The Optimized Volume Workout (O.V.W) Program

Are you training with optimal training volume? Check out this workout plan to ensure you're putting the right amount of stress on your muscles for gains!

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Split
Beginner
8 weeks
4
30-45 minutes
Barbell, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
Male & Female

Workout Description

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.

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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.

Related: Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower (P.H.U.L.) Workout

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.

Muscle and Strength Athlete Performing Romanian Deadlifts

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.

Related: Max Adaptation Upper Lower (MAUL) Workout

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.

Muscle and Strength Athlete Performing Dumbbell Overhead Presses

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.

Related: Muscle & Strength Full Body Workout Routine

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.

Day 1
Exercise Sets Reps
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
Day 2
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squat 4 6-8
2. Lunges 3 8-10
3. Leg Curl 3 10-12
4. Calf Raise 4 10-12
5. Cable Crunch 4 10-12
Day 3
Exercise Sets Reps
1. Overhead Press 4 6-8
2. Pullup 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
Day 4
Exercise Sets Reps
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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

references
  1. Wernbom, M., Augustsson, J. & Thomeé, R. Sports Med (2007) 37: 225. doi:10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004

13 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Sun, 02/19/2017 - 19:54
Devin Pelmon

This is a great workout . I started this in December the end of it . I am also a beginner to this but I did these works out but I do them 6 times a week . I can see progress already motivated to see full transformation of mines . I started 205 I am down to 192 . I want to get down to 180-185 . 12 percent body fat.

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Posted Mon, 02/20/2017 - 10:14
Dylan Willett

Awesome progress Devin! Nothing more motivating than seeing the progress and changes take place. Keep it up!

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Posted Sun, 01/01/2017 - 17:14
CARRIE

What about rest periods? How long should i rest in between sets?

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Posted Tue, 01/03/2017 - 11:19
Dylan Willett

Hi Carrie. Great question! Rest periods are a very important part of any workout. Aim for full rest periods (3-5 minutes) between sets of your compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench, overhead press, rows, and pull ups. You want to be able to lift as heavy as possible on these and don't want to suffer from much residual fatigue from one set to the next. For the secondary exercises that you do for each muscle group (incline dumbbell presses, seated rows, leg press, etc...) you can go slightly shorter with your rest periods and aim for 2 minute rest periods. On your isolation exercises like curls, lateral raises, flys, and leg extensions you want to really create some fatigue by sticking to around 1 minute rest periods.

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Posted Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:45
Jacob Suwinski

I'm kinda "stuck" doing a high volume routine and don't want to lower it because if I do, I'll be sacrificing volume, which needs to go UP every workout in order to progressively overload. I also have a question for weight increases but overall volume decreases (example) if I can currently do 10x10 at 100 lbs (10,000 lbs total volume) and I increase my working weight to 105 lbs, but can only hit 10x8 at the new weight (105lbs) now (8,400 lbs total volume) does that mean I'm REgressing and not progressively overloading?

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 12:21
JoshEngland

Hi Jacob,

You shouldn't be afraid of lowering volume to increase intensity from time to time. When planned properly, it will lead to strength gains (which is a by product of muscle gains!).

To answer your question, you'll be regressing initially with the scenario you've presented. But you should ultimately strive to hit 105 for 10 reps. Even if it takes a couple of weeks, once you've accomplished this, you've progressed.

You also don't have to make it all or nothing. Try doing 105 for a set. If you hit 10, perfect! Keep your next set at 105. If you hit 8, move back down to 100 the next set and perform the remaining sets at that weight. Each week start out your working sets at 105 until you're at 105x10.

When it comes to progressive overload, you're better off at increasing the weight you use up until a certain point (where it's so heavy you risk injury). If you're continuously increasing volume, at some point or another you're going to be spending way too long in the gym and not really benefit in the way you want to benefit.

With that said, it wouldn't hurt to test out a lower volume program centered around building strength every so often. The strength you build will carry over to a higher volume workout and allow you to be stronger on your hypertrophy 8-12 rep lifts, which inevitably will lead to more gains.

Hope this helps!

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Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 12:24
Jacob Suwinski

Hey man! Thanks for willing help me through this. I'm getting so stressed out about this that I don't even want to train anymore.
1.)Ok thank you so much for your awesome reply
2.) if I'm currently doing more than enough volume to stimulate a hypertrophic response, will lowering my training volume (therefore my progressive overload) interfere with me still being able to make muscle gains because volume overload is KEY, and if I'm reducing and not increasing from workout to workout I'm essentially wasting my time.
3.) is their a minimum amount of volume I can do or reduce too/or start doing to keep making muscle gains because I'm doing so much already on a ppl/ppl repeat split I'm afraid that cutting back will just make me regress.
4.) I appreciate you taking the time to help me, I am extremely stressed out about this and lifting has gotten to be more of a mental mind battle and struggle and makes me not enjoy it anymore. Thanks so much

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 13:09
JoshEngland

Jacob,

You're welcome! That's definitely not a good sign. Training should always be the best part of your day (or fun at the very least).

