T Nation

Volume Management, Overtaining and Non-Responders

TLDR: When people limit volume to say, 16 sets per week per muscle/muscle group, do they mean per muscle (for example lats) or back muscles as a whole? And if I do Mon-Tue,Thu-Fri (back/bicep/chest - legs/shoulders/triceps) split with approximately 8 sets per work out PER MAJOR MUSCLEs of the muscle group (so not group as a whole), does that translate to 16 sets of volume in a week, or 24? So, is it full 7 days while counting volume (so the new monday of the week is included, or 6 days?)
And would this mean a overtrained state?

I’ve been working out for a year now and I’ve seen very little gains. I read from Brad Schoenfeld’s book that some people are non-responders and those may need to increase volume.

So the general conception is that you should do 10-20 sets per week per muscle group (or muscle) not sure. So I had devised a program where I’d go to the gym 4 times a week and do a 2-day split where I’d train back, chest and biceps on one day and legs, shoulders and triceps on another day.

For my back I’d do 4 sets of anykind of row variation and 4 sets of vertical pulls, with the rep range of 12-15 depending on the weight and resting 1-2 minutes in between sets, if I wanted to increase the weight, I’d go to the rep range of 6-10 and rest upto 3 minutes. In addition to the aforementioned vertical pulls and rows, I’d also add some shrugs and back extensions there (also 3-4 sets).

For my chest I would do cable chest press, pec/dec flies and cable crossovers with the same volume and for biceps I’d do 3-4 sets of curls (with dumbbells) and preacher or incline curls. All at the same rep range. This would be what I’d do on a Monday and then I’d do the same things on Thursday. So I’d revolve the same movements twice per week. The general pattern of volume and rep ranges apply to legs and shoulders as well here. I tended to do 3-4 sets of shoulder presses and 3-4 sets of lateral raises (focusing on hypertrophy range for these so short rests with lots of reps with light weights) and also rear delt exercises with the volume of 3-4 sets as well.

I feel like I didn’t make much strength or hypertrophy gains. Only about 2-3kg of muscle mass and equal amount of fat in like let’s say, 8-9 months. And now I have bicep tendonitis, so that makes me think if I’ve been overtraining (or maybe I was undertraining, and I just happened to mess up my tendon)

I tended to use machines or dumbbells while training. Now I see that barbells maybe better for loading. I feel like I’m such a non-responder that even a single gram of extra weight adds up to me a lot so a 2.5kg increase in dumbbells comes out too much to me. So at that case maybe going for barbells may be better to increase the weight, because the jump for that one isn’t as sharp as the one in dbs.

My training program also doesn’t consist of any of the main 4 lifts, namely the squat, deadlift, bench press and ohp. I do squats but not with a barbell, because I’ve struggled with finding balance,so I’d use dumbbells instead or the smith machine. Bench press never felt like it was good for me, and I felt like OHP or deadlifts required too much effort to keep form (hence risky)

I am kind of lost, and everyone has a different opinion. I read like so much stuff about hypertrophy training, as a neuroscientist myself I am acquainted with physiology to some extent, so I’m actually happy learning these, but now with all this and everything I tried (even a trainer) I feel stuck.

Is it possible that Dr Schoenfeld is a non-responder?

If you didn’t increase your poundages, you didn’t gain weight and you got tendonitis you did a poor job of managing volume and frequency.

Also, cable chest press with crossovers and flies? Your exercise selection is pretty poor too.

I think you should find a program that works by a coach who knows what they are doing. Then, when you’re making progress and the routine is “working” you can take note of the number of sets and reps you’re doing.

Right now there’s just too much you don’t know about training to design your own made-from-scratch routine.


I agree with @FlatsFarmer
That’s a LOT of overthinking. Just find a good program and stick with it for a while.


Thank you both for your answers. Can any of you suggest a program for me? I want to gain some (not much) strength and cut down to around 13-14% BF, while maintaining or gaining muscle.

I’ve worked with 3 trainers so far and they all seemed knowledgeable, I’d do as they said. They put me in hypertrophy based training but I feel like conventional things aren’t working for me. It’s not like I didn’t gain anything at all, I did but I feel like I could have gained more in this period. I feel like I’m genetically doomed (hence I say I’m a non responder) what would you guys suggest for a person like myself?

