Train with a large volume to build strength fast and get the most out of your already limited training time. Don’t make the mistake of doing too few sets when training so that you suffer from what is called “diminishing returns.” By using adequate volume, you can double your strength and hypertrophy gains.
A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effect of volume on strength and power development in collegiate team sport athletes. The study compared the following 6-week training programs:
Low volume with 1 set per exercise and 3 sets per muscle group
Moderate volume with 2 sets per exercise and 6 sets per muscle group
High volume with 3 sets per exercise and 9 sets per muscle group
All programs used a load of 75 percent of the 1 RM and each set included 8 reps.
Results showed that the high volume group gained the most strength in the maximal effort squat, bench press, and upright row. For example, the high volume group increased squat 1RM by a whopping 18 kg or 17 percent compared to only 3.8 percent in the low volume group and 2.7 percent in the moderate volume group.
Both the low and moderate volume groups increased strength by about 10 percent in the upper body tests (bench press and upright row). The high volume group that increased upper body strength by about 17 percent in both tests, again showing the superiority of a higher training stimulus.
These results support previous data showing more sets will always be preferable to the small stimulus provided by single set training. Hypertrophy is maximized and more motor units are recruited with a greater volume, allowing for larger increases in strength. In addition, a higher volume results in greater secretion of growth promoting hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone
An interesting finding of the study was that the low volume protocol produced the greatest increase in lower body power. The high volume protocol produced no significant change in lower body power output. Researchers suggest that the low volume produced better power gains because the participants were field sport athletes who do a lot of running. The running in conjunction with the higher volume may have produced cumulative fatigue that led to a decrease in central nervous system drive to the motor neurons.
Take away the understanding that all things being equal, you will have better strength results with more sets and a higher volume. To get the very best results, plan your training so that you use some form of a periodized program to continually elicit adaptations. When doing a power training cycle, ensure adequate recovery and balance the volume you do in the weight room with any athletic training you do on the field.
Naclerio, F., Faigenbaum, A., et al. Effect of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Strength and Power in Team Sport Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.