Posted 2 weeks ago

More isn’t always better

Do you have a burning desire to have big glutes, jacked quads or massive shoulders? You may have thought that to do so, then it would make sense to work the area more, so it gets bigger, right? You might even think that if you aren’t sore the next day then the workout must have been poor?


When it comes to muscle growth, the one thing that many people fail to take into account is your muscles’ ability to recover from the work you’ve done in that session, and across the week. This is known as Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV). In layman’s terms, this refers to the most amount of sets you can complete, recover from, and repeat next time without losing strength in a given muscle group.

This principle forces us to monitor how many sets we do across the week for each muscle group and note the response. If you do this, you may find you’ll need a lot less sets during your session to see the addition of new muscle mass. This could also mean less total time in the gym, but also more energy to put into each set. Yes, I am advising you to assess and possibly reduce your training volume.

I should add that this lower volume approach will only work if you train to failure. By that, I mean training to the point where you know for certain that you simply cannot do another rep – or if you have a spotter, they’ve helped you on the last rep.

If you don’t train in this manner, then the low volume approach will not be the most suitable for you to see progress. But if you do, or if you are looking to try it out, then there are a few things I’d recommend doing with your training to ensure you can recover from the increased training intensity.

Reduce total number of sets
Have a look at how many sets you do per exercise. You might be doing 4-5 sets and be performing 8-10 reps on them all. I suggest you do between 2-3 sets maximum per exercise and have differing rep ranges, such as 6-8 and 10-12. This will allow for a slight reduction in weight for the 2nd or 3rd set but allow you to still attack it at your highest possible intensity.

Only count the working sets
Doing warm-up sets is great, as these get the body ready for the work that’s coming. But just because you did 6 reps with a lighter weight, doesn’t mean you should count that as a set!! You’ll not be able to go straight into your maximum load – of course, understand it’ll take time to build up to it! Therefore, warming up is important, but be mindful of the fact that these warmup sets shouldn’t be causing any sort of fatigue. Your first warm up set might be 8 reps, the second 4 and the last 1, with load increasing for each set. Only then will you be ready to smash your top set aka your first working set.

Increase 1-2 sets at a time
If you’ve applied this method of for a while and you’ve found that you are progressing nicely and recovering well, you might realise you can do more i.e. you’ve not reached your MRV. In this case, instead of getting excited and chucking the kitchen sink at it, I recommend you only add 1-2 sets in at a time across the week and note the response. If you find strength begins to decrease or stall, reduce volume immediately.

By following the tips above, you should be able to make the transition to a low volume training approach without compromising your physique development, and in fact, probably progressing it too. At the same time, you’ll be able to determine the minimum amount of sets you need across the week to see a muscle respond and grow as desired. Don’t be surprised if suddenly your training volume is quite low, but your strength has reached an all-time high.

In summary, more, is not always better – specifically, by following a lower volume approach to our training, we would actually find that less is better. To transition over to this style of training, be sure to reduce your total number of sets, only count the working ones, and when pushing for your MRV, only increase volume by 1-2 sets at a time.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons