Volume Standards (By Rich)

"Do as little as you can, for as long as you can"

SUMMARY 

  • This post is about the manipulation of total weekly volume 
  • We should be starting with relatively low training volume and gradually building it up over a 'cycle'
  • At the end of the 'cycle', our goal should be, in most cases, to 'maintain' muscle mass and strength with very low volume for several weeks before recommencing a 'cycle'.
  • This helps our muscle tissue 're-sensitise' for future growth
  • If we don't factor in maintenance phases, we will burn out, experience no gains, and potentially get injured

 

As a Physiotherapist, I often get a bit of stick for our professions prescription of '3 sets of 10' for almost any rehabilitative or athletic goal.  In fact, not only do we give out '3 sets of 10' for everything, we also recommend that you do it several times a day, every day (usually while brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea).  

Of course, this is a ridiculous and lazy approach (and we must do better).  

Today I offer you a summary of what I believe will become a seminal piece of work by Dr Mike Israetel.  Dr Israetel is a renowned American Sports Physiologist, and one that I have been following for many years.   This blog will delve in to how we should periodise our 'total sets' per body-part during rehabilitation and bodybuilding, and why, quite often, less is more. 

Body Part

Maintenance Volume

Minimum Effective Volume

Maximum Adaptive Volume

Maximum Recoverable Volume

Frequency (Per Week)

Ideal Rep Range

Abs

0

0

16-20

25+

3-5x

8-20

Back

8

10

14-22

25+

2-4x

6-20

Biceps

5

8

14-20

26+

2-6x

8-15

Triceps

4

6

10-14

18+

2-4x

6-15

Calves

6

8

12-16

20+

2-4x

15-25

Chest

8

10

12-20

22+

1.5-3x

8-12

Front Delts

0

0

6-8

12+

1-2x

6-10

Rear Delts

0

8

16-22

26+

2-6x

10-12

Glutes

0

0

4-12

16+

2-3x

8-12

Hamstrings

4

6

10-16

20+

2-3x

8-15

Quads

6

8

12-18

20+

1.5-3x

8-15

 

Let’s get a little more in to what each section means…

 MAINTENANCE VOLUME

Maintenance Volume is the number of sets that need to be performed, at appropriate intensities, per week, to maintain muscle mass and/or strength.  The maintenance volume for someone who has never trained before is naturally going to be zero.  As someone trains, their maintenance volume is likely to increase.  So, if someone has trained for two years, they will likely need around 6 sets minimum, per body part, to maintain muscle tissue. 

The inclusion of a maintenance volume phase is what we would probably refer to as ‘de-loading’ or ‘coasting’ – which admittedly, though incorrectly, does imply a level of blasé.  However, we can and most certainly should use Maintenance Volume phases with specific intent.   This is because they are there to re-sensitise our muscle to future strength gains and growth, and not just to have a rest and relax.  Putting a positive spin on significant and sudden reductions in training intensity is vital for patient or client adherence.

The appropriate use of Maintenance Volume phases should not be seen as a detractor from ‘gains’, but instead, should be seen as vital to long-term success in almost all athletic and rehabilitative endeavours.  Because it’s most likely physiologically impossible to maintain linear incremental improvements past a certain ‘training age’, we can’t continually ‘push on’ or ‘try harder’; we must take our time and go through pre-programmed ‘cycles’ of loading with pre-determined manipulations of intensities.  

Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The Romans were probably intuitively forced to have breaks from all of that building in order to perform at their best construction abilities.  What would have happened if they didn’t stop working and striving for architectural improvements?  They would have probably got injured, or, got to the point where they were so tired that they simply slowed down further and further until they came to an abrupt cessation of their joinery or electrical work.  Either or, Rome wasn’t built in a day...

MINIMUM EFFECTIVE VOLUME

The Minimum Effective Volume (MEV) is the lowest number of ‘working’ sets a client has to perform in order to elicit positive muscular adaptations.  This number differs greatly (as per the above table) depending on the muscles size and function.  

The interesting thing about the MEV is that this number will change over time as your ‘training age’ matures.  The issue here is that, without the strategic use of maintenance phases, the minimum effective volume will continue to rise and rise and may even surpass the ‘Maximum Recoverable Volume’ (which we will get to later), making it impossible to make hypertrophic and/or strength gains. 

