Volume roundtable note

(QA at the bottom)


Defining terms

Define MED. Is it:

– min stimulus volume dose per unit time to make progress
– min stimulus volume dose per unit time to make the progress that you want (you want 20lbs in a year. You can do min amount and get 5lbs a year but that’s under your MED)

MRV and How much training should I do?

  • You can do a little bit of training and barely benefit (if advanced, it’ll slow down the rate at which you get worse)
  • You can do moderate and benefit to some extent (beginner or intermediate) or maintain (advanced)
  • You can do much more, maximize rate of gains, so long as you’re recovering. Hypothetical biggest benefit. This is MRV
  • You can exceed MRV: can no longer make gains. No-mans land of working too much and not much improvement, or start to see degradations in gains. Or get injured.

Optimal: do it right around MRV.

Recovery: re-establishment of baseline performance.
– cortisol elevated after training, once it’s back to normal that process has recovered.
– or more usefully: recovery = you’re able to produce an overload again. E.g. you squat 585 x 6 like Layne Norton. Are you now able to do that again or go further?

Note: if you want to achieve seriously good progress, you will have to flirt the line of injury to some degree. Training 100% safe won’t get you the gains you need.

Eric Helms

Strength training requires less than MRV. Just start conservative and adjust to an individual

Concept of MRV so far sounds like a bell curve on one side and sharp drop on the other? Whereas I think research shows you can progress from moderate volume faster than high volume.

Linear relationship between volume and hypertrophy pretty clear. Not so for strength.

So for hypertrophy you do want to be right at the MRV. But for strength you actually want to go lower than MRV (though even for strength there is some research about going past MRV to overreach then taper for more strength, but research on that is very sparse).

Get optimal starting point of volume from research, then split it out to achieve your goals. Helms starts off with more of a minimal to produce an effect, and then adjusts to the individual.

Mike’s Response

On MRV for strength vs MRV for hypertrophy

When hypertrophy training, « recovering » means you recover enough to pound in more volume, maybe slightly higher intensity.

When strength training: « recovering » means you recover enough for high performance (you need to really feel on top to be able to do sets of 5, not like sets of 12 which you can crank out when half dead).

Additionally, neural processes have longer recovery time and summate more. After few weeks of hypertrophy training you recover fine. After few weeks of strength training that shit adds up.

Thus amount of volume at which strength qualities begin to decline (MRV for strength) is significantly lower than for hypertrophy. MRV for power qualities lower than that, MRV for speed even lower, MRV for technique even lower.

So depending on your goal in that cycle, you need to set your MRV. If it’s strength that overall MRV must be lower. If hypertrophy you can do much more and still benefit. Strength may be down as you do it but that’s not your goal anyway.

I see Eric’s view as: « If you get remotely within these high training volumes you’re just gonna die and get hurt. It’s not worth it, so let’s stay conservative so we can eek out progress and just outlast everybody ». There’s value in that. I think the best approach is find your MRV, then go just below to stay injury free. But push it every once in a while to test your recovery. Because issue is some people just don’t realise they can recover from more.

Regarding studies where moderate was better than high volume, it’s because that was their MRV. Higher volumes people simply weren’t recovering enough.

Layne Norton

It’s all just terminology

Practically MED to get results you want, and MRV, are pretty darn close. Here’s why: to progress you want to induce adaptation. Adaptation requires stress. If you aren’t stressing the system you won’t produce adaptation. Practically it just comes down to terminology.

I prefer MED as a phrase, simply because I prefer someone to be a little bit conservative as opposed to way too aggressive. Our population is way too aggressive. Don’t go all out volume from day 1 squatting every day. You’ll get injured. You’ll adapt to it, it may take years but you will, but then where do you go from there? Squat twice a day?

When a coach tells an athlete to max out, people do the craziest things. You’ll spend a lot of time just holding people back from stuff they’re not ready for! Often someone wants to squat three times, four times a week right off the bat. You’re making great progress squatting twice a week. Wait until you’re ready for it and we’ll up to three times a week (at that point your performance will drop temporarily and then come back up).

Layne’s preferred verbage: err on the side of caution. Go for MED. Don’t fall for the volume trap.


On the “volume trap”

The volume trap doesn’t exist as such. Should you jump up to really high volume right away? Will it harm long term potential? You’ll get more gains and reach a higher level of performance earlier. The examples of people jumping the gun are people jumping over their MRV. If you jump to your MRV you’re smooth sailing. If you jump over you can get cranky joints for a while and not progress etc.

