How to Increase Volume Without Overtraining

If you’re struggling to gain size and strength it’s highly likely that you’re just doing too much total work each week.

When your training volume (total sets and reps per week) exceeds your capacity to recover you get no bigger or stronger.

The worst-case scenario is that you start regressing and getting weaker.

When most guys come to me they are in a somewhat “overtrained” state, but not necessarily because they are doing what I would consider high volume training.

Yes, the sets and reps are more than they can handle at the given time, but it’s usually not something that only Superman would be able to tolerate.

Most skinny guys are over-trained because they have poor work capacity and are doing too much at the current time.

They’re also training with balls-to-the-wall intensiveness, taking every set to failure and using forced reps on the regular. That’s what causes the over-trained stated.

When To Use Low Volume

When you first start lifting you’re coming from a previous weekly training volume of zero sets. So theoretically, one set per muscle group should be enough. And it will, however, you won’t get good at technical lifts such as squats and deads with such a low volume. A better approach is to do 3-5 low rep sets to practice the skill.

Your total weekly training volume can be quite low and you’ll still get bigger. This will work for a quite a while, but not indefinitely.

You’ll still make strength gains but muscle growth will eventually start lagging behind. Then there’s the issue of achy joints, which could also present itself.

Low volume training works so well for increasing strength that you almost have to get away from it for a little while, at least, just because the rapid gains tend to leave you feeling a bit beat up.

That’s when you’ll want to bump up the volume.

For skinny hardgainers I use low to moderate volume and the sets get bumped up systematically throughout the program in waves. This is what I do with MGS 2.0 and it’s the best approach for the skinny hardgainer.

When to Use High Volume

Soccer players have big calves, speed skaters and cyclists have big quads, wrestlers have big necks, mechanics have big forearms, gymnasts have big biceps, and the list goes on. That’s all the result of high volume training over the course of many months and years.

High training volumes are associated with muscle growth. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best idea for skinny hardgainers to start bombing and blitzing every muscle group like a pro bodybuilder.

There’s a reason I have never suggested that.

You have to get strong first.

That’s always the most important thing and that goal is better accomplished with lower training volumes. Then, after you’ve gotten strong you should bring up your work capacity, like Louie Simmons always talks about. This should be done by gradually adding more sets, slowly over the course of time.

Work capacity can also be increased by adding finishers or short conditioning sessions on off days.

Even when you have increased your ability to tolerate greater workloads you still need to cycle them.

So you start a program with low volume for a few weeks and slowly transition into higher training volumes. The higher volume phase could last anywhere from 6-8 weeks and then you taper back down again and repeat.

How to Use Both for Better Results

In general, lower volume works better for strength gains. If your only goal is strength then there isn’t much reason to work up to higher training volumes, except to give the joints a break when needed.

Moderate to higher volume training tends to work better for size gains, but only in advanced trainees who are already strong and prepared for the workload.  If you have been training properly for less than a year or two this probably isn’t you.

Get strong first then start increasing your volume.

Advanced trainees can get the best of both worlds by gradually cycling their training volumes up and down throughout the year.

Planning is crucial to your success. If you want to get big and strong you’ve gotta plan your training properly.

PS. Wanna remove the stress of planning your own workouts? Let me do it for you as a member of The Renegade Strength Club.

7 Responses to How to Increase Volume Without Overtraining

  1. Rasmus December 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Cool article Jason!
    I’ve been following your work for a handful of years, but I’ve never participated in the comments. So here goes:

    How do you feel about “weekly cycles” (e.g. heavy on monday, power on wednesday, very heavy on friday etc.) vs. the annual cycles you discussed in the article.


  2. Michael December 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    What strength should a Renegade be hitting before doing an RIC program?

  3. Daniel O December 13, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Hey J great article. I have been reading your posts for almost two years and have had amazing results by taking your principles to heart. I was wondering what you would recommend for inseason athletes? I play college basketball and i am struggling to keep my size, strength, and vertical up without depleting my energy levels. thanks for everything you do and I completely understand if you do not have time to get to this.


  4. Alex December 13, 2012 at 3:24 am #

    How bout conditioning work, is it important in increasing work capacity too ?

  5. Rock December 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    When it comes to high volume what do you mean? I find that high volume can be interpreted a lot of different ways for some people high volume is 3×10, for some it is 10×5, and then there is the 100-200 reps guys. Can you please give an example of what high volume is for you?

  6. Matt December 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    What would you consider high volume training ? How many total sets by muscle per workout ?

  7. Dave Miller October 10, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Awesome information Jason. Thanks. Having recently retired from navy Spec. Ops. I’ve always had the mindset that I can tolerate 10 times what I believe that I can. “Just DO it and the body will adapt.” While that applies to calisthenics, swimming, and running, which is what we concentrate on, obviously it does NOT apply to weight training. I have just turned 50 though, so injuries from heavy weights are a concern. What is your advice? Also, what is your take on the newer research that lighter (50% of 1RM) weights, taken to failure with only 45 seconds of rest between sets, builds muscle just as fast and is safer for the older trainee?
    PS – I own both The Renegade Strength and Renegade Diet ebooks.
    Thank you for any advice that you may give.

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