Body Composition Training 101: Volume

Volume: Amount of work performed during a training session. The total amount of weight lifted, the total amount of time under tension. The number of exercises and sets performed in a training session.

Volume Recommendations: 3-5 exercises for large muscle groups, 2-3 exercises for small muscle groups. 2-4 sets per exercise.

Enough TALK about how often or how long we should work out. I’m beginning to feel like a body “talker” or body “philosopher” instead of a body “builder” or body “sculptor”. Its time to dive into the heart of it all and figure out what we should actually be DOING at the gym for optimal physique development.


My wife is always complaining that I turn up the volume too loud on the TV. Hey, I need to hear the dialogue after all of those gunfights, explosions, sex scenes, and fart jokes. Sex, violence, and immature humor, what can I say? I’m a product of contemporary American society. As the old-school rockers used to say, if it’s too loud (or there is too much volume), you are too old!

Training for physique development requires a certain amount of training volume. That’s just the bottom line. You have to stimulate each muscle group, and force it to spend a certain amount of time under tension in order for visual development to take place. That’s not just me talking, that’s the science of human and exercise physiology.

Instead of diving into the beautiful and entertaining, yet educational prose you’ve come to know and love here, I’ve decided to rip this article off with just the facts. I’m sorry to all of my fans. The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be (stolen from Bret Hart), will be back in another installment.

By now, I hope you know me well enough to know that I’m only kidding. There are people out there who are way, way, way smarter and more talented than I am. All I am trying to do is take the research I’ve compiled from various sources, along with practical experience from competing in natural bodybuilding and working ten years as a personal trainer, and narrow it down into a plan that you can follow in the real world to get optimal physique enhancement results.

In other words, my goal is to merge the lab with the gym.

Just so you know I’m not making all of this stuff up, here’s some of the science behind training volume recommendations for physique development.


“Single set training may be appropriate for untrained individuals or during the first several months of training, but many studies indicate that higher volumes are necessary to promote further gains in strength, especially for intermediate and advanced resistance-trained athletes” (NSCA via J Strength Cond, J Appl Sport Sci)

“The musculoskeletal system will eventually adapt to the stimulus of one set to failure and require the added stimulus of multiple sets for continued strength gains.” (NSCA via Designing Resistance Training Programs, Human Kinetics)

“It is generally accepted that higher training volumes are associated with increases in muscular size. This is the result of both a moderate to higher number of repetitions per set and the commonly recommended three to six sets per exercise.” (NSCA via J Strength Cond, The Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine: Strength and Power in Sport.)

“Although research studies usually only focus on one or two exercises (total or per muscle group), empirical observations, interviews with elite bodybuilders, and more exhaustive prescriptive guidelines suggest that performing three or more exercises per muscle group is the most effective strategy for increasing muscle size.” (NSCA via Strength Cond, Designing Resistance Training Programs, Phys Ther Pract.)

“Resistance training is the best natural stimulus for muscular growth. Many weight training programs have been developed over the years in an attempt to modify and manipulate this natural process, each with varying degrees of success. The truth is, the success of a program is often determined by its ability to elicit a specific hormonal response, and little else.” (ISSA)

“Independently or in various combinations, several exercise variables can increase serum tesosterone concentrations in boys and younger men:

  • Large muscle group exercises
  • Heavy resistance (5-10RM)
  • Moderate to high volume of exercise, achieved with multiple sets, multiple exercises, or both.
  • Short rest intervals (30 seconds to 1 minute)
  • Two years or more of resistance training experience”

(NSCA via Med Sci Sports Exerc, Can J Appl Physiol, Int J Sports Med)

“In a study designed to sort out the different variables related to GH (growth hormone) increases, Kraemer and colleagues found that serum increases in GH are differentially sensitive to the volume of exercise, the amount of rest between sets (less rest, higher GH), and the resistance used (10RM produces higher lactate values and higher GH responses). When the intensity used was 10RM (heavy resistance) with three sets of each exercise (high total work), and short (1-minute) rest periods, large increase were observed in serum GH concentrations.” (NSCA via J Appl Pysiol)

“Variation is even more important relative to resistance training. The skeletal muscles are many and varied, and they function in intricate patterns of cooperation and opposition. To make matters more complex, there are different muscle fiber types within the muscle which have different firing thresholds such that working a muscle does not necessarily mean working all of the fiber types that comprise the muscle.” (Hormonally Intelligent Exercise)


There’s not much I can add to the above data to convince you any further, other than that virtually every fitness athlete, model, bodybuilder, figure girl, or anyone whose primary goal is to look good that I know personally or have read about through various media outlets trains with a certain amount of volume. Quite simply, volume training, or multiples sets and exercises per body part, is the superior way to train for body composition change. This style of training maximizes lean muscular development, which of course, increases the metabolic rate. This in turn helps your body burn off more unwanted body fat, even at rest.

If you want to look good, then turn up the training volume so loud that you can’t hear the “experts” trying to sell you on a “cutting edge” system that promises that hyper-abbreviated workouts are enough to produce maximum physique development results.