If you love to train using heavy volume then you probably won’t like what I’m about to say. Here it is anyway:
Training volume isn’t as important as training time.
What do I mean? It takes time to build muscle and strength. You can’t rush progress.
Progression is the biggest factor that leads to muscle gains. Period. End of story. Close the book.
While there may (or will) be a time and place in your training where volume might help nudge progression forward a little, it rarely pushes progression a lot. Save the addition of volume for your intermediate years when you need a jump-start, or when you need to tackle a tough plateau.
Gains come quickly during your first few years of training. After that they naturally taper off.
During this initial period of rapid gains, progression on the basic, heavy compound lifts is most important. You can add extra volume if you’d like, but it really isn’t going to make that much of a difference when it comes to building muscle.
If you remain consistent, rarely miss workouts, eat properly, use a good selection of exercises and remain patient, you will gain without a volume-bloated program. I know because I’ve seen armies of lifters do so.
Young trainees often assume volume is the big secret. They hit the gym and grind out set after set, assured that the extra work is paying off. If they play by the rules, these lifters will make gains despite this training volume, not because of it.
If you took 90% of those who were successful on volume obsessed programs, and cut the volume back slightly, I guarantee they would experience the same results. Maybe even better results. Some of them would respond better to training that doesn’t involve crazy recovery demands.
Now one point I want to make clear – some trainees do respond better to extra volume. It was not my intention in writing this article to toss out blanket statements. Very few things in the lifting realm are black and white.
With that said, it makes more sense to start with a reasonable amount of volume and make training additions based on specific needs and body feedback. Starting out with too much volume has many potential downsides.
Your body is willing to grow right from the start. Why risk overtaxing it and decreasing performance, while also increasing recovery time?
As a beginner, you need time to improve exercise form. Hammering out an abundance of reps while your form remains sub-par only increases the risk of injury.
Lifting isn’t a sprint. You rarely find a 40-year-old trainee who says boy, I wish I would have added a lot more volume over the years. Most experienced lifters usually say the opposite:
Boy, I wish I would have cut back the volume a bit and trained smarter. My body would feel better.
Experienced lifters know 2 important things that beginning trainees do not:
- Time is magic, not volume. Gains always come to those that remain consistent.
- Beating your bones and muscles into a pulp really isn’t the goal, beginning lifters just think it is the goal.
Here are my take home tips:
- Slow down and be patient.
- Instead of adding volume, focus on maximizing every set.
- Get as strong as possible using conventional hypertrophy rep range instead of relying on training volume.
After your first several years in the gym, results slow down dramatically. The more muscle you add now, the harder it becomes to add muscle in the future. The rate of muscle growth decreases as your amount of muscle mass increases.
What you need at this point is simply more time.
Put your faith in time. It always yields results.
But, What About High Frequency Training?
But, I know a guy that squats 3x a week.
Guess what? I am that guy.
Don’t mistake frequency for volume. Training is about proper balance. When looking to build muscle, avoid extremes (except for the occasional short term plateau buster or specialization program).
Just because someone is training with a higher frequency doesn’t mean they are training with a crazy weekly volume. Does this make sense? I hope so.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, I encourage you to leave them below. I would enjoy hearing what you think, and learning about your experiences with high volume training.