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Volume – How to Use Reps, Sets, and Weight to Build Muscle

muscle building volume load

How to use the right amount of reps, sets, and weight to find the volume that builds muscle? The volume places muscles under optimal stress to grow muscles. Regardless of how you see it, volume load is one of the best ways to build muscle in the gym. A great body is built in the kitchen, not the gym. Once you get into the kitchen, it is not even close. Can I whisper it? Okay, I will scream it – PROTEIN, PROTEIN. I love Protein! Let’s move on now.

You can use volume to get amazing results and pack on the muscles.

This article gives you the information you need to get results and shows you how to use volume load to build muscle fast. We don’t want to waste your time, so we will provide you with just the nuts and bolts to keep it simple with only the relevant facts. The goal here is to provide you with scientifically backed research to support what you do in the gym.  When you combine your determination with scientific facts, you get premium results.  So let’s get you those results!

What is a volume load?

The math definition of volume load is weight x sets x reps. But that is the easy way out. The math tells us that there is a correlation, a direct relationship between the amount of weight you lift, the sets, and repetitions you perform. But do you need math to tell you that? After all, it doesn’t take that much to figure out the difference between lifting 250 pounds three times versus lifting it eight times.

So what is volume load really trying to tell you? Do the details matter, or is it all about the big picture. The answer is yes, and no. The details do matter, and it is all about the big picture. How can we have it both ways? The answer is simple. The details add up to become the big picture, and without the details, there would not be a big picture. The ultimate message of a volume load is to pick up as much weight as you can, as many times as possible, and if you do, you will get results! A volume load is a composite index. A composite index is one number that represents many things.

How do you use a volume load to build muscle?

Even though the volume load is about the big picture, you have some magic numbers inside the big picture. You must reach these numbers to build muscle.

The first way to use a volume load to build muscle is to use a rep range from 6 to 12.

Research shows that muscle hypertrophy activates between 6 to 12 repetitions for each set. If you do less than six reps, you are training for strength. If you do more than 12 reps, you are training for endurance. This happens because of the energy source needed to lift 6 to 12 reps of heavyweight (70% – 85% of 1RPM). The body has three energy pathways and sources of energy. The energy pathway and energy source that causes muscle hypertrophy is the glycolytic energy pathway, and it uses glycogen for energy. Glycogen is stored right at the muscle, much like storing gas in a vehicle’s gas tank.  By forcing your body to use more glycogen, you force your body to grow bigger muscles to store more glycogen. This process is an adaptation process that the body uses to respond to weightlifting, caused by depletion of glycogen.

The second way to use a volume load to build muscle is your one-repetition maximum weight lifted.

Unlike the reps, the amount of weight to lift for each repetition differs for everyone. But everyone uses the same parameters to determine the weight. It is based upon your one-repetition max (1-RPM). Your 1-RPM  is like your social security number or fingerprint. It defines you in the gym. If you are serious about building muscle, you need to know and test your 1-RPM frequently. How often you test your 1-RPM depends on your experience level and growth rate. A person just starting off and with fast gains should check their 1-RPM monthly. In contrast, an experienced person with slow, steady gains should check their 1-RPM quarterly or semiannually.

The third way to use a volume load to build muscle is to use the correct percentage of your 1-RPM for each exercise.

The key to building muscle is to apply the right amount of stress to the muscles. While the sets and reps may be fixed in stone, the weight is not. How do you determine the right amount of weight to get the stress you need to build muscle? Research shows to build muscle, you must lift 70% – 85% of your 1-RPM. Here is a chart that combines the reps required to the percentage needed to place the maximum amount of stress on the muscles:


For example, if your 1-RPM on the bench press is 300 pounds, and you want to do 10 reps per set, you would use 225 pounds (300 pounds x 75%) to get the optimum weight to lift. If you want to do 12 reps, you will use 210 pounds (300 pounds x 70%) for each rep. Also, if you find that the weight is easy, then work on your form. Focus on the concentric, eccentric, and isometric portion of each rep. Less than 2% of the population lifts outside of the maximum percentage range, and that 2% has the body to prove it. Everyone else who is lifting outside the maximum percentage range is cheating on the form, using steroids, or resting too long. Some forms of cheating include bouncing the weight off the chest or ground, completing the eccentric portion of the exercise too fast, performing half the range of motion, and taking longer rest breaks. When you cheat, you cheat on you and nobody else.

building muscle volume load

The fourth way to use a volume load to build muscle is a rest time of 60 seconds for each set.

