Optimal Training Volume Made Simple

“Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them.” Lee Haney

Determining optimal training volume is not a straight forward proposition. There is no one size fits all solution. I will simplify the process and provide some parameters, but you will have to discover what is optimal for YOU. Scientific studies should guide our training, but ultimately, we must decide what works best for us through trial and error. The primary factor to consider is your ability to recover.

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Strength Training Intensity – How Much is Optimal

The latest issue of Muscle & Fiction and all the High-Intensity zealots would have you believe that if you don’t take a set to absolute muscular failure, you are wasting your time. That just isn’t true. On an effective strength training program for the natural lifter, most sets should stop 1 or 2 repetitions short of failure. We should avoid going to failure on all but the last set of each exercise. A simple, yet effective way to evaluate your rating of perceived exertion (RPE), is using this table developed by respected strength coach and competitive powerlifter Mike Tuchscherer.

RPE Scale (lifting)

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Rest Between Set – What You Need to Know

Forget those 1-minute rest intervals in the muscle magazines. Your performance from set to set will decline quickly. Short rest intervals and training to failure repeatedly will increase human growth hormone levels, but I have not found any studies that correlate it with long-term increases in muscle mass. I have found studies that have concluded just the opposite. [i] [ii]Countless studies have demonstrated that progressive overload is the key to muscle and strength gains.

If you want to build strength and muscle, it is best done naturally by resting 3 to 5 minutes between working sets. The only time I recommend one-minute rest intervals are between low-intensity warm-up sets.  A study conducted by the Kennesaw State University found that subjects that rested 2.5 minutes between sets made substantially greater gains in muscle mass than the subject that only rested 1-minute between sets.[iii]

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Training to Failure doesn’t Trigger Muscle Growth, Progressive Overload does!

Countless studies have demonstrated that progressive overload is the key to muscle and strength gains.  Going to failure too soon in your workout will hurt your performance, and undercut your total workout volume. We want to maximize our performance during each workout. We do this by stopping short of failure on all but the last set of each exercise. Your maximum effort should be given to the last set of the last exercise for any given body part. Continue reading “Training to Failure doesn’t Trigger Muscle Growth, Progressive Overload does!”

Building Muscle and Strength Made Simple – The 3 to 5 Program

deadlift pexels-photo-277832

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One of the simplest program designs I have come across is the 3 to 5 Strength Building Plan. I found it in Kettlebell Rx by Jeff Martone. Perform 3 to 5 weekly strength training workouts. Perform 3 to 5 basic exercises in a circuit. Perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise. Perform 3 to 5 controlled repetitions per set, stopping one or two reps short of failure. Rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets and shake out the tension in the muscles. It’s as simple as it is effective. Probably better than 95% of the programs you’ll find in the current Muscle and Fiction magazines. Continue reading “Building Muscle and Strength Made Simple – The 3 to 5 Program”