How to determine your training volume (in 3 steps)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  MAY 2, 2023

We’ve all come across general recommendations for training volume, which can be a good starting point.

However, determining your ideal volume is a different matter and isn’t nearly as simple. To that end, this week’s newsletter covers the steps you should take to optimize your volume.

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s First Go Over Some Guidelines

Before diving into the process of determining your ideal training volume, it’s good to have an idea of what the guidelines are and where you might want to start.

These are simple enough:

  • 10 to 16 weekly sets for major muscle groups (chest, back, quads, etc.)
  • 6 to 10 weekly sets for smaller muscles (biceps, triceps, etc.)

Some sources recommend more or less volume of optimal results, but these are some general guidelines that work well enough for the average trainee.

How to Determine Your Ideal Volume For Growth

The best thing you can do is to start with less volume, see how your body responds, and adjust from there. For example, if you’re building a new training plan, begin with 10 weekly sets for the major muscle groups and 6 for the smaller ones.

Following each workout, pay attention to the following:

  • Fatigue - how tired do you feel after working out? Does it feel like you’ve done enough productive work, or do you feel fresh and able to complete another workout right away?
  • Muscle soreness - do you experience any soreness after 36 to 48 hours in the muscles you’ve trained?
  • Recovery - can you recover on time and feel prepared to tackle the next scheduled workout?
  • Performance - does your performance stay consistent throughout your sessions, or do you see a huge drop-off close to the end of your workouts?
  • Progress - can you progressively overload at a reasonable pace, or do you feel like you’re stuck in the same place for weeks?
  • Muscle pump - do you get decent muscle pumps, or does it feel like you need more sets for certain muscles to get a pump?
  • Muscle activation - can you feel the correct muscles activating on each rep, or do you feel like you’re not doing enough sets to establish a mind-muscle connection?

You can write that information down for reference. Given the data you collect, add some volume (1 to 2 training sets per muscle group, per week maximum) if:

  • You barely get any soreness, especially if you only train a muscle group once weekly and haven’t followed that training plan for too long
  • You struggle to get a good pump or establish a good mind-muscle connection
  • Your performance doesn’t seem to take a hit; it mostly stays the same from start to finish
  • Your sessions simply feel too easy and like they aren’t doing much for you; remember: your workouts need to make you uncomfortable to bring results

The Value of Doing the Bare Minimum

Most people are eager to jump straight into a high-volume training plan because they think doing so would lead to better results. However, there is certainly an argument to be made for doing the bare minimum instead:

  • You have room to increase your volume when you inevitably plateau
  • Easing into a training program limits the initial muscle soreness
  • You might be at a lower risk of an acute or chronic injury
  • You might end up surprised just how little training you can do and still progress
  • You won’t have to backpedal because you’ve overextended yourself and have felt overwhelmed

Plus, you might end up with similar results from less work. Who doesn’t want that?

What You Need to Take Care of Before Worrying About ‘Ideal’ Volume

Before wrapping up this week’s newsletter, it’s important to briefly discuss a few things you should check off before wondering if you’re doing the ‘ideal’ number of weekly sets:

  • Proper form and muscle activation - you must do each rep with proper technique and a steady tempo, ensuring that the correct muscles work
  • Effort - it’s generally best to train within one to three reps of failure to cause a strong disruption and promote growth
  • The correct intensity - do most of your sets in the 6 to 30 repetition range to create the necessary stimulus without accumulating a bunch of junk volume (where you have to do a lot of fatigue-generating reps before your set causes a disruption)
  • Good frequency - it’s generally best to train each muscle group two to three times per week to split your training volume into manageable bites and not generate excessive fatigue in any given workout

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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