Lot of it has to do with psychological burnout too. Physiologically you’re recovered, but you just get fed up with spending so much time in the gym.

Personal recommendation: don’t give it your all early. Even if it’s at MRV. Milk it through and stay safe.

However some people are high level and want to be the best right away, so you need to offer them that option. You offer them an MED program and they’ll just leave you. The MRV approach from day 1 gets you to your peak much earlier and you’re winning championships for several years. The MED approach takes longer to reach your peak and you win for a very short time near the end of your career, but you make gains the whole time.

For championship lifters, MRV approach is vital. It is a HUGE gamble though. For recreational and enthusiasts, it’s not a good idea to rush up there. Coaches can offer the tradeoff: « we can push it, you might get hurt but you might also get better. Or we can milk it out and get steady slow progress ».

Layne’s contribution

On the “volume trap”

The high level olympic lifter programmes rush straight to MRV. Interestingly, genetically inferior trainees will just get broke on these programmes. If you want to know if you are genetically superior or inferior, putting you on massive volumes to see if you can handle it will pretty much tell you.

Greg Nuckols

Held up a graph describing gains (watch the vid).


How to actually train at MRV

In a microcycle for accumulation, you shoot for MRV. But you can’t always train at MRV because there are systems that accumulate fatigue over time and that fatigue summation will literally drop your MAV (maximum adaptive volume, max volume you can do in the short term and still adapt). You’ll still make gains but they will be slower aka overreaching. What you need to do is to deload to reset those other fatigued systems. So when you average out your volume over the microcycle it will be lower than MRV. You’d never push at MRV for long periods.

You’re MRV for a single session might be humongous (how much can you squat until you physically can’t bench?), but that’s not a sustainable way of training.

Training at MAV is good for long periods. My approach of MRV must be interspersed with deloads. So actually if you average out yearly volume on either approach, it will end up very similar.

So within your mesocycle (e.g. 4 week strength block) you should not be GAINING strength week to week. That actually proves you’re undertraining, not overloading your strength. You should just recover enough to maintain or slightly degrade strength. But once you deload your strength skyrockets, you’re at a new level, and begin another mesocycle of strength constancy and then you deload again.

In the long term, MAV and MRV are the same number. But in the short term you have to overreach over your MAV repeatedly.

Eric’s response

It comes down to application and what the lifter actually does. Lifter has no way of differentiating between being at MRV of max progression, vs going over MRV until you’re progressing slower than you could be.

How does lifter know how much to do? How does he know where he is at? I normally propose a more conservative subjective approach to clients.






It’s been proposed volume is a key factor for growth. Also proposed that longer rest periods result in better recovery, hence more weight on the bar, also result in better growth. Given workout time is limited, shorter rest periods will allow you to pack in more volume per workout. What’s your take on finding the sweet spot between shorter rest for more volume, and longer rest for more weight on the bar?

Layne: What do you value more? More volume reps and shorter rest is more metabolite training. But if you’re a powerlifter you need to skill of lifting heavy. Someone said they had 45 minutes to train and wanted both strength and size. I recommended working up to a max single, then as many sets of 10 as they could fit in after that. Because you’re doing something for strength adaptation and doing something for high volume. But it’s just going to be ineffective.

It’s your preference. Layne hates not lifting heavy, so he’d rather lift longer and get heavy work in because that’s the way he likes to train. But if you are really short on time, you’re going to probably want shorter rest periods.

What if someone only has one hour to train, and want the most hypertrophy. Should they prioritise cramming in volume with shorter rest periods, or prioritise keeping the weight heavy?

Eric: One thing we should put out there, not all volume is created equal. If you did 20% 1RM it would be a different stimulus to getting it in at 90%. Higher intensity is harder to recover from, will stress other systems. Very low intensity, especially if not taken close to failure, won’t produce nearly enough stimulus.



Is there a practical way to measure where your MRV is?

Mike: At a very technical level in an effective mesocycle (3:1 or 5:1 overload:deload ratio), in the last week you should be seeking to overreach MRV. So up the volume through the accumulation microcycles (each microcycle aka week has higher volume), and there’s a dedicated phase for deload.

