Number of Exercises and Sets
many exercises and sets should you do for each body part for
the low volume
You can start on our Workout
Templates page and choose a full body or split program appropriate
for your level of weight training experience (see volume recommendations
below). From the specific workout template, choose one exercise
for each bulleted muscle group following the Workout
- One additional exercise for one or two body parts or movements
that are under par
- Split body in two parts (eg: push/pull,
- The greater number of splits allows for more exercises to
be performed per body part, but this subsequently decreases the
frequency at which each muscle group is exercised.
- 2 day split allows for one or two exercises per muscle group
with each muscle group being exercised every 3 to 3.5 days
- 4 day split allows for one to three exercises per muscle
group with each muscle group being exercised every 4.66 to 5
- Vary training volumes by cycling the number of sets or exercises
for each movement or body part
- Vary training intensities (eg: light/heavy,
- Perform an additional warm-up set for heaviest lifts (eg:
squat, deadlift, bench)
To keep your training volume low, only choose the italicized
body part listed in the specific workout template if you truly
believe it is a weaker body part, since they likely have already
been involved in other exercises. Keep in mind, small body parts
are also worked indirectly when performing other exercises so
you can get by with just one exercise for small body parts.
The number of sets you choose will depend on several factors.
The ideal number of sets is not agreed upon by all authorities.
Here are the ACSM
recommendations and research
findings. I personally suggest a warm up set followed by
one or two workout sets for each exercise. On a split program,
this translates to multiple sets for each body part if you are
performing more than one exercise per large body part.
Thank you so much! I have always wanted to build a physique
that I could be proud of. I have been involved in athletics for
as long as I can remember, however my athletic performance and
physique have always been average at best. I recently finished
a tour in the US Army as a paratrooper stationed at Ft. Bragg,
NC, where physical activity is more a way of life than a recreational
activity. I've also done my share of weight lifting, however
it seems that after about 2 months of lifting I would develop
an injury that would frustrate me, and I'd eventually give up
and go back to working out with my own body weight. There's nothing
wrong with working out with one's body weight, however I could
never gain the "mass" I've always dreamed of having.
After reading the plethora of information on this site things
are really starting to take shape. I've done about 6 months of
high intensity/low volume weight lifting, and I've made so much
progress that I'm still in awe. Best of all I've had NO INJURIES!
Thank you so much!
Former High Volume Veteran
I've been training with weights for 15 years. I probably
have not missed more than a week's worth of working out in that
time. I love training and thought I knew a lot about it. Just
recently I came to the sad conclusion that I have spent way too
much time in the gym over the years. I, like so many others who
grew up in the 80s, used to do 20+ sets per bodypart per workout.
According to the scientific literature all I needed to do was
1 work set after a warmup twice a week per bodypart to achieve
the same results (See Low
Volume Progressive Intensity Training). You are likewise
a bodybuilder. Do you train with low volume? I need a support
group for others who have wasted so much time in the gym.
began serious bodybuilding training, December 1979. "Arnold,
the Education of a Bodybuilder" was my original inspiration
and guide. Throughout my competitive career (see some of my competition
picts on some of the pages in the bodybuilding
section), I trained with multiple sets, although I had always
tried to get the most out of the least possible number of sets
After I retired from competition in 1990 and still a bit skeptical
of very low volume training, I experimented with performing only
one warm up and two sets (down from my typical 3 workout sets)
per exercise. Eventually, I adopted single set training (after
a warm-up set) out of necessity during my master's studies. I
haven't looked back since.
I'm rapidly approaching 50 now. Although I can't perform set
after set of squats like I used to...
Once in the old days, a powerlifter friend and I started working
out together for a short stint. Soon after we got started, he
suddenly disappeared while we were doing squats! After I finally
finished my sets of squats, I later found him in the bathroom
lying down practically moaning with his leg propped up on the
wall and his hand on his belly. He told me that he had lost his
dinner because he wasn't used to so little rest between his sets
Being able to perform set after set is not important to me
anymore, particularly as you have reiterated, you received the
most benefits from the first workout set anyway.
You may find, since you are spending less time in the weight
room, you may have to perform a bit more cardio or eat accordingly
to compensate for the shorter weight training workouts. Besides
that, I've experienced nothing but benefits: faster recovery
between workouts, more strength gains, fewer overuse injuries,
less need to perform more than a single warm-up set, opportunity
to work a few more miscellaneous body-parts, and more time with
the wife and kids.
Sorry, I know of no low volume support group, but perhaps
you can find an online forum board that advocates high intensity
training or abbreviated workouts for hard gainers with similar
philosophies. Best of luck.
Thanks so much for your quick response. I cannot tell you
how impressed I am with your web page. Your page is the most
comprehensive yet concise resource for fitness with the latest
scientific information. I have changed my routine based on your
recommendations for the last two weeks and already feel like
a new person. I have so much more energy in my day to day life
from not spending hours upon hours in the gym every week. My
strength gains in the last two weeks are better than what I've
gained in the last year. I'm not exaggerating. I feel like I
need to tell everyone who is wasting away in the gym how to workout
based on a scientifically proven method.
I have a question in regard
for Resistance Training Exercise (ACSM, 1995 ; ACSM, 2002).
I get the impression that you strongly advocate for low-volume
high intensity training if muscle growth is your objective.
The ACSM 2002 recommendation however, which you cite, indicates
higher volume, multiple-set programs. Could you please
clarify your stand on this matter?
Yes, you could say I advocate low-volume training in general,
but that is not to say I am suggesting single-set or mono-volume
training. I do not deny a number
of benefits of periodic high-volume training for both strength
and hypertrophy. I also recognized individual differences as
well as particular ergogenic aids that allow some people to better
tolerate and prosper from well designed higher volume training
The scientific studies
show a single set is sufficient for beginners and multiple sets
are only modestly more effective for experienced trainees at
best. It appears that the ideal number of sets required per exercise
or muscle group, both strength and muscle mass gains are quite
small in comparison to what many coaches and trainees have been
Personally, I perform only one warm-up (50% workout resistance)
and a single workout set for each exercise, choosing only one
to two exercises per muscle group. One exception for me is on
my first quad / glute exercises (squats, leg press, deadlift,
etc) where I typically perform a pre-warmup set with a very light
weight. And on occasion, I might perform a third exercise for
my chest (chest dips, dumbbell pullover, etc).
Incidentally, an additional exercise for a muscle group is
far more effective for strength or muscle mass as opposed to
an additional set(s) as long as the auxiliary exercise is distinctly
different from your other movements. For a hard gainer like myself,
it is important to budget the number of exercises and sets in
a workout by restricting the number of additional movements to
only the most lagging muscle group(s).
With too many exercises, the workout becomes too long and
intensity drops for all exercises, not only near the end of the
program when you get fatigued, but also eventually at the beginning
of your workout when you advertently begin to pace yourself by
holding back early on.
James Griffing, ExRx.net