Bullshit! You read that crap somewhere and are using that as an excuse for lack of progress.

This game takes time, patience and fortitude.

You gave us no info.


You need to change your way of thinking. Stop thinking about the number of sets, reps ranges and rest periods. Stop thinking about splits, major muscles, main lifts, free weights, machines, hypertrophy.

If you want to gain strength, pick the exercise you want to get strong at and add weight every time you do it. When you can’t add more weight, lower the weight and build up again. For instance, on exercise A start at weight x. The next session do x + 5. Keep doing that. Say you get to x + 50 and can’t lift it. Go down to x + 5 or x + 10 and build up again.

If you want to lose body fat, 100% diet. Reduce calories. Works for all people that are honest with themselves.

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to do this. It takes a dog. Go to the gym, work, get better at lifting. Stop thinking.


I’m 25, male, 162cm height with 61.5kg weight. Current BF is around %20, when I wasn’t lifting, I was around 55kg when I started with 16% ish BF.

I appreciate your answer. I am actually very patient and been a very loyal gym goer. I do not aim to get fast results, and I’m aware this requires a lot of patience. It’s like a marathon not a sprint. I want this to become my lifestyle (and it has become) and I want to do this until I die because I feel good when I do it. So I’m looking for advice on what could be possibly causing my slow progress.

Thank you. In your example, is what you demonstrate a drop set (so do you lower the weight during the exercise itself, when I reach failure) or do you actually really drop all the way down to %75 of your max lift when you reach a plateu in general? I’ve never heard someone suggest something like this, so I do wonder the reasoning behind lowering the weight and re-building up from there.

Stop dicking around and learn how to do the compound exercises correctly. If you have been lifting for 8-9 months you should be familiar with some of this.


Found it


Here is the step by step process.

Ask yourself what exercise you want to get good at. Pick one.

Go to the gym

Chose a weight and do the exercise you chose.

Do repetitions of the exercise until you can’t maintain a steady rhythm. Don’t count your reps.

Stop lifting

Rest until the thought of wanting to do another set pops in your head

Do another set, same weight at the first set. Do reps until you can’t maintain a steady rhythm. Don’t count your reps.

Stop lifting

Rest until the thought of wanting to do another set pops in your head

Do another set, same weight as the first and second sets. Do reps until you can’t maintain a steady rhythm. Don’t count the reps.

Stop lifting

Keep repeating this process. Same weight, steady reps, don’t count the reps.

At some point the thought of not wanting to do this anymore will pop in your head. When it does, do one more set.

That is the workout. One exercise, one weight, smooth rhythmic repetitions, no counting reps. Stop the set when you can’t keep the rhythm.

Go home

The next session is the exact same thing, but the weight will be five pounds heavier.

Do the session, same one exercise, smooth reps

Go home

The next session add 5 more pounds. This is now 10 pounds more than the first session.

Do the session, same single exercise, smooth reps

Go home

Repeat this pattern: One exercise, smooth reps, add 5 more lbs each session

Keep repeating it until the weight gets to the point you can no longer do smooth rhythmic repetitions. It that point reduce the weight to 5 lbs more than the weight of the very first session. The start the process over again.

one exercise
do it every day
follow the step by step process
do it for 2 months

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OP ditch the Schoenfield book and get yourself a copy of 365 Days of Brutality by Jamie Lewis. When you receive it, skip the entire section on workouts and go to the diet section. Start eating like that immediately and for the duration of the next year. Now flip back to the beginning and do each of the workouts listed in the book. If you still don’t see results after that year of work it’s time to look into a new hobby.

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I’d echo the sentiment here of others mate, I’m still at start of my journey and saw great results (for me) and only focused mainly on compound movements topped up with some accessory exercises like lat raises, curls, etc (probably wrong terminology).

I went with push pull legs x 5 pw with a rest day… I won’t lie… some weeks I skipped 2nd leg day and had an extra rest.

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Just do the program @ChickenLittle posted. Your issue is you’re too smart; this is a game for dummies. Get a little stupid and just push heavier weight or more reps on basic moves.


Here’s an article about Low Volume training. Like how to set up a split and how many lifts/sets to do. And how if you’re doing less work you should really train Hard.

