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What is the effect of increasing training volume on muscular size, strength and endurance?

Summary

  • A 2018 study investigated the impact of low-, moderate-, and high-volume weight training on muscular size, strength, and endurance in males with previous training experience1
  • The repetition range was 8 to 121
  • Training volume was defined as repetitions x sets1
  • Results: All training groups demonstrated an improvement in strength and endurance, with no between-group differences. However, the high-volume group demonstrated significantly greater gains in muscular size1

Introduction

Published in 2018 in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the study evaluated the effects of low-, moderate-, and high-volume training on muscular size, strength, and upper-body endurance in men with previous weight training experience. Led by Brad J Schoenfeld of Lehman College, City University New York, the team of researchers hypothesized that there would be an incremental increase in muscular size and strength with low-, moderate-, and high-volume weight training.1

What did the researchers do?

The researchers randomly assigned 34 males with previous experience of resistance training to one of three training programs:1

  1. Low volume (one set per exercise per training session; n=11)
  2. Moderate volume (three sets per exercise per training session; n=12)
  3. High volume (five sets per exercise per training session; n=11)

Training volume was defined as the number of repetitions times the number of sets. Each training program was eight weeks long and consisted of three training sessions per week, performed on non-consecutive days, with a repetition range of 8 to 12, a resting period between sets of 90 seconds, and a resting period between exercises of up to 120 seconds.1

The researchers assessed the changes in muscular size, strength, and upper-body endurance by using the following methodologies.1

  • Size: B-mode ultrasonography (a type of ultrasound imaging) at the biceps, triceps, mid-thigh, and lateral thigh
  • Strength: the difference in one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the squat and bench press before vs after the study
  • Upper-body endurance: the number of repetitions of the bench press to be performed in proper form at 50% of each participant’s 1RM

What were the researchers’ findings?

All of the training programs—low, moderate and high volume—were associated with increases in muscular strength, with no significant differences being observed between the different groups. The same was seen for gains in muscular endurance, with similar improvements regardless of training volume.1

However, increasing training volume was associated with greater gains in muscular size. Significant between-group differences were observed at the biceps, mid-thigh and lateral thigh, though not at the triceps.1

What does all this mean?

Experienced male gym-goers who train three times a week on non-consecutive days for eight weeks using a repetition range of 8 to 12 and a between-set resting period of 90 seconds:1

  • Could achieve greater increases in muscular size with higher-volume vs lower-volume training
  • Are not guaranteed greater increases in muscular strength and endurance with higher-volume vs lower-volume training

The results of this study support the well-known rule in the strength and conditioning community that training in the 6 to 12 repetition range, performing 3 to 6 sets per exercise, and overloading muscle groups two or more times a week is optimal for muscular hypertrophy.2

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References

  1. Schoenfeld BK et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(1):94–103.
  2. Haff GG, Triplett NT, editors. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition. Illinois (USA): Human Kinetics; 2015. 752 pp.

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