- Main GoalBuild Muscle
- Workout TypeSplit
- Training LevelBeginner
- Program Duration8 weeks
- Days Per Week4
- Time Per Workout30-45 minutes
- Equipment RequiredBarbell, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
- Target Gender Male & Female
- Workout PDF Download Workout
When it comes to setting up a weight training routine there are three main factors that will ultimately determine its effectiveness and they're all interrelated.
Those three factors are weight training volume, frequency, and intensity.
Weight training volume refers to the amount of work you do, or the total sets and reps you perform.
Frequency refers to how many workouts you perform each week and how frequently you train each muscle group.
Finally, intensity refers to how heavy you're training and how hard you're working.
In my experience, most people starting a weight training routine train with far too much volume, not enough frequency, and not enough intensity.
Those experiences come from training clients who are shocked at how few exercises and sets I have them perform in their sessions when they were doing several hour long workouts.
With so much volume they were seeing little to no results. Now they are seeing twice the results in half the time.
To get the most muscle building results out of your weight training, most of your training time should be dedicated to the 6-12 rep range1.
Not just picking a random weight and performing 6-12 reps, but using a weight that truly makes it challenging to complete those 6-12 reps with good form.
In this article I want to help you understand all the factors of setting up a weight training workout routine.
The Optimal Training Volume Range
If you do too little you will never make any real progress. Likewise, if you do too much you're either not training intensely enough or simply running your body into the ground by doing more than you can recover from.
However, do an optimal amount of weight training volume and you will get great results and be able to continually make progress over time. But how do you know what volume is optimal? Everything you seem to read online or in the magazines tell a different story.
If you look closely, you will find that there is an optimal volume range. And that optimal volume range for weight training seems to be to perform somewhere between 40-70 reps per muscle group each workout you do.
I didn't just randomly pull that number out of thin air, it stems from reading and researching countless articles, books, and studies on weight training volume over the years, most notably the Wernbom study1. They all come to the same conclusion.
They may not recommend that specific range, but they're all pretty close. I also can back their finding from my own personal training experience and knowing that I make the best progress and results training in that volume range. If I do much more than the high end of that range, I will usually feel the fatigue from it the next time I train those muscle groups.
Popular programs may use different splits, schedules, and frequency but they all use similar volume.
Now that doesn't mean that if you do 39 or 71 reps for a muscle that all of your work will be for nothing and you will end up looking like you don't even lift. People do make progress training with more or less volume all the time. But staying in that 40-70 range will likely be the most beneficial to help you see results.
How Much Volume Is Best For You
That's a fairly large range from 40-70, and you may be wondering which end of the range to use. The truth is as long as you fall within the rep range, where you fall is only marginally important at best.
Choosing the amount of volume in that range depends most on how your training split is set up.
Someone doing three full body workouts per week is going to have a lot to get through in those workouts and may benefit from using the low end of the rep range. However, someone who trains six days a week and splits their workouts up more may be able to use the high end of the range.
It can also depend on your goals. Someone who is overweight and is more focused on fat loss could use the high end of the range to maximize how many calories they burn. A "hardgainer" who is underweight and has a hard time gaining muscle may use the low end of the range to get the muscle building stimulus without burning too much energy.
However, many trainees seem to get it wrong. Most individuals I know think they should up their training volume, sometimes to amounts far beyond what is optimal to maximize muscle growth. The problem is they end up burning more calories, which can be a serious problem if they already struggle to eat enough.
Likewise, many people looking to lose fat and maintain muscle often believe they need to reduce their training volume to avoid "burning muscle". Using higher amounts of volume though, as long as it isn’t excessive, can be very beneficial for fat loss.
How To Track Volume
To be fully aware of how much volume you're actually performing, you're going to need to track it. When tracking your weight training volume in your workouts, you have to be aware of what muscle groups are actually performing the "work" during an exercise.
Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and rows work multiple muscle groups in the body. A squat may work your quads, but it also works your hamstrings and lower back.
A bench press may be a chest exercise, but it also trains the shoulders and triceps. So when counting a bench press as volume for your chest, you also have to count it as volume towards your shoulders and triceps.
This is where isolation exercises like lateral raises or leg extensions can be a highly effective part of your routine to obtain volume for individual muscle groups without overworking other areas of the body.
If you’re using a push, pull, legs split and your typical push day involves bench press, incline dumbbell presses, and dips as part of your chest exercises, further training your shoulders with an exercise like lateral raises could be far too much volume for the shoulders.
You may want to consider either dropping your direct shoulder work or replacing one of your compound chest exercises with an isolation exercise like flies.
These are things you have to take into account when tracking your volume to make sure you're not overworking any particular muscle group and potentially hurting your overall progress.
Also, you have to be sure you're using proper form to train the muscles you're attempting to train. With poor form, something like a row that is supposed to train your back can easily turn into nothing more than a traps exercise.
The Optimized Volume Workout
Given those parameters, here is the workout plan that will optimize volume for someone training 4 days per week.
|1. Bench Press||4||6-8|
|2. Barbell Row||4||6-8|
|3. Incline Dumbbell Press||3||8-10|
|4. Lat Pulldown||3||8-10|
|5. Lateral Raise||3||10-12|
|6. Dumbbell Curl||3||10-12|
|7. Lying Tricep Extension||3||10-12|
|3. Leg Curl||3||10-12|
|4. Calf Raise||4||10-12|
|5. Cable Crunch||4||10-12|
|1. Overhead Press||4||6-8|
|3. Incline Dumbbell Press||3||8-10|
|4. Seated Row||3||8-10|
|5. Dumbbell Fly||3||10-12|
|6. Barbell Curl||3||10-12|
|7. Cable Tricep Pushdown||3||10-12|
|1. Romanian Deadlift||4||6-8|
|2. Leg Press||3||8-10|
|3. Leg Extension||3||8-10|
|4. Calf Raise||4||10-12|
|5. Cable Crunch||4||10-12|
The above weekly training split includes an optimal amount of volume for all the muscle groups of the upper and lower body while using proper training intensity and frequency. A routine like this, which also strictly adheres to using progressive loading, will lead to great progress for any lifter.
The bench press and incline dumbbell press hits the chest with somewhere between 48-62 reps per session. The barbell row and lat pulldown trains the entire back a total of 48-62 reps. The lateral raises, dumbbell curls, and tricep extensions trains the shoulders, biceps, and triceps respectively for 30-36 reps.
You may see that and think oh no, the shoulders, biceps, and triceps all fall short of the 40 rep target. But remember that your major compound lifts are going to thoroughly work many muscle groups at once. We actually want our direct volume for those muscle groups to be slightly less so that they are not getting overworked in any way.
Also 40-70 reps is simply a guideline to keep your training on track and make sure you're not doing way too much or too little. Don't get your feathers too ruffled over being exactly within that range.
So that's how you appropriately manage your weight training volume. With that said, the right amount of weight training volume alone isn't enough for optimal results. You also have to train with appropriate frequency and intensity.
These factors are all interrelated and getting just one of them wrong will affect the others.
- Wernbom, M., Augustsson, J. & Thomeé, R. Sports Med (2007) 37: 225. doi:10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004