Is Volume The Main Driver Of Hypertrophy?

It’s commonly known that increased volume can cause muscle hypertrophy, and this could happen until a certain point in the development of muscle mass.

Volume has been cited as the main driver of hypertrophy even though this is still seen as a controversial statement. The term “volume” is a broad term and can be used to refer to various different things.

Progressive overload is the main factor in reaching hypertrophy instead of volume. It helps maintain a steady increase in the size of the mechanical stimulus load that each set contributes to the development of muscle.

However, Progressive overload as a concept ties into the idea of volume. Let’s dive into volume and why it’s the main driver of hypertrophy.

What is Training Volume (Explained)

Training volume refers to the amount of weight that’s used per set, the number of reps that’s performed, and the total number of sets that’s completed during a workout.

To increase volume in your training you can increase either the number of sets, reps, or the amount of weight you are lifting.

When you are effectively training with progressive overload you aim to increase either the weight or the number of reps you are doing within your sets.

The real thing we are looking at when it comes to our training volume is going to be the amount of sets you are doing within each exercise. This is going to be the major determinant of what your volume will end up being for you.

From a practical stance, you should be looking at the number of working sets you are performing. This would exclude any warm-up sets you are performing before your working sets.

The Right Volume and Frequency for You

There will never be a clear answer on this as it comes down to the individual and their own training goals. For example, someone who is looking to just add muscle mass and improve their overall shape isn’t going to do as much as someone who is lifting on a competitive level.

Initially, an individual will experience a high amount of gains without doing a high amount of volume (5-10 sets).

There becomes a point where the amount of gains that an individual will experience will begin to level off and you see diminishing returns when you start doing too much volume. This point is called MEV or minimal effective volume.

You view this point as the minimum amount of volume you would perform to get the amount of gains you desire. The big idea is that this is the point where if you add more volume, you start to see diminishing returns on your gains.

If you are new to fitness this is where you want to aim to be in your training volume.

On the other side of things there comes a tipping point where if you start to do too much volume you will result in a loss of gains. This is called overtraining or overreaching. If you start doing more volume than your body can recover from you start to lose some of those initial gains.

That point right before you start to see gains go in the opposite direction is called MRV or maximum recoverable volume. This is the maximum amount of volume an individual can do and still recover from without beginning to overtrain.

Those at the elite level may look to play with that boundary of MRV to get that little extra amount of gains. For those who aren’t quite at that level, the MEV level is very effective for hypertrophy.

To put some numbers on that most people experience MEV at around 10 sets per body part per week before seeing diminishing returns. And the MRV point usually sits around 20 sets per body part per week.

If you are performing 10 sets per week for the chest you will do a good job of reaching most of your hypertrophic potential. And if you were to bump that up to 20 sets per week you would be essentially maxing out your potential.

This is highly general as some people can handle higher amounts of volume but most people want to be within that 10-20 sets per week range.

How to Track Volume For Each Body Part

In weightlifting, we often perform compound lifts that incorporate more than one body part. So how should we track volume for each body part?

“Body Part” is referred to:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Abs
  • Calves 

For example, when performing a squat you will be incorporating your quads and your glutes so you may count those sets towards both body parts.

And for these smaller muscle groups, you start to see a lot of cross-over work when working the larger ones. These muscle groups include:

  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Rear Delts
  • Side Delts

For example, when you are doing a bench press for the chest, your triceps will be getting a lot of indirect work. However, these movements aren’t going to give them a large amount of optimal growth.

You should implement some isolation work (4-8 sets) to optimize muscle growth for these muscle groups. However, you don’t need to do 10 sets on top of the 10 sets of compound work.

Front delts don’t need any isolation work because they will get plenty of work from the chest and shoulder exercises.

Are You Doing The Correct Amount Of Volume?

In terms of assessing your program and the amount of volume that works best for you, the question you should be asking yourself is, ” Am I getting stronger?”

If you are getting stronger that is a sign that you are building muscle and everything is going smoothly. There is no need to switch things up or add more volume.

If you start to plateau and your strength stops increasing, that may be a sign to add more volume.

Although volume is essential, it’s not the only factor that contributes to hypertrophy. Keep in mind that all of this is not applicable if you are not applying the appropriate amount of effort.

So if you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your training, consider all of the variables involved in each workout and how they can work together to help you achieve your goals.