Mistake 1: If you are making very big gains in strength, i.e. you feel much better microcycle to microcycle, you are undertraining. You are not accumulating any fatigue. Fatigue is supposed to accumulate from microcycle to microcycle. That’s how you know you’re providing an overload. If week 1 I feel great, week 2 I’m not fatigued at all, week 3 I can do this forever, then you’re not overloading.

Mistake 2: If week 2 you’re crawling into the gym and can barely do everything you need to, or not even that. You can’t recover for the second microcyle, how can you provide an overload for the continuing microcycles.

Good way to measure: week to week do you feel pretty beat up, but OK enough to get really hard workouts in and make good gains. If you’re really not beat up at all, train more. But if you’re really messed up, you won’t be able to sustain that.

Imagine if you do use deloads, if you have to switch to 2:1 paradigm because every week you’re so messed up you need to deload; then you’ve cut a third off your training year out. If you have a 12 week accumulation phase, what can we say about the overloading characteristics of the first 6 weeks? If you go like this they are barely even overloading. If you’re a beginner they might be overloading enough, but if you’re intermediate or advanced you’re just wasting time.

Anything between 3:1 or 5:1 accumulation:deload paradigm is good. Where every single accumulation microcycle feels pretty darn hard, but you can still come back and hit it pretty well. That’s the golden zone. Towards the end of the accumulation phase, the last microcycle before the deload you should not feel like you can do another good microcycle (if you can, you should!). It should be designed that you have to need deloads. Not in the sense that “holy crap I’m going to die” rather “oh thank God a deloads coming up I really need it”.

Avoid extremes in training. Avoid bullshit fads. There will always be people pushing stuff like HIT one set to failure, where you need an entire week to recover. Or some stuff people tell me Lyle says (which he may or may not actually mean) which is frankly just not enough volume. Go for that middle ground.

Lyle did mention in an interview touching on that. He said once you hit your MRV, then where do you go? Now that? Perhaps that’s why he promotes lower volume.

Answer is periodization. You deload, you take intentionally low volume phases, where you define recover as the recovery of systems you haven’t recovered so far. Because the problem with that is that it assumes the only way of training for progress is adding more and more sets. But exercise selection can be rotated, different goals can be chosen. You can let some systems recover when you push other systems. You have to push the limits regularly in training. You can’t save yourself for that one big workout at the end of your career after which you retire.

What do you do when you’ve done all the volume you can? You deload, that’s what they are designed for. If you’re really messed up you take an active rest phase and then get back to it and doing it all over again. That’s what training is.

Greg: I agree, and the volume trap is overly simplistic. All it’s accounting for is the stimulus, and at some point obviously you can’t handle that much stimulus. But there’s another factor: how well you respond to that stimulus. And that changes over time – plus you can influence it.

As Mike was implying, if you’re pushing volume for a long time your responsiveness to that volume stimulus has probably dropped off considerably. So if you’re not really varying any other variables, just increasing volume, then yes that can get incredibly unwieldy very quickly. But as long as you are changing training variables and taking deloads (which can probably restore global responsivity to training), e.g. from high volume low intensity accumulation block to a low volume high intensity realization block. At the end of the high intensity block you aren’t very responsive to further high intensity training, but now you switch back to an accumulation block. However here you don’t need to be doing that much more volume than you were in your previous accumulation block. Because you’ve built back up responsiveness to that high volume low intensity training.

The longer you stick with a given set of training variables, the more responsiveness is probably going to drop off. Just by properly periodizing you can largely account for that.



How should you actually track volume? What variable? Is it different between powerlifters and bodybuilders

Greg: the way I do it for my clients, I split it up into light training, moderate training and heavy training. I track number of sets week to week in sub 60%, 65-85%, and 85%+.

And then just see if people are recovering well or are progressing. If high intensity work goes up a bit and they are suddenly regressing or not recovering well at all, that’s probably just beating the shit out of them and not something their program should focus on right now. I know if I add more high intensity stuff, I need to take away a disproportionate number of sets in one of the other intensity zones.

That’s the biggest way I track volume. Split into light, moderate, heavy, and count number of sets week to week. See what people respond the best to and also what is causing them the most issues with recovery.

Eric: similar concept. I think Greg is acknowledging not all volume is created equal which is very important.