Here’s one about how to set up a more “typical” medium volume, body building style routine. And it’s got a great list of “Primary” or really good, effective lifts to focus on and “Secondary” or second tier lifts to round out your training. It’s also got a nice template you can follow and that will keep you on track but still let you make some choices about what lifts you want to do.

This one is specifically about the Push/Pull/Legs training split an how to set it up. And then how to adjust it for different frequencies of training. Like if you’re going to the gym mre days per week, you do a little less per day.

This one is about high volume training and how if you’re going to do tone of sets and reps you don’t go as heavy and you don’t push so hard.


I typically find there is at least one of three reasons why someone can’t make progress, sometimes it’s a combination of two, or all three:

They’re not training hard enough. I find that volume isn’t nearly as important as intensity. You need at least one set per exercise to go to, and even beyond, failure. Too many people stop at their prescribed number of reps, or when it feels difficult. Fuck that: go into you can’t go, then drop the weight and go more. You need that intensity to grow.

They’re not eating well. A lot of people ask why they are having trouble growing and I always ask what their diet is like. The typical response is either :man_shrugging:t4: or “I eat like 6 times a day”. I don’t care how many times you eat and neither does your body; what counts is how many calories and your macro break down. You need to eat more calories than you burn to grow (and less to shrink). You need to eat enough protien to rebuild and grow more muscle. Studies show this should be between 0.55 and 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight. I’d say the leaner you are, the higher in that range you want to be. You don’t really need more than that and any extra is used as fuel, stored as fat, or pissed away.

They’re not sleeping enough. Everybody is different: I function best on 7 hours of sleep; some might need more, some a little less: but you need good quality sleep to repair and build muscle.

Basically: don’t blame genetics. Train harder, eat better and sleep more. Sure, you might be limited by genetics to a degree, but you’re more likely limited by yourself.


Where do you train?

Legend. I’m putting a new plan together tonight, will read these!


There is so much truth in this.

@tamerg - If I may. As science you might have made a small error. You’ve read that statement that “X number of reps, over Y number of sets, over Z number of days is optimal from growth”. And this is now the info you are trying to use. Unfortunately the truth is both much more complicated and simple than that.

Its more complicated in the fact that - this “optimal zone” will vary from muscle and muscle. Person to person and year to year based on progress. There are muscle groups that respond better to high reps, some low reps and some that need both. This will also vary from person to person. And will differ on the same person over time as the body adapts to old stimulus. So this “optimal zone” is an idea that is out of context. IE it was optimal in THAT test situation. Or is optimal in a most test situations. But not all. And definitely is not a blanket “best”

Its more simple in that all it really doesn’t matter. Run a programme from this site. There are a few that have been suggested. I can say 531 works. The Strength Training Collage Edition might be best for you. If you really want to go simple. The idea here is - get the big 1st lift each day big, and then work hard at the rest. If you spend a year doubling the numbers on all your big lifts - you’ll get bigger.


Lots of people have replied and I appreciate you all. I will address everyone’s response one by one.

@ChickenLittle I was suggested to do 5/3/1 by others also and I’ve taken a look into it, and I agree that it may be good. However, with my current situation of biceps tendonitis, I can’t just jump onto this soon. Also, the gym I currently work at does not permit deadlifts (the gyms here are generally residential or office buildings, where there are residents or workers at the floor below you). For me, for the past few months barbell OHP and bench presses have been very painful for my biceps tendon, and I felt like I didnt get a good muscle-mind connection for bench press (so I did with dumbbells instead) and for OHP I always found a neutral grip more natural (with dumbbells again). Anyhow I don’t want to be a powerbuilder or powerlifter, I do weightlifting because it helps me go through the day, keeps me focused, I like the feeling of the pump and how it looks on me. I want to be stronger, but I feel like a powerbuilding program like this may be a bit too much for my goals. I am aware this may sound like I’m making up excuses, but it is what it is. This is why I eluded from such compound exercises @T3hPwnisher

I train in a gym, @strongmangoals I think, mostly with fitness focus.

I think I have nutrition on spot (I am vegan, hence I am very meticilous on it because I know it may be difficult at times) @Veteq and my sleep is also perfect so no issues on that. I usually take 1-2 sets to failure per exercise, usually towards the end to prevent too much fatigue.

@FlatsFarmer @carlbm I thank you both for these program recommendations, I’ll take a look at them. These may be the things I’m looking for, considering my long term goals and my short term situation.