You should take your rest time seriously because it affects how much weight you can lift and how many times you can lift it. While your workout stimulates muscle hypertrophy, it is your rest time that causes gains. There are two rest time types: rest time inside the workout and rest time outside the workout. Both types of rest are equally important in causing muscle hypertrophy. The optimum rest time for muscle growth is 60 seconds because that forces the body to rely solely on glycogen for energy and not fat or ATP-CP. Rest time between sets determines how much weight or repetitions you can lift for each set.

A scientific research study on the Influence of rest interval length on acute Testosterone and Cortisol responses to volume-load equated total body hypertrophic and strength protocols were conducted in 2012.

The study found that the utilization of relatively short rest interval lengths (i.e., 60 seconds and 90 seconds) between repeated high-intensity training sets elicit significant acute changes in testosterone concentrations from pre- to post-exercise. Furthermore, the hypertrophic volume loads elicited greater absolute and relative acute testosterone concentrations than the strength volume loads. This was because of a combination of training variables, such as volume-load, rest interval length, and exercise selection/sequence.

Resting longer provides you with extra energy to lift more weight or perform more reps. By resting the same amount of time each set, you guarantee that the only thing causing you to lift more weight or do more reps are your muscles. Increasing rest time during a workout is a form of cheating and gives the illusion that you are getting stronger. Finally, rest time outside of your workout must be considered based upon age, genetics, and experience. Once muscles have recovered, it is important to quickly get back into the gym and break them down again. By optimizing your rest times (24 – 72 hours), you get a faster turnaround in the catabolic-anabolic cycle and increase the speed at which you build muscle. Building muscle is a two-way street that involves breaking down the muscle and building the muscle back up. You can’t have one without the other. You must take both seriously if you are serious about building muscle fast.

The final way to use a volume load to build muscle is to use 3 to 6 sets for each exercise.

The sets for each exercise must be between 3 to 6 sets. Now there are some exceptions to these guidelines for experienced bodybuilders who are close to their genetic potential. Consequently, the sets can be increased above six sets, as with German Volume Training workouts. Lower body workouts can build muscle on a minimum of three sets, while upper body workouts require higher sets. Also, compound lifts can stimulate muscle growth on three sets, while isolation lifts require more sets. As a general rule, perform three sets on lower-body and compound lifts and six sets or more on upper-body and isolation lifts.

A scientific research study on training for strength and hypertrophy an evidence approach in 2019 found that there appears to be a window of volume required (greater than 10 repetitions and less than 15 sets for each muscle group per week) to create muscular hypertrophy.

The study concluded that frequency, intensity, type, and time (FITT Principle) govern muscle hypertrophy. The volume builds muscles by activating the energy source that causes muscle growth. The glycolytic energy pathway stores glycogen right at the muscle. Just as larger vehicles require larger gas tanks, large muscles require large glycogen cells as a manner of speaking. Weightlifting volume uses all the glycogen at the cell level faster than the body can restore it. The body loves and depends on glycogen and, as a result, does not like it when a volume load depletes the glycogen in a muscle cell. Consequently, the body uses the adaptive principle to grow larger cells, causing muscle hypertrophy. This process is a defense mechanism meant to prevent a volume load from depleting the glycogen in a muscle cell. It is a simple process. If you deplete almost all of the glycogen in a muscle cell, the body will grow larger cells to prevent you from doing it again in the future.

What kind of results can you expect from using a  volume load to build muscle in the gym?

The average person can add from one to two pounds of muscle a month and fifty pounds of muscle over the course of a lifetime if they do it naturally. The speed at which you can add muscle is determined by your volume load and how fast you can turn over the catabolic-anabolic cycle. Also, make sure to eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates to give your body the fuel and amino acids it needs to build muscles. The right diet and workout program is guaranteed to get you results. Tracking and analyzing your diet and workout program gives you the additional knowledge you need to make changes. Changes in your workout cause changes in your muscles. Change is a mandatory part of the process that you must embrace and use to build muscle.

Legs- Post Exhaustion

Arms - German Volume Training

In Summary

Building muscle is not magic; it is a science when you know exactly what to do. There is a volume load that you must reach to activate muscle hypertrophy. Yes, it is that easy. One comprehensive number that defines all of your numbers in the gym. Research has shown that as your volume load goes up, so does the size of your muscles. By following the advice providing in this article, you can find your volume load and use it to make your muscles grow. Before your muscles adapt to your volume load, be sure to increase your volume load progressively. Progressive overload training lets you increase your volume load regularly to lift more weight and grow bigger muscles.

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