To go back to what Mike said it should be getting harder before the deload, that doesn’t have to come from tonnage or even reps and sets going up. Your stress should be going up, so it could be going from high volume low intensity to low volume high intensity WITHIN a mesocycle.

Sometimes I’ll look at tonnage within a block. If they are only doing 6 reps and lower, tonnage is pretty valuable. Because for the most part, that’s a relatively similar intensity band.

If a bodybuilder has a lot of reps in the 6+ range I’ll just track reps instead of tonnage. Especially if there are more exercises you’re playing with, sometimes track reps per body part.

So long as your method acknowledges that volume at different intensities is different stresses then you’re fine. There’s no golden rule here.


Lyle is very cognizant of how his work appears to others. How will the person reading this take it and what will that do to their training? Eric and Lyle are co-authoring some work. Often times Eric suggests something and Lyle says it’s too aggressive. Eric can do that because he’s a coach, he’s making the changes. But someone reading this book and implementing it himself will probably mess it up. Now Eric’s written a book and is a coach, he realises he needs two different voices. One is as a coach, what he might do on a regular basis, or when educating trainers. Versus you’re going to self coach yourself, here’s the tools I’m going to give you. His programs are a little more simplified, clear cut, less nuanced. And probably more conservative because he knows how he thought when he was 21.

So messaging is very important. That’s probably why in different conversations we may sound like we’re on a different page but really we understand the same concepts.



How can I structure my training to be close to my MRV, can you give me a number?

Mike: depends on the goal but mostly if you’re asking this question you’re probably interested in hypertrophy. About 20 working sets per week per main body part is probably the average MRV for intermediate lifters. Little lower for very beginner groups. Literature actually deals almost exclusively for beginners.

So 20 sets for e.g. quads, triceps, chest sounds like a lot and if you do a bro split (which is daft) then it is. But split it over the week intelligently. Basically for chest 7 sets of pushing movements 3 days a week, 4 sets bench + 3 sets flies or incline press. It’s really not that hard since we use compound movements which count towards multiple body parts (at least partially, e.g. benching counts a third towards tricep MRV for set number)

I would start at 15 for most people and see how they do. If you do OK, recovering, and strength is maintained through an accumulation phase mesocycle, then you’re good to go. If strength is going up through an accumulation phase you’re probably not doing enough. If strength is really declining you’re probably doing too much.

For bodybuilding and from a coaching perspective, you can assess other qualitative things. How are your pumps? How do you feel?

Your MRV is not anybody else’s MRV. Mike’s hamstrings are totally destroyed after 10 sets a week. That’s nothing for most people. Don’t let people say to you that you should be training less or more. There’s tons of individual difference 3 standard deviations out. Some people can recover from 30 sets per week. A lot of times they don’t actually grow much because they’re very slow twitch dominant, their fatigue resistance and recovery is off the charts but they don’t make great muscular adaptations because they have the wrong fiber type for that.

Again some very gifted, often fast twitch people who are 6-7 sets a week for some body parts and they grow out of control.

Always pay attention to your recovery.

Summary: best way is to try to maintain your performance through a mesocycle and deload after. Start at 15, go up to 20.



Are there general rules for MRV differing for different body parts?

Mike: my facebook feed has all of this. It’s different for different body parts and different people.

Generally lower back, spinal erectors, hamstrings have lower MRVs than upper body muscles especially medial, rear delts or biceps.

If you try to do same number of sets for hamstrings/erectors as you would for biceps you’ll kill yourself. If it’s the other way around you won’t grow much.

Greg: I think a lot of it is how easy it is to get that muscle into a pretty stretched position. Comes into play with hamstrings. With biceps, if you go all the way down on a curl it’s probably not end ROM for biceps. You pump out reps but there’s not as much micro tears or muscle damage. Whereas doing good RDLs to an end ROM, you probably cause quite a bit more damage per rep to your hamstrings.

Delts have very high MRV because they are never in a stretched position. So per set, you’re just not causing that much damage.

Mike: muscle architecture has a role too. Some muscles are parallel fibres etc.

Basically: very complicated, no short answer, individual variation is king.



Should you shorten rest periods to cram more volume in?

Eric: aside from practical reasons (I don’t have enough time in the gym), resting as long as you need to fully recover (different for different movements, lateral raise might take a minute, sets of 5 on squat at 9 RPE might take 5 minutes) is best for the most part.

