Common Pitfalls With High Volume Training
Posted by Shaun LaFleur on
High volume training has gained a lot of popularity in recent times (for good reason!). Especially among those who's major focus is maximizing muscle growth. All recent research seems to point in one direction: Hypertrophy has a very strong dose-response relationship with volume. So, the more volume you can do and recover from, the more muscle growth you can cause. But this information can be taken and misused, especially by those who are not experienced with training with very high levels of volume. For the purpose of this article, "volume" is defined as the total amount of sets you perform. Here are some of the common pitfalls that people fall into when starting a new high volume approach.
Doing Too Much Volume Too Soon
The amount of volume that you need to grow optimally is highly individualistic. One major pitfall is that when someone starts a high volume plan, they increase their volume way too fast and end up doing more volume than they're able to recover from. This is a recipe for disaster and can sabotage your long term progress.
While it is true that hypertrophy has a strong dose-response relationship with volume, there is also a point in which you experience diminishing returns. That is, after a certain point, increasing volume further will net barely any additional benefit. There is also a point at which doing too much volume can actually cause you to regress and stall, because you aren't able to fully recover from the work that you're doing. This will lead you to needing a deload prematurely, setting you back further when you could have been training rather than deloading.
Increasing volume too fast can also increase your chances of injury for multiple reasons, including more opportunity for form breakdown due to training above the workload you've adapted to, more chance of injury because of more sets done, so on and so forth.
How to avoid: The best way to avoid this is to slowly increase your volume over weeks, especially when you're new to high volume training and have no idea how much volume you can handle. Not to mention that your ability to handle higher workloads is something that has to be gradually worked on and improved. Not only do you need to worry about each individual muscle's ability to handle different levels of volume, but your body overall can only do handle so much total workload.
Gradually increase your volume levels until you find it difficult to recover from and handle, then either back off and bit and keep these volume levels steady, or use the approach of waving your volume levels, which consists of starting out with lower levels of volume at the beginning of a training cycle and then slowly increasing over the weeks until you hit a point where you need to deload.
Not Prioritizing Muscle Groups
Another common pitfall is when a trainee attempts to grow every single muscle group at a maximal pace. That is, they do as many sets as possible for every single muscle in the body in an attempt to make everything grow at a maximum rate all at once. This can actually have a negative impact on your long term progress, because you will quickly realize that this results in training above what your body is able to recover from. Remember, it's not only how much volume an individual muscle can handle that you need to worry about, but your body overall. For example, doing Squats won't only fatigue the muscles involved in the squat, but it will fatigue your entire body overall.
Imagine doing 30 sets of squats in a week. Do you think, even if you had time, that you could also do enough sets on your other muscle groups to grow them optimally? Of course not, the 30 sets of squats would fatigue your entire body so much you wouldn't be able to train your other muscles with any level of intensity that would drive progress. And on top of that, if you kept this up consistently, you'd constantly need to deload to allow proper recovery, impacting how much training you're accumulated long term.
How to avoid: Understanding how much volume you can handle overall and how much volume each muscle group needs to grow optimally takes time and experience. However, through trial and error and a gradual increase in volume, you'll soon get a grasp of what it takes to grow each muscle and how much volume you can handle. Once you have a basic idea, you can begin prioritizing muscle groups.
I personally recommend prioritizing 1-2 muscle groups at a time. To prioritize muscle groups, you'll want to train with an amount of volume that allows those muscle groups to grow maximally, while training other muscle groups with enough to grow, but not at maximal rates. It's important to note that just because the other muscle groups aren't being prioritized does not mean that they'll grow at a snail's pace. There may be a very small difference in rate of growth between growing maximally and just growing.
Neglecting Moderate & Heavy Rep Ranges
It's no secret that it feels easier to accumulate very high volumes if you're going a bit lighter, but some take this to an extreme and start neglecting other rep ranges. Training in a very minimalist way by, for example, not using rep diversity can decrease overall progress. For many reasons, including avoiding staleness and accommodation, using a multitude of rep ranges to make sure you're getting the best out of each rep range is ideal to make sure you cover all of your bases and continue progressing.
Moderate and heavy rep ranges are superior for strength progression, for example, and produce just as much muscle as the lighter rep ranges. By performing moderate to heavy rep work you do NOT lose out on hypertrophy, but DO gain the benefits each rep range has to offer, so there is no reason to neglect heavier sets.
How to avoid: Use a variety of rep ranges in your training. Don't stick to just one single rep range. A good strategy is to have light days, heavy days and sometimes moderate days depending on training frequency. Considering that you should train each muscle at least twice a week, at the very least you should have one moderate rep day and one light day. This is a form of undulated periodization which has been shown to produce superior progress to a non-periodized style.
Using Too High RIR & Performing 'Junk Volume'
While volume is closely correlated to hypertrophy, the sets that you perform have requirements to "count" towards this volume. A set must be performed at an RIR (Reps in Reserve) of 4 or less. One very common pitfall is that in an attempt to perform as much volume as possible, a trainee will allow their Reps in Reserve (RIR) to fall drastically just so that they can feel more fresh to perform additional sets. While not going to failure and allowing yourself to have a couple Reps in Reserve is a great strategy to allow yourself to perform more volume, when someone is new to high volume training they will often leave too many reps in the tank because they have yet to adapt to performing a lot of volume at a reasonable RIR. Many of their sets may stop 5 or more reps from failure just so they can continue performing sets just for the sake of racking in a high number of total sets. If you leave more than 4 reps in the tank, then you're likely not producing a very strong hyertrophic stimulus, if at all, no matter how many sets you perform of this.
How to avoid: Make sure that every set you perform leaves no more than 4 reps left in the tank. If, in order to do more sets, you need to leave more than this in you, then you're likely already performing an adequate amount of volume. Letting your RIR increase for the sake of performing additional sets will have no added benefits for hypertrophy and will essentially bad use of time.
Not Considering High Frequency Training
While training with high frequencies is not required for hypertrophy training, it can be a great tool to make volume accumulation much easier. It's perfectly fine if you prefer to train with less frequency overall, but when trying to cram a large amount of total sets into less sessions, your workouts can become excessively long, leading to a higher probability of you falling into one of the pitfalls mentioned above.
If your schedule allows it, consider training your muscles more than twice per week. This will allow to spread out your workload across more sessions, making them less time consuming, more manageable may even allow you to perform more total weekly volume due to being able to add additional sets to some of your training days without making them too long.