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Impact of training volume on muscle strength and hypertrophy

by P. Debraux | 28 January 2020

sport, fitness, resistance, training, science, volume, mass, hypertrophy, strength, muscle, sets

Gaining strength and muscle mass is the number one goal of most people who engage in resistance training. And, without doubt, this activity is certainly the most effective way to achieve these objectives. However, for the training to bear fruit and optimize the expected results, it is essential to manipulate different variables: the frequency, the volume, the intensity, the load, the rest between sets, the choice and the order of exercises, speed of execution, type of contraction and range of motion. In our previous article, we discussed the workouts frequency and new scientific research that shows a tendency to increase the frequency at which a muscle group can be worked for a better gain in muscle mass. However, if the frequency is an important variable, the volume of training is just as important.

The training volume is defined by the product of the number of sets, the number of repetitions and the external load. However, many studies measure the weekly training volume of a muscle group by the number of sets performed at failure, all the other variables being constant. Several literature reviews and some meta-analyzes show a dose-response relationship between training volume and muscle mass, the greater the volume, the greater the muscle hypertrophy. However, most of the studies carried out are done either with inexperienced practitioners, or with a relatively small number of sets (10 sets per week). Only a few studies have tested larger protocols (> 10 sets), on more advanced audiences. What are the results?

The Study

To answer this question, a team of Brazilian researchers compared three different weekly training volumes. For this, the authors recruited 27 resistance-trained students (experience ranging from 2 to 10 years) whose 1RM in squat was at least equal to 1.25 times their body mass and whose 1RM bench press was at least equal to 1 time their body mass. The participants were divided into 3 groups: G16 (n = 9), where the set number per muscle group was 16; G24 (n = 9), with 24 sets per muscle group; and G32 (n = 9), with 32 sets per muscle group. All groups performed the same program, only the number of series were different. The experimental protocol lasted 8 weeks.

The training program consisted of 2 different workouts, repeated 2 times a week. Thus, session A was performed on Monday and Thursday, and session B, Tuesday and Friday. The other days of the week were dedicated to rest. Each series was led to muscle failure with 8-10 RM, for all groups. The rest between sets was 60s and 2 minutes between exercises. The workouts were as follows:

  • Session A: bench press, Dumbbell flat fly, Cable triceps, parallel back squat, leg extension.
  • Session B: Lat pull-down, Dumbbell reverse fly, biceps curl, seated leg curl.

Before and after the 8 weeks of experimental protocol, the researchers evaluated for all the participants the maximum muscle strength and the muscle thickness via ultrasound. For maximum strength, 1RM back squat and 1RM bench press were evaluated. For muscle hypertrophy, the researchers used ultrasound to measure the muscle thickness of the elbow flexors (biceps brachialis, brachialis and brachoradialis), the triceps brachialis and the vastus lateralis. In addition to this, the researchers also more precisely evaluated the nutritional intake of the participants over 2 non-consecutive weekdays and 1 weekend day, and this, 3 times throughout the duration of the protocol. Finally, the researchers quantified for each group the total load lifted over the 8 weeks.

Results & Analyzes

The main results of this study show that all groups significantly increased their 1RM and their muscle hypertrophy during the 8 weeks of experimentation. However, the magnitude of increase in 1RM squat and in muscle thickness of the triceps brachialis and vastus lateralis was significantly greater for the group performing 32 sets compared to that performing 16 sets. No difference with the group which produced 24 sets. In terms of calories intake, the evaluations carried out did not show any differences either in terms of the total number of calories, or in terms of the distribution of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, lipid).

Regarding muscle strength, many studies do not observe an increase in strength on frequencies or training volumes that are too large. In this study, the authors observe that G32 participants saw the number of quadriceps series increase much more than the other two groups. Perhaps this new stimulus was responsible for this more pronounced increase in strength. Some researchers also speculate that when the volume is very large, it may take a longer period to observe an improvement in strength. However, this implies other problems that we will discuss a little below.

Regarding muscle hypertrophy, this study (and others before it) shows a graduated dose-response relationship with the volume. The more volume, the greater the hypertrophic response. In addition, the total load lifted was positively correlated to the training volume (G32> G24> G16). The higher gains observed in the triceps brachialis and the vastus lateralis could be linked to this greater work volume.

Practical Applications

This study shows that increasing the training volume, by increasing the number of weekly sets for the same muscle group, allows an increase in hypertrophy, in a dose-response manner (the larger the volume, the greater the hypertrophy). These large training volumes also make it possible to increase the strength of the upper and lower body but without much difference depending on the number of sets used, with the exception of the lower body for which the largest training volume allows significant gains compared to G16, but not G24… At first, it would therefore seem interesting to play on this variable to try to accentuate muscle gains.

However, this study and the others before it do not yet allow us to know in the long term what would be the impact of such training on neuromuscular fatigue and therefore on gains. As there are not so much studies yet, it is not clear whether there is an optimal volume or not. And if it exists, as for the other variables, it will surely show great variability as life, stress level, recovery capacity, motivation and many other factors will be unique to each one of us. In addition, by comparing the different studies on muscle volume, it is possible to realize that certain studies allow similar variation in hypertrophy for different volumes.

Regarding the practical side, a training where each muscle group would be trained on the basis of 32 sets per week isn't very realistic. In this protocol, one minute of rest between each series was allowed. It is little, very little, especially when you must do 8 sets of 8-10 until failure… Even if G32 has lifted the biggest overall load, the fact remains that the load chosen for these series is a specific 8-10 RM. Probably not the same if it was 4 sets with 2 minutes of rest between each sets. Especially since more and more studies show that the accumulation of metabolites is not directly linked to hypertrophy.

Finally, as always, this type of study lacks statistical power, since the number of participants is relatively low. The great variability of response of individuals to stimuli necessarily impacts the interpretation possibility and the understanding of the results. It is therefore of course advised to experiment, to test gradually using these data as a template.


  1. Brigatto FA, de Medeiros Lima LE, Germano MD, Aoki MS, Braz TV and Lopes CR. High resistance-training volume enhances muscle thickness in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res Article in Press.

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