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  • Writer's pictureDavid Esser

Ending the "High Volume vs Low Volume" Training Debate

The single most talked about training debate on social media these days:


High Volume Training vs Low Volume Training.


On one end of the spectrum you have gym goers who swear that you need to train seven days per week and three hours per day to achieve results.


On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Mike Mentzer disciples who claim you can achieve exceptional results training once or twice per week, taking every set to failure, and only spending 30ish minutes in the gym.


In reality, both of these parties are wrong.


Now before we dive into the nuances of volume and how it relates to muscle growth, it is crucial that we highlight two leading outlier groups. Beginners and genetic freaks.


If you're brand new to the gym and a complete beginner to strength training, you can kinda do whatever in the gym and achieve good results. (However I still recommend you start with a simple 5x5 program like the one you can download for free HERE).


If you're a genetic freak who has D1 offers from Alabama and Clemson, you can also kinda do whatever and achieve great results. You've been blessed by God with the ability to spawn in muscle and strength -- congrats!


For the rest of us, we have to be a little more intentional with our training styles.

 

Looking at the scientific literature surrounding training volume, it's all over the place and can be really difficult to determine what data is even valuable to consider. Most of these studies are done on complete beginners -- which as previously mentioned, is an outlier group that we should ignore when it comes to muscle growth.


In my personal opinion, Dr. Mike Israetel -- founder of Renaissance Periodization -- does the best job of explaining the importance of volume when it applies to muscle growth.


In his article "TRAINING VOLUME LANDMARKS FOR MUSCLE GROWTH," Dr. Israetel speaks about a "Minimum Effective Volume" and a "Maximum Recoverable Volume."


For each of us, there's going to be a minimum amount of training volume that we can do each week to maintain muscle or even make small improvements. On the other end of the spectrum, there's also going to be a maximum amount of training that we can perform before our recovery takes a hit. These numbers vary for each individual.


Anecdotally speaking, almost nobody reaches that "Maximum Recoverable Volume." Nobody "overtrains" these days despite what social media wants you to think. You'd be surprised at how much exercise your body can perform in a given week before you really start to break down.


With that in mind, most people end up falling around that MEV threshold or slightly above it. Sticking to your minimum effective volume and training 1-2 times per week with few working sets (like the low volume crowd suggests) is certainly a fine approach to exercise, but it's not the magic secret to muscle growth. All you're really doing is hanging out on the bottom end of the volume threshold and stacking up slow and steady gains.


Still, more is generally better when it comes to working out and exercise. That extra set of biceps curls will likely help your biceps grow more. That extra 10 minutes of cardio will burn more calories. It's not rocket science -- exercising a lot is generally good for you.


In conclusion, there are certainly people who are overdoing it in the gym with hours of cardio and junk volume, who would benefit from taking a step back and doing fewer, more focused sets. However, they are the minority. Most people who aren't getting great results would see better progress if they simply did more.


This doesn't mean you need to train everyday and do 2 hours of cardio, but increasing volume into the upper/middle range of the MEV-MRV spectrum would likely yield better results. This typically looks like training 3-6 times per week, doing regular cardio, and performing 10-25 working sets per session.


Again, anecdotally speaking, but I've never met someone who is in bad shape because they workout too much.


Practically speaking, if you want to be good anything, it's going to take a significant amount of time invested. If you were trying to improve your golf swing, you wouldn't play golf less out of fear that you were overworking your swinging muscles. You'd train those muscles more to improve and get better.


If you've been experimenting with a "low volume" approach to training and are experiencing good results, by all means keep going. But if you're currently struggling with your fitness goals and find yourself frustrated with a lack of progress, I'd start by evaluating just how much you're doing in the gym and if it is truly enough to promote exceptional change in the body.

 

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