The Bottom Line Up Front:
The volume of your training needs to be matched with the type of split you use. Begin to become mindful of your minimum effective volume and maximum recoverable volume and how much work you are asking of each muscle group in a given week.
Volume is (sets x reps x weight) BUT you have to remain aware of intensity, volume becomes a useless concept if the intensity isnt enough to stimulate a response.
Everyone knows the basics of how to get ripped. You lift things up, you put them down, and you do it again. Volume is the name of the game for you pump chasers. To get dat sweet pump, the ultimate hypertrophy training, your bodybuilding workout routine should ideally lean more towards higher rep sets, and many of them. Early in the game of lifting, its easy to get carried away. Not only does your body miraculously adapt to almost anything you throw at it, the mental aspect of lifting always leads us to want to do more, heavier, faster, harder, etc. But the old saying was created by ye olde gods of iron: “stimulate, don’t annihilate.” So how much work should you really be doing for the most effective muscle building?
Is your volume matched ideally to your split? And is your split ideally matched for you?
HIGH VOLUME VS LOW VOLUME TRAINING: How To Maximize Muscle Gains? (video from OmarIsuf)
Training Age and the BodyBuilding Split
Many young guys are initially drawn to the gym by the covers of Flex magazine, seeing the jacked, tan and vascular looks of the Phil Heaths, Kai Greenes, and such (or in my case, the Ronnie Colemans and Nasser El Sonbatys). These publications feature the opinions and advice of guys who obviously know a thing or two about building muscle. They are also guys who have devoted a life to it. While it is good that new faces are brought into the fold by this, it is a double edged sword that sets a lot of guys up to fail or fall short.
The “bodybuilding split” or a 5-ish day split which focuses each day on a specific body part. It is appropriately named, as it is more common for figure and aesthetic concerns than it is for athletic training or strength development. A lot of people see great results with it.
Important Considerations for the Novice Lifter:
A split like this is going to be more forgiving to really high volume of work*, and it actually requires it, but it is better suited for someone of an older training age.
*…unless you are performing a lot of compound movements, in which case you can beat your body up pretty good. This is part of why bodybuilders get along so well with isolation movements.
Full Body Splits
Programs like Starting Strength or Strong Lifts are ideal for the young lifter. Most lifters seem to stumble across these methods AFTER a few months of fooling around with “How Thor Got Jacked for That Movie” workouts from Muscle and Fiction magazines. These are most effective for new lifters because it allows frequent training of the basic movements. It is very much focused on neuro-muscular patterns and training our nervous system to recruit more motor units as we lift. But because they are so frequent with their schedule (often squatting three times a week) they become very sensitive to volume. Those bodybuilding workouts, and that urge to go bigger/harder/faster/stronger will end up taking you into the realm of overtraining.
Ideal Training Volume
Understanding that there are a ton of splits in between that I did not mention, the most important concept to begin to understand as your training progresses, is minimum effective volume and maximum recoverable volume. These are concepts that will be unique to everyone, though they will loosely follow the same rules.
Minimum effective volume will be the absolute least (sets x reps x weight) that your body requires to see some level of adaptation. If for you, your body requires no less than 8 sets of 8-10 reps for minimal growth for a muscle group IN A WEEK, then whatever split you choose should be meeting those needs. This is usually less of a problem because people love to train hard.
Maximum recoverable volume is the absolute most (sets x reps x weight) that your body can accomplish and still recover fully for the next workout. If your maximum recoverable volume is 15 sets of 8 to 10 reps for a muscle group IN A WEEK, then your splits should be mindful of this. This is where “the bodybuilding split” can force so much work into one day, because the rest of the week that muscle group is essentially resting. But this is also where it is easy for a beginner to make a mistake by transposing the “bodybuilding split” mentality into a workout where they might do the same muscle group multiple times a week.
How to Think About Training Volume (from Izzy Narvaez)
So the takeaway is, even if you aren’t totally dialed in to your minimum effective volume, or maximum recoverable volume at this time, know that they are your left and right limit. Know that those concepts do exist FOR YOU and work towards making sure your workout program is not asking too much or too little from you. Squatting 3 times a week? Not a problem. Just resist the urge to do 10×10, followed by 5×15 on leg press, walking lunges and then drop sets of leg extensions all in the same day, each day. Even if the jello legs while walking down stairs is awesome.
More thoughts on volume:
Why Training Volume Matters (from biolayne)