More and more research is showing that volume is a key driver for hypertrophy. Increasing volume can be done by adding weight to the bar, adding reps, or adding sets. Traditionally I would keep the sets the same and try and complete 3 sets or 6 to 8 reps of a given exercise. Once I could complete 3 sets of 8 reps I would increase the resistance.
Recently I have been dealing with hip shift in my squat as well as some lower back pain. So trying to continue to increase the resistance or add additional reps was not an option. The challenge then was how do I still make progress and not make things worse?
I decided to modify my training and do something I have never done before. Instead of trying to add weight or reps from the previous training session I decided to add sets. Week one – 3 sets of 6 reps, week two – 4 sets of 6 reps, week three – 5 sets of 6 reps. The fourth week I do a deload of 2 sets of 6 reps. The resistance used stays the same for all 4 weeks.
After this 4 weeks block I increase the weight and start the next block back at 3 sets. The exception would be if I was not able to complete the number of reps for all five sets of week three. If that happens I keep the weight the same for the next 4 week block.
Adding weight to the bar or more reps from one training session to the next becomes harder the more advanced you get. This also can cause a breakdown in form causing injury. Keeping the resistance and reps the same I am able focus on getting better quality reps. I also get more practice performing the exercise. This has allowed me to heal up and fix my hip shift while still being able to make progress.
So far I am really liking this new training format and will continue to train in this manner. It’s a much faster way to increase volume. As an example bench pressing 225 for 3 sets of 6 at RPE 8 = 4,050 lbs. Increasing this to 3 sets of 8 = 5,400 lbs an increase of 1,350 lbs of volume.
Now let’s look at adding additional sets using the same weight and reps. Week 1 – 225 x 3 x 6 at RPE 8 = 4,050 lbs. At week 3 – 225 x 5 x 6 = 6,750 lbs I have double the increase in volume compared to doing 3 sets of 8. So far I have found adding an additional set each week to be much easier and a quicker way to increase volume.
The key is to ensure I am able to recover from the volume. I think cycling the volume will allow for reducing fatigue and ensuring recovery long term. I may also need to increase the number of sets for some muscle groups and decrease for others. Right now I am using this strategy for all exercises as a baseline.
Brad Schoenfeld will be publishing a new study shortly that covers this and Eric Helms has just published a post called “Muscle Group Specialization Cycles: Why and How – Part 1” with Part 2 outlining what these cycles look like so I will most likely do a follow up post as I continue to tweak things.