Obviously, the article wouldn’t be complete without discussing possible variations of this method so here we go:

  • Perform the set as you would originally do and start decreasing the reps after you fail to complete the desired number of reps and carry on until you achieve complete concentric failure, e.g.: 10 reps, 15s rest, 5 reps, 15s rest, 5 reps, 15s rest, 5 reps, 15s rest, 4 reps, 15s rest, 2 reps, 15s rest, 1 rep, 15s rest, 1 rep, 15s rest
  • Achieve failure, rest for a bit longer and keep decreasing the repetitions by 1, e.g.: 6 reps, 30s rest, 5 reps, 30s rest, 4 reps, 30s rest, 3 reps, 30s… until you get to 1 rep
  • Execute the set as you would normally do and add partial repetitions until complete concentric failure as a burnout after failing to hit the desired number of reps, e.g.: 8 reps, 15s rest, 4 reps, 15s rest, 4 reps, 15s rest, 4 reps, 15s rest, partial reps until complete concentric failure
  • Perform 3 AMRAPs with very short rest periods, e.g. max reps, 15s rest, max reps, 15s rest, max reps. This technique is known as Rest-Pause AMRAP and I learnt it from Josh Bryant.
  • Aim for many AMRAPs with short rest-periods but decrease the weight in the following sets. This technique is known as Rest-Pause Drop and I also learnt it from Josh Bryant.

The techniques described above are high-density protocols that allow you to execute more work in less time and work well as mass builders. They are also very beneficial if you aim to increase your work capacity, general conditioning and most importantly if you want to learn how to keep pushing under fatigue which is indeed a safe way to teach athletes how to grind the weights without exposing them to a potential injury threat.

P.S. High-density training is something I learn from Josh Bryant. If you want to read about other things I also learnt from him, read this article.

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