Weight Training Volume: How Many Sets, Reps & Exercises?

In weight training, volume refers to the amount of work being done.

The “work” will of course come in the form of the exercises you do and how many sets and reps you do for each.

That means volume can be measured in a lot of different ways, the most important of which are:

  • How much volume is being done per muscle group/body part both per workout AND per week.
  • How much volume is being done per exercise.
  • How much total volume is being done per workout.
  • How much total volume is being done per week.

The reason this information is so important is because volume is one of the key factors influencing the effectiveness of your workout routine.

What I mean is…

  • If you do too much volume, you run the risk of hindering (or completely destroying) your body’s ability to repair and recover at an ideal rate. And if the repair/recovery process isn’t happening at the ideal rate, the results you want probably won’t be happening at all.
  • If you do too little volume, you run the risk of not providing enough of the training stimulus required to signal your body to actually make the changes/improvements you want it to make.

As you can clearly see, the goal here is to find the amount of volume that is high enough to provide the training stimulus needed to get the results you want, yet low enough to avoid negatively affecting your ability to recover.

For the best results possible, we need that optimal middle ground.

So, How Much Volume Is Best For Me?

Now, when trying to figure out how much volume is best for you, some people think “just tell me how many exercises I should do per muscle group/workout/week” and taaadaaa, there’s your workout volume.

The thing is, it’s a little more complicated than that. Here’s why…

Exercises Don’t Accurately Measure Volume

You see, even if there is an exact number of exercises recommended, the total amount of volume being done can still vary GREATLY.

For example, let’s say I just said the best volume is 3 exercises per muscle group, and three different people take my advice.

  • Person A might do 2 sets for each exercise, for a total of 6 sets altogether.
  • Person B might do 3 sets for each exercise, for a total of 9 sets altogether.
  • Person C might do 4 sets for each exercise, for a total of 12 sets altogether.

So right there you have three clear examples of how doing the same number of exercises per muscle group can still lead to very different amounts of volume being done.

For this reason, trying to measure or prescribe volume using exercises is a pretty horrible idea.

Sets Don’t Accurately Measure Volume, Either

The next thought then is that sets should be used to measure and prescribe volume. Then I could just say to do 6 sets for each muscle group per workout, and you could divide those sets up over however many exercises you want.

Using 6 sets as the example, you could do 3 exercises for 2 sets each, 2 exercises for 3 sets each, 1 exercise for 4 sets and 1 exercise for 2 sets, and so on and so on.

Unlike before, the number of sets being done remains the same either way, which makes sets a MUCH better way to measure/prescribe volume than exercises were before.

However, a very similar problem still exists: how many reps are you doing per set?

Granted, I’ve laid out the ideal number of reps you should do per set for your goal, but the total volume being done can still vary by quite a bit.

For example, I said the 5-12 rep range is best for people looking to build muscle/get toned/look good, which is probably most of the people reading this.

Using the same 6-sets-per-muscle example from before…

  • Person A might do 6 sets of 6 reps for a total of 36 reps per muscle group, per workout.
  • Person B might do 6 sets of 10 reps for a total of 60 reps per muscle group, per workout.

As you can see, that’s still a pretty significant difference even with the same ideal rep range (5-12) being used.

For this reason, measuring or prescribing volume in terms sets is still not the best idea. It’s a million times better than exercises, but it’s still pretty flawed.

So then, what’s left? Reps!

Reps Are The Most Accurate Measurement Of Volume

If you recommend a certain amount of reps to do per muscle group or per workout or per week, it can be divided up into 1000 different combinations of exercises and sets.

But, in the end… the number of reps being done always remains the same.

For this reason, the best way to measure and prescribe weight training volume is by the total amount of reps being done per muscle group, per workout, and per week.

So, What Total Amount Of Reps Is Best For Me?

Now that’s the question we’re looking for. Let’s get down to the specifics and answer it…

The Optimal Volume Per Muscle Group, Body Part, Workout & Week

(This article is part of a completely free guide to creating the best workout routine possible for your exact goal. It starts here: The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine)

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