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Since you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the term “overtraining.”
We’ll get to what overtraining means and how to avoid it in just a bit. But since you are familiar with the term, I’m assuming you’re not a complete beginner in the gym.
In fact, if you’re worried about overtraining or avoiding burnout, I’d bet money you lift hard on a fairly consistent basis (or at least think you do).
And to me, if you’re gonna put that much effort into your training, you don’t want to be dicking around wasting time with a sub-optimal approach.
SO. That’s exactly what this article is going to show you: how to maximize your time in the gym and lift as hard as possible without working out too hard or harder than necessary. Both can be detrimental to making the quickest gains.
You see, most gym bros will walk into the gym each day⏤heavy metal blaring, wearing their favorite cutoff, and this I-just-killed-my-puppy-for-fun-type look on their face⏤and lift as hard as possible with absolutely no logic behind why they’re doing what they’re doing.
They linearly associate progress with effort. Which is wrong.
Hopefully, you’re not one of these gym bros. And if you are, you should reconsider your methods at the gym (and, possibly, your entire life).
But if we want to build muscle as quickly as possible, we need to know how to build muscle in the first place (don’t worry, I’ll keep it short).
WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS: HOW DO YOU BUILD MUSCLE?
There have been three mechanisms in the body proposed to cause muscle growth:
1. Mechanical tension
2. Metabolic stress
3. Muscular damage
However, more current research has came out and experts are admitting the data is pointing towards mechanical tension being the primary driver of muscle growth. The others seem to be inter-related, kinda looking like this:
Okay, cool. We know mechanical tension is (probably) the primary driver of building muscle.
But what does “mechanical tension” even mean?
If you want an extensive answer from a smart guy, click this.
If you want my one-sentence, oversimplified answer that applies to this article, it goes something like this: Mechanical tension is the amount of force placed on your muscle fibers when lifting weights.
Simple enough? Good.
Since increasing mechanical tension is what we’re aiming for, the next question we ask is: how do we measure it, practically?
SO, HOW DO YOU PRACTICALLY MEASURE MUSCLE GROWTH?
We can’t measure mechanical tension without a research lab, so the most practical way is by measuring our “training volume” over time.
“It’s well-understood that higher training volume generally means more hypertrophy. However, defining and measuring training volume isn’t quite as straightforward as we’d like it to be. There are several different ways to measure training volume, including volume load, relative volume, “effective reps,” time under tension, and number of hard sets. All of them have their strengths, but they also have drawbacks.” – Greg Nuckols
Research from the Swole Godz Scientist, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, has shown training volume to (probably) be the primary driver of muscle growth (i.e., hypertrophy), so it makes sense that we need to focus most of our attention here.
Again, to keep things simple, we’re going to measure training volume in this article as the total number of working sets per week per muscle group.
“Working sets” are defined by Swole Godz Scientist #2, Mike Israetel, PhD, as the following assumptions:
a.) Between 60%1RM (1 rep max) and 80%1RM on average
b.) Between 8 reps per set and 20 reps per set on average
c.) Between 4 reps and 1 rep away from concentric muscular failure
QUICK RECAP: Muscles grow primarily through mechanical tension. We measure mechanical tension by measuring our training volume, which has been shown to be the main driver of muscle growth. Training volume, in this article, is determined by measuring our total number of working sets per week per muscle group. Alright, let’s keep it moving.
THE REASON WHY “MORE IS BETTER” DOESN’T WORK AND THE CULPRIT TO EXPONENTIAL GAINS
We now know we should be trying to increase training volume over time in order to continually grow muscle mass. Which makes sense, because we need to give the muscles a stimulus to grow and adapt.
So I’m saying more is better, right? The aforementioned idiots who work out as hard as possible all the time weren’t so stupid after all?!
There’s one missing variable to the whole “more is better” mentality when it comes to just lifting harder to make progress — fatigue.
To keep it simple: When you lift, you accumulate fatigue.
So the correlation between volume and progress looks like this:
You can’t just keep lifting harder and harder expecting to make gainz because you’ll accumulate too much fatigue.
Peep back up at that graph and take note of the yellow and red dots. Doing more and more volume produces effective training outcomes UNTIL you start to reach these areas; there are diminishing returns and progress will actually decline if not managed, i.e., overtraining.
You may have heard some people claim “there’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-eating/under-recovering.” Yeah, well, they’re wrong.