To answer your question. No, lowering your training volume will not prevent you from making gains. There's more to progressive overload than just volume overload. (i.e. increasing the weight on the bar)

Building muscle is more about doing enough volume to elicit muscle protein synthesis, training frequently enough to elicit it often (ideally 2-3 times per muscle per week), eating a diet that promotes muscle building, and getting enough rest/sleep for recovery.

Per the article, the ideal amount of volume is between 40-70 reps per muscle group per workout. If you're doing 10x10, you've already surpassed this number with one lift by 30 reps. Some people can handle more volume, but most will do well within that 40-70 rep range. Ideally, you'd want to give that muscle group 24-72 hours before training it again with a similar volume.

With a rep range such as 40-70, you will also be more capable of adding weight to the bar. This will allow you to achieve progressive overload without adding volume to your workout time and time again.

That's why you'll see a lot of people have success with 3 full body workouts a week or a split such as Push/Pull or Upper/Lower (which is what this workout is) split.

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Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 16:10
Jacob Suwinski

Josh you've relieved so much stress for me and I appreciate that greatly! So I am about to lower my ppl/ppl repeat no days off split/routine and turn it down volume wise (sets reps exercises) and by the way, 10x10 was just an example, I actually do 4-5 sets of lots of different exercises and rep ranges on a ppl split. Any recommendations on how I should go about doing it (or just do as you said and turn my volume down ton40-70 reps) also, i. Indeed shouldn't be worried about reduced tonnage/total volume because I've already stimulated enough and doing more is just "fluff" or excess rather? If you could finally clear that last point UP for me just a bit more I think I'll be ready to train with a motivated heart again!

JoshEngland's picture
Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 16:54
JoshEngland

Jacob,

You're very welcome! You're spot on with what you've said. This article has a program that is split up with the recommended rep ranges. Performing the program listed in the article above would be a good place to start.

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Posted Mon, 10/24/2016 - 17:00
Dylan Willett

Hey Jacob! Dylan here...author of the article. Great question. I believe Josh answered your question very well but just wanted to throw in my response as well. You really shouldn't think of it as regressing in a case like that. If you have increased weight in any way from what you were you using you are definitely progressing. No one past the beginner stage can progress in weight and reps from workout to workout. What ultimately matters is that you're progressing over time. Like Josh said, while it my seem like a temporary reduction in volume if you increase the weight and can't get as many reps but you will eventually be able to get just as many reps as you were before with your new working weight and that's what you want to work. It doesn't matter if that takes you one workout or four workouts to make that happen as long as you keep progressing and get there eventually. Hope that helps you understand it better and thanks for your question.

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Posted Tue, 10/25/2016 - 10:15
Jacob Suwinski

Hey DYlan I appreciate you coming in to give your advice as well! I still am just confused on volume overall tho, like the minimjm amount necessary to stimulate MPS, cause an adaptive response, allow progression like mentioned above by josh, but how do you know when the volume just becomes a knife further cutting into recovery and no longer stimulating, but instead "annihilating" I currently do a ppl/ppl split no days off and each day consists of a bunch of sets reps and exercises and I don't even know how to go about changing up my routine without causing just a host of problems and the fear of regressing like you stated. Thanks a lot Dylan, and josh if you happen to see this

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Posted Tue, 10/25/2016 - 13:13
Dylan Willett

Jacob, I definitely understand what you're saying. I think the recommendations in this program are a great STARTING point for setting up a training plan. The fact that 40-70 reps per muscle group is the optimal volume range doesn't mean that if you do 80 or 90 reps for a muscle group you won't grow at all, it's just probably going to provide little to no extra growth stimulus and simply be a waste of training time. The higher above that threshold you train, the more likely it is to start seriously affecting your recovery ability. As it talks about in the article, deciding how much volume to do within the optimal range is based largely on how your training split is set up. So if you're on a ppl routine hitting everything twice per week you will be fine working towards the higher end of that rep range since you have less body parts to train each session and are training things slightly less frequent than something like a full body split. You could pretty easily make the upper lower routine in the article a ppl split by simply adding an accessory exercise or two to each training day. So you could have a pull day where you still do rows, lat pull downs, and curls per the routine in the article but you could add in some more work for smaller muscle groups like traps and rear delts as well. Hope this helps.