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27 June, 2012
Lack of Volume
I would like to discuss a myth that has plagued the industry for some time and has been taken so seriously in the past that a major fitness organisation based their recommendations on this research.
It has been proven that if do only one set to failure you can improve your muscle mass or otherwise known as hypertrophy. If life was this easy then we would all be the size and have the muscle that we want. However when looking at this myth we may find some truth to it but it has to be taken for what it is – a specific study done with a specific demographic. Often to do a strength and conditioning research study you have to get volunteers who are free for the a set period of time. Often 12-week studies are done because 12 weeks coincides with the university summer holidays and these are the people who have the time and need the money who will volunteer for such a study. For these people who have an incredibly young training age (training age is defined by how long you have been training – anyone under 2 years is considered young) I agree that you could possibly make gains with these people, but any gains will be sort lived as there body easily adapts to the 1 set volume. The other group I would argue that could get a result from 1 set per muscle group per training would be the elderly (but again you could argue that it is simply due to their young training age). So yes it is possible that you could produce a study of 12 weeks in length and show that you have increased your muscle mass. However you are fooling yourself if you think those guys on the front covers of any health magazine use 1 set training, you will be sadly mistaken.
So with that myth dispelled we need to look at the adequate amount of volume within a workout that will enable to build muscle tissue. The big take home from this is to understand the inverse relationship between reps and sets. i.e the more reps the less sets, the less reps the more sets.
You need to expose your tissue to a certain amount of overload, and so with fewer reps the time under tension is significantly decreased. With this you need to increase the amount of sets you do so that enough tension and volume is placed through the muscular system. As discussed next there is a specific reason for doing both. But following all the other principles above using failure and full range of motion and correct techniques, when you do your protocols of heavier reps, make sure you are also combining these with more sets to get enough volume through your tissue for a positives growth and adaptation to occur.