This is why the aforementioned maintenance volume phases are so important.  They will re-sensitise the muscle, bringing down the MEV for the start of a new strength or hypertrophy phase.  If we continue to factor in maintenance phases, we continue to reduce the MEV, allowing for continued ‘gains’.  Below is a graph demonstrating how this works.   On the ‘Y’ axis we have the number of sets.  On the ‘X’ axis we have the training weeks.  As we can see, the MEV gradually increases up to week 12 as the body adapts to the progressive overload.  At weeks 13-16, a maintenance phase is used, whereby the athlete or patient reduces their weekly volume to just 6 sets (Maintenance Volume).  As we can see, the MEV reduces during this period.  On the commencement of week 17, when a new strength or hypertrophy phase is introduced, MEV will begin to rise again and continue to do so until a maintenance phase is incorporated.   THIS IS WHY MAINTENANCE PHASES ARE SO IMPORTANT! If a maintenance phase wasn’t used here, the MEV would continue to rise until it hit the Maximum Recoverable Volume limit, and therefore, no further ‘gains’ could be made.

personal training preston

MAXIMUM ADAPTIVE VOLUME

The Maximum Adaptive Volume (MAV) can be considered more of a ‘range’, and it usually lies roughly in the middle of your MEV and MRV.  It is where we most likely generate the biggest adaptation in terms of muscle growth. If we refer to the table above, and use the Pectorals as an example, this would mean that our MEV is 10sets, MRV 22 sets, and therefore, the MAV would be approximately 16 sets. 

So let’s start at 16 sets, right?

Actually, no, probably not.  Let’s say we want to start getting the best ‘gains’ straight away and so we opt for 16 sets.  We know that our body is a continually adapting system and that we require a progressive overload to create hypertrophic chnges.  This means that the week after our 16 set week, we no longer get the same adaptations to 16 sets, and therefore require 17 sets to improve.  At this rate we are going to hit that MRV of 22 sets quite quickly aren’t we?  Once we hit 22, we don’t really have anywhere else to go. We will be forced to de-load, enter a maintenance phase for a little while, re-sensitise for future growth, and then start again and build back up.

Instead, we want to start close to our MEV – i.e. with 10 or 11 sets over the course of a week, and then add a set or two every week until we hit our MRV of 22 sets.   That is going to get us a solid 12 weeks of growth.  An additional positive of this approach is that we spend more time in a ‘functional over-reaching’ phase.   As we approach our MRV, let’s say a few sets away, we are beginning to over-reach.  We know that in the short-term this will produce a super-compensation and we will likely experience our best gains.  By taking it slowly, we can actually generate better outcomes.

MAXIMUM RECOVERABLE VOLUME

Our Maximum Recoverable Volume (MAV) is, you guessed it, the number of sets we can no longer recover from.  Training hard is awesome, training harder than you can recover from means no gains.

As noted above, our goal with a training cycle should be hit to the MRV in the final week in order to functionally over-reach.  A very short-term over-reaching will facilitate excellent results.  Doing this consistently wont. 

The MRV tends to be stationary in advanced trainers, but in inexperienced lifters MRV may increase over time.   This is where monitoring of sessions is key.   We need to watch for sleep issues, irritability, reduced performance, a feeling of chronic fatigue, and other symptoms of over-training, in order to establish an MRV. 

APPLICATIONS OF VOLUME STANDARDS

Below we have a graph demonstrating adaptations of MV,MEV,MAV and MRV over a 12 week training cycle.  As we can see, at week 9 the MAV hits the MRV of 20 sets, and therefore this client would need to de-load and enter a maintenance phase. 

 

Adapting MV,MEV,MAV,MRV

Some clients will have higher or lower MV, MEV, MAV and MRV than the average.  This is simply a case of continually monitoring performance and subjective feedback such as sleep, fatigue and irritability. 

If a client hits 22 weekly sets for the Pectorals and their performance is improving still, they feel fresh, and are sleeping well, it’s likely their MRV is actually higher than 22.  On the flip side, if they hit 16 and they’re struggling, their MRV is likely significantly lower than the average, and exercise prescription will need to be adapted. 

It is probably wise in most cases, with most clients, to assume the above mentioned MV and MRV standards are true to begin with until proven otherwise.