T Nation

Volume and Intensity

This is a religious question. Everybody has a different answer, and we’re all convinced the one we have is right.

While volume is what builds muscle, volume is just sets times reps times weight. So three sets of ten with fifty pounds is the same volume as two sets of fifteen with fifty pounds, or three sets of five with a hundred pounds, or just plain picking up three-quarters of a ton once.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these all have very different effects on the nervous system and the muscles, and that the tempo of your reps will also drastically alter things.

I’m a relative newbie at this, but my basic instincts are two simple rules: every set should be completed (lower the weight if necessary in later sets), and every rep should be hard to do (raise the weight if necessary in earlier sets). Theoretically, this should naturally keep pace with the body’s development, without moving too fast.

I’m sure you’ll hear plenty more from other people who are much more experienced, though. There are a LOT of ways to build muscle, and you just have to find the one that works best for you.

Your point about there being many different ways to build muscle is dead on and you probably should have limited your post to just that because your “instincts” contradict this point. I don’t think these are instincts (innate tendencies) but rather something that was learned along the way. These tenets sound to me like something my junior high gym teacher spouted as the “real” way to weight train before he turned us all loose on the universal machine for what always turned into a bench press maxathon.

“Every set should be completed” is like saying every trip should end. It’s going to happen regardless of how far you go. If you start a set, it has to end. Whether or not you achieve the reps you set out to achieve at the beginning is a different story. If you reach failure at rep 7 when you are doing 3x8’s, you can’t force an 8th rep. I suppose you could jump up and take off 5 lbs and squeeze out a rep, but if you’ve got a 45 on each side, by the time you’ve reduced the weight to 125-130, you’ve basically just rested and then started a new set. As far as “every rep should be hard”, if I’m doing 3x8’s and the first rep is hard, there is no way I’m going to get in 8 reps. Maybe that’s just me. I’m not being a hard-ass literalist here, but I don’t want any “newbies” to read your post and think they are training improperly because they rip off 4 relatively easy reps at the beginning of an 8 rep set.


That post was supposed to be a reply to a post asking how many sets and reps to do when training; I’m not sure what happened to the original post.

this one?


[quote]dollarbill44 wrote:
I don’t think these are instincts (innate tendencies) but rather something that was learned along the way.[/quote]

Well, I’ve only been doing this for a little less than two months, so there’s very little experience and education behind my opinions. From what I’m reading here, most of what I’ve been told and taught previously is bullshit anyway. So while I’ve read a lot of people’s ideas about how to train, which one I use really is just a matter of instinct – I’m going by what seems like “the right thing” based on how I feel during and after a workout.

What I probably should have said is “Every set should consist of the full target number of reps”, which is more accurately what I’m thinking. If you want to do two sets of fifteen, then your second set needs to be fifteen reps, and if you can’t get fifteen with the weight you used on the first set, you should use less weight on the later reps.

Well, I’m expecting a certain amount of anticipation in the workout. Dropping two 45s on the bar is an easy way to get the weight you want up front, but it’s difficult to modify later. So if you know you’re going to start with 45s and then need to drop it by 5 pounds twice during the workout, then it’s smarter to load your bar with 25, 10, 5, and a pair of 2.5s on each side. At each point where you need to drop the weight, all you need to do is strip off one of the 2.5s on each side, which is a lot faster than reloading the bar with 42.5 pounds on each side at the first change.

A good spotter/partner is useful to get things done faster, too; he can see you struggling with the rep before the one that doesn’t work, and be ready to strip those plates without more than a five or ten second pause.

I am in NO position to say whether my instincts are “proper” or not. Fact is, I am a newbie, so my instincts might be (and probably are) completely wrong. Like I said, there are a lot of different ways to train, and you can’t follow all of them at once… you just have to identify and eliminate the ones that don’t work, then choose your style from what’s left.

At this point in my training, my approach works, but as has been said here before… ANYTHING is more hypertrophic than sitting on your ass watching television.