Overtraining, while hard for most people to reach, is still very real. And honestly, avoiding overtraining shouldn’t even be the goal for most. The goal should be to workout as effectively and efficiently as possible, while reducing risk of injury.
And the best way to do that is by managing your training volume and your fatigue.
So, let’s begin to wrap this up by giving some recommendations on how to do exactly that.
HOW MANY WORKING SETS SHOULD YOU DO FOR [INSERT BODY PART] PER WEEK FOR MAXIMUM MUSCLE GROWTH?
To answer this, you need to be familiar with 4 terms.
Explaining each of these terms can take an entire article by themselves, so I’m just gonna tell you what you need to focus on for maximum growth and avoiding overtraining.
You want to stay between your minimum effective volume (MEV) and your maximum recoverable volume (MRV), which is going to be a range of volumes to make your best gains (i.e., your maximum adaptive volume (MAV)).
On average, research has shown a minimum of 10 working sets per week per muscle group as a good starting point.
However, muscle groups can vary on how many sets per week are “optimal” for growth.
Lucky for us, Steve Hall from Revive Stronger has created this beautiful graphic via his Instagram:
Before you get completely overwhelmed, let’s narrow things down a touch and focus on ONE muscle group: chest.
Maintenance Volume (MV) = 8 sets per week
Minimum Effective Volume = 10-12 sets per week
Maximum Adaptive Volume = 12-20 sets per week
Maximum Recoverable Volume = 22+ sets per week
BOOM. For most trained individuals, 12-20 sets per week for chest is going to be the sweet spot for muscle growth.
Before you get all excited and think you’re gonna crank up your gainz by jumping to 20 sets per week, let’s remember the wise words of Natty Overlord Eric Helms, PhD:
“Do enough to progress, not as much as possible. Increase when plateaued if you are recovering well.” – Eric Helms, PhD
For example, what he means here is why would you do 16 sets per week when you only need to do 12 to grow? You’re only increasing risk of injury and setting yourself up for poor long-term growth.
Here’s one example to make it more practical:
Week 1: 12 sets of chest
Week 2: 14 sets
Week 3: 16 sets
Week 4: 18 sets
Week 5: 20 sets
Week 6: 6 sets (deload)
All you’re doing is working through that range of your maximum adaptive volume and taking note of how you’re recovering.
If you’re recovering well, keep pushing it. If you’re feeling sluggish, unmotivated, and the weights are feeling much heavier than the week before, you may need to scale it back a notch.
For my online coaching clients, I implement all of these methods so they never have to worry about calculating a thing. They walk into the gym with a crystal clear plan so they all have to focus on is executing. Then, I’ll make sure to include a deload every 4-6 weeks or so to ensure proper recovery and keep them in pristine condition.
All this deload does is manage that fatigue and allow a break to your joints, tendons, etc.
After the deload, just rinse-and-repeat within that maximum adaptive volume range and aim to get stronger within the 8-12 rep range over time.
Obviously there’s tons of more variables (intensity, frequency, reps, etc.) that goes into making your own workout plan, so this article will help you do that.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER (THE PART EVERYONE WILL SKIP TO)
YAY. You made it to the end (or you just skipped down here, you lazy SOB).
Let’s wrap this up, shall we?
Muscles grow primarily through mechanical tension. We measure mechanical tension by measuring our training volume, which has been shown to be the main driver of muscle growth. Training volume, in this article, is determined by measuring our total number of working sets per week per muscle group. Each muscle group will have it’s own “maximum adaptive volume” (MAV) range to work with, but 10 working sets per week per muscle group is a good starting point for most trained individuals. As you feel recovered and/or if progress has plateaued, you can increase sets per week. Once you feel fatigued has accumulated after several weeks, through subjective and/or objective measures, it could be a good idea to deload to reduce fatigue and set you up for future growth. After the deload, continue to rinse-and-repeat the process of working through your MAV.
Shew. Glad we’re done, but hope you learned something. And more importantly, I hope you implement what you learned to make 2019 your best year of gainz yet.
If you’re looking for a handsome coach to work with you to reach your individualized goals and make you finally demand the best in yourself: click this to apply.
If you’re looking for a free training program, check out my digital workout manual: Ultimate Physique Development.
If you have a question on the above or just wanna say hi, send me a DM on Instagram or send me an email. I love talking with my readers.
And if you’re looking for a funny 1-minute video of my favorite comedian imitating Eminem, watch below.
K, cya next time.