Eric believes mechanical tension and progressively overloading it is the dominant factor for hypertrophy stimulation.

Greg: I think we differ on interpreting literature from a what is true standpoint. As long as you equate number of sets, most people seem to grow just as well with lighter loads. From a practical perspective a lot of what goes on in literature just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Mike: I think that metabolite training (because it is unbelievably fatiguing, because it probably needs to some fiber type conversion in the short term, and for a number of other reasons) is probably not a sustainable way to consistently arrange your training.

It has been favourably received in short term studies, because they’re short term studies. Mike has tried metabolite training for extensive periods of time. What happens is the awesome pumps and awesome DOMS goes away within a couple weeks and you are pumping out sets and reps but don’t feel a thing. Nothing is happening. Because you got really good at clearing metabolites and you just don’t get the same effects any more. If you keep doing it you start to feel very overreached because the fatigue effect is massive. It’s not a sustainable way to train.

Getting stronger in the hard meat and potatoes work of heavy lifting, which is volume load summed up over heavy sets of 6-15 reps (where most training should occur), is the best way of stimulating long term hypertrophy. Every now and again, you’re going to want to use metabolites as a cool trick, but it fades pretty fast. So after a mesocycle of that you’re going to want a low volume phase to re-sensitise to low volume and then back to that 6-15 rep range you go.

If anyone thinks there’s an alternative to doing sets of 10 in the squat, bench, deadlift, pull up, row, to be really jacked, there really isn’t. You want big legs squat 500 x 10. You want huge legs, you need to inch your way towards 585 x 10. Sorry, but there are no cool tricks. You can mess around with low weights for a month or two, and Mike regularly does that periodically, but it doesn’t last in the long term. Where are these people who only lift 135 in the bench and have Big Ramy size pecs? They don’t exist.

If we take reductio ad absurdum regarding the literature induced claims that sets of 30 to failure lead to hypertrophy, in very untrained people even running protocols can lead to measurable hypertrophy. That won’t last. Pretty soon running you’ll see no more hypertrophy, and pretty soon you’ll see atrophy of type 2 muscle fibers. You don’t get jacked running.

The only way to get jacked in the long term is sets of 5 – 15 reps and getting stronger in that range. From a coaching perspective and reading the literature.

Greg and Eric agree.

In fact you may well activate all the fibers in metabolite training but it doesn’t actually help. Mike would bet money that even the really fast twitch fibers are activated during such training, but the forces are not high enough to actually train them. There is actually mechanistic evidence of force receptors in muscle fibers that detect force and trigger hypertrophy. Difference between using a fiber, and overloading it.

Slow twitch fibers hypertrophy to some extent with heavy weights but do so more with lighter weights. But fast twitch hypertrophy twice as much anyway. By definition your training should be biased to heavy anyway.



Does it have to be squat bench and deads? What about DB press or leg press.

Mike: Movements can be ranked for most people on average. Generally squats will be more effective for lower body than leg press, more homeostasis. Such compounds are the way to go to form the core of your program. If you have mechanical reasons or injuries then fine. But you cannot just replace squats with leg press + RDLs or something, it won’t be the same

Eric: I agree but don’t feel as strongly.



How do volume requirements change when you’re in a deficit compared to a surplus?

Eric: They don’t change! Your ability to recover changes. Deficit and surplus are not an on and off switch.

Right now Eric is not in a deficit according to the definition the internet would assume. But he just got up, it’s about 9 in the morning, he’s had a protein bar, and that’s it. Realistically he is in a deficit. It’s the summation of acute time periods of deficits and surpluses that define whether you gain or lose weight.

You can gain muscle while in a sustained deficit over time, although it’s not as efficient, harderer as you get advanced etc., and depends on how much body fat you carry.

What that means: the volume you need to do to grow is not different on a deficit. Bearing in mind if you are trying to grow on a deficit you’re doing it wrong unless you’re just really overweight and are going for the long haul.

So it doesn’t change the rules, but it does change your ability to recover. You have to pay more attention to fatigue management: autoregulation, deloads etc. May come a point when your MRV comes down just because you can’t recover from it.

Practically: your training should be mostly the same. If it’s long term like contest prep over months then for the first month or two no change, after that pay attention to markers for fatigue, stress, etc. If it’s just a 4 week mini-cut or something then it doesn’t really affect your training (or shouldn’t).

Greg and Mike agree.

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