How much is enough?
Let’s geek into repetitions, sets, and frequency of training
When we ask ourselves or others about training, we usually wonder:
If you are already exercising, you’ve probably found yourself counting how many more times you’ve got to do a movement for the set to be over, hehe 😊
In terms of how many times a week we should be doing weight training, as mentioned in the first section of this article, the recommendation by the WHO is 2 to 3 sessions a week.
This is for the general population; this is something that applies to everyone.
However, if you are a powerlifter or pro athlete, your number of sessions will vary, as will the type of training you get every session.
Powerlifters and people preparing for a competition can easily train 5 or 6 times a week, splitting what muscle groups they target every day to keep the volume in check.
A professional pole athlete can do 3 times of gym training, so to speak, plus 3 or 4 pole sessions during the week, which are also a form of strength training.
A mum busy with her job/business and kids can do 2 sessions a week and that will be enough for her and her lifestyle.
See what you can fit into your life that aligns with your goals and go with that!
What matters most when it comes to how much we should train is total volume.
Volume equals the amount of work performed. It is how much loading we get, and how many stimulating repetitions every time we do an exercise.
So, what’s all this?
With loading, I mean mechanical loading: this is the actual stimulus that drives muscle growth. Stimulating reps are all the repetitions you do that drive muscle growth. To drive muscle growth, what we know so far is that we need to get enough load (weight) and repetitions to get us close to failure.
So, volume is calculated based on the number of working sets we perform throughout the week for each muscle group.
And working sets are the ones that we do with a load and number of reps that take us near failure.
I know, I’ve said this twice already. And it’s on purpose.
Notice I say CLOSE to failure. Not to failure.
Close to failure is when suddenly the speed of our movements starts to slow down when we start feeling it, and it starts to get hard. But we can still complete that rep. And maybe a few more. But we don´t.
We stop short of failure when we notice those “symptoms”. And that is considered to be the sweet spot in the most recent literature.
Why short of failure and not complete failure?
Let’s say you are doing a biceps curl with a 10kg dumbbell. You are doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Every set, when you get to number 9, you start to find it challenging to continue. But you can still do that full rep and 1 more in good form. It is a combination of the number of reps, sets, and sessions you do in a week for a given muscle group. That is close to failure. Anything within 5 reps to failure is considered a working set. That will allow us to reap the benefits of the work and also recover in time for our next session.
Now, let’s say you’re doing the same exercise, the same weight and the same number of sets and reps. However, when you get to 9 or 10, you feel the weight so heavy that you cannot physically complete those reps at all. So, we must stop there. You’ll still get through the session, but it will most likely take you longer to recover for your next training of the same muscles.
I went down a tangent there so back to the original question, HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Do as much as we can while still being able to recover and improve
We don’t want to do so little that we keep training and get nothing of it (improvements) or too much that we cannot improve due to fatigue
Just to wrap up this section, you may be wondering what is best: many reps and low weight? Or fewer reps and more weight?
It terms of performing working, stimulating sets like we discussed above, there is virtually no difference. Research has shown that anything between 5 and 30 reps per set will become a stimulating set if we take it close to failure.
Regarding the number of sets per muscle group per week, the general recommendation is 10 to 20 working sets.
But, remember, IT’S ALL RELATIVE. Not 2 people are the same. We have to consider aspects such as training history, how much stress can you take, nutrition, sleep, and what sorts of sets you are doing.
Start low and work your way up. Let’s say you are hitting a cup of coffee in the microwave. You wouldn’t set a 3-minute timer right away. You’d probably start at 30 seconds, check the coffee, and add some more time if needed.
The same happens with training. Set, reps, number of sessions per week. It all varies from person to person.
So, again: start slow and work your way up. Prioritize good quality and technique in the movement, rather than volume, especially in the beginning. And be mindful not to increase all variables at the same time.
Once you get familiar with the equipment and technique, you can start adding weight, or sets, or repetitions. We’ll learn more about this in the next section 😊
In the meantime, you can continue geeking out in this article by ASCM: The New Approach to Training Volume • Stronger by Science
CONTINUE TO PART 4