Throughout the history of bodybuilding and physique sports, there has been a long-standing debate over the best way to train for the most muscular physique. There have been new names, slogans, and advocates along the way, but it all boils down to the battle between high volume vs. low volume training. Similar to the way your preferences in clothes or cars says something about you as a person, your training choices say a lot about you as an athlete. But which is the best way to build muscle?

If You’re a High Volume Person:

You like your Gymshark and Alphalete apparel, you watch old Jay Cutler Videos to get amped before you train, and you like to drive as much blood into the muscle as possible for a crazy pump. You love to train so you stay at the gym for a few hours a day using intensifying techniques, dropsets, supersets, or anything you can to keep the pump. 

If You’re a Low Volume Person (HIT or High Intensity Training):

You still wear that tattered old beater to the gym and you go into the weight room to punish the iron. You grew up on Dorian Yates Blood and Guts videos and you like to push each set until your face is purple and your body is shaking like a religious experience or a demon possession. You’re in and out of the gym in an hour max, your logbook is filled out, and you have an exact plan for next time you set foot in the gym.

So, What’s the difference?

Now, obviously everyone is different and those stereotypes are just for fun! However, there is some truth behind it! Your training style has a lot to do with your personality and at the end of the day, if you don’t love training you won’t stick to it long-term and you will not see the results you want. However, the question is which is the more effective way to train?

Should we give away the answer now? Okay, fine. The answer is: Either. But under specific circumstances. Both can be very effective if certain criteria are met.

But let’s back up for a minute and talk about the general philosophies behind high and low volume training, and then we’ll talk about optimal training for you. 

High Volume Training:

The typical high volume training recommendation is 4 exercises for 4 sets each, in a higher rep range of let’s say 12. We’ve seen that in just about every bodybuilding magazine or article on the internet for the past 20 years. But those articles tend to leave out some details. Are all of those sets true working sets to failure? Probably not. 16 true working sets in one training session would be next to impossible to recover from. Not to mention, when you’re executing that much work during one training session, you will become fatigued and many of these sets will be done in a weak, fatigued state, making many of them less and less productive in eliciting growth. Instead, they only dig you into a deeper recovery hole. As volume increases through reps and sets, intensity eventually suffers. However, the conversation usually shifts to time under tension and muscle volumization, which ends up justifying the approach. 

Low Volume Training:

The traditional HIT training program calls for around 4 exercises with 1 all-out working set for each. Now, if you only train each muscle group once per week, that’s only 4 sets weekly, which in most cases is not enough to maximize your growth response. This method traditionally rests its laurels on progressive overload, tracking your weights and going heavier and heavier each week, raising your training volume via load over time. This isn’t necessarily sustainable long term. 

The REAL Answer

The real answer to this question is the right amount of volume for YOU will work best. That’s not a cop out. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter which camp you fall into, because the thing that matters most is: can you recover well from X number of working sets? If you can, then you are safe to continue doing X amount of volume or more. If you aren’t recovering well, you either need to improve your nutrition or back off the training volume. Many industry experts tend to agree that anywhere between 8-12 working sets per week is the sweet spot that balances volume intensity to give you the most muscle recruitment possible while minimizing unnecessary, superfluous volume. This may mean you need to split your volume up into multiple training sessions per week. 

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