Updated: May 8, 2020
There’s a lot of confusion relevant to the amount of reps and sets required for resistance training. A large number of gym-goers tend to follow the tried and true three sets of ten reps, but is this the most efficient way?
The first thing that you need to address is what you are training for, are you looking to emphasize strength? Or Hypertrophy? You might even be preparing for athletic performance. No matter the case, all three require different amounts of volume.
Volume is a measurement of the total weight lifted in one session and you can figure out that by applying the equation of: sets x reps x weight (that you use in each exercise). So let’s say you perform 4 sets of 10 reps of 100 kg deadlift right? Then you have performed 40 reps of 100 kg for a total volume of 4,000 kg.
If you compare that to 4 sets of 5 reps at 200 kg (total volume of 4,000 kg), you would see that while performing lower reps, you were, in fact, lifting the same amount of weight when it comes to volume.
However, it is not the same if you do an exercise at 40% of 1 rep max as the weight won’t challenge the muscle enough.
If the volume goes down, you are unlikely to receive any hypertrophic gains as the muscles won't be working as hard, and won't be reaching muscular fatigue.
Especially if you are a newbie, you most probably don’t know what your 1 rep max is, so I would say trying to reach failure at each working set would be a great target for reaching an 80% of your 1 rep max (e.g if you are about to perform 12 reps I would say to feel the burn on your last 3 repetitions of every set)
Other factors to consider regarding total volume.
Levels of stress in your daily life
Whether you are in a calorie deficit (eating less than you burn) or surplus (eating more than you burn)
If you are suffering from over-training
If your results have stalled
Ways To Increase Your Total Volume:
More weight at the same sets as you did on your last workout! If you did chest press at 3 x 10 with 60 kg (= 1800), on your next workout perform 3 x 10 with 65 kg (= 1950).
More repetitions at the same weight you did on your last workout! 3 x 10 with 60 kg (= 1800) vs 3 x 12 with 60 kg (= 2160).
More sets per workout! 3 x 10 with 60 kg (= 1800) vs. 4 x 10 with 60 kg (= 2400)
Tracking Total Volume
In general, we expect volume to increase over time, especially for beginners. However, it is not necessary to increase the volume in EVERY single workout, but in long-term you should seek for an increase.
Your training programme should be personalised and not a random programme as it seems to have better results when you follow personalised programmes that were successful on YOU.
Of course guidelines and standard protocols are helpful on the structure of your programmes and your coach should use them, but when it comes to action, you should both discuss what works best for the client in order to achieve progress and the desired outcome!
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