One of the age-old workout debates is if high volume training is better than low volume training. For the most part, it’s going to depend on your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish. That said, there are some exercises that tend to lend themselves to high volume training. Nine of them are discussed below.
Almost everyone knows that the calves are a very stubborn muscle. Because they’re used every time you walk, step, run, jump, or even stand up out of a chair, they tend to need much more volume for commensurate growth compared to other body parts.
Standing calf raises work the gastrocnemius, which is the “diamond” shaped muscle most think of when calves are mentioned. Doing standing calf raises for sets of 25+ reps isn’t out of the ordinary if you’re really looking to stimulate growth.
While standing calf raises work the “showy” gastrocnemius, seated calf raises work the soleus, which is the long, wide muscle behind the gastroc. Because the soleus gives calves a very “wide” look from both the back and the front, the seated calf raise is just as important as its standing counterpart.
High volume training should be your “go to” here, as well. Because the soleus is engaged every time the knee is bent, that means it’s usually used much more than the gastroc. This means it’s more stubborn and will take more work to see growth. Sets of 15+ reps are fine, but be sure you do more of them (5-8 sets vs say 3-4 sets).
Like the calves, the forearms are a very stubborn muscle because they’re used so much in everyday life. As a result, any attempt to build them bigger is best done with high volume training. Whether you’re doing anterior wrist curls (bringing your knuckles up toward your shoulders) or posterior wrist curls (flexing your wrist back toward your elbow), go for 4-6 sets of 15+ reps.
Both cable crossovers and flies are an excellent isolation movement for the chest to get a good stretch and improve muscle quality. However, both can put quite a strain on the shoulder, too. As a result, going super heavy (compared to your pressing) is never really a good idea. You’re much better off doing more sets and reps, instead. You don’t have to use an absurd amount of volume, though – 3-4 sets x 12-15 reps is fine.
While the rear delts are better suited to high volume training in general, banded pull aparts should be done with even higher volume than other rear delt exercises. While movements like rear delt raises or face pulls can still get adequate gains done 1-2x/week for a total of 35-50 reps per workout, banded pull aparts should be done for 50-100 total reps, and could be done as frequently as every day.
This is because the resistance is much lower, and are often treated as more of a prehab exercise or a muscular imbalance corrector than a mass or strength builder. Sets and reps aren’t as important to worry about as long as you’re getting the total volume in.
Similar to cable crossovers, lateral raises are an excellent isolation movement for the delts. However, if you go too heavy, your form will break down, emphasis will be shifted to other muscles, and you could put undue strain on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff. Instead, keep the weight lighter and go for more volume – especially when compared to your pressing. 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps works well.
Done with one arm or two, kettlebells or dumbbells, swings are done as much for endurance and conditioning as they improve explosive power. At the same time, the ballistic nature and momentum aspects of swings don’t lend themselves to getting good results with lower overall volume.
The lowest you’d want to go would be 8-10 reps per side when doing single arm work, for a total of 16-20 reps per set (when looking at the work the hips and lower body have to do). In general, sets should be at least 15 reps, though 25+ isn’t out of the question. At least 75-100 total reps should be done, and 150-200 reps can be commonplace. Further, if you wave your volume up and down, it’s not out of the ordinary to see proficient kettlebell trainees doing 75-300 total reps near daily.
While a good bench press workout could be completed in 25-50 total reps, a good push up workout could see you doing as many as 250 total reps. Of course, a lot of this will depend on your current levels of relative strength (i.e. – how strong you are for your body weight). However, once you’ve built up sufficient upper body strength, cranking out sets of 15+ push ups should be relatively easy. Learn more about different types of strength training here.
Just be sure not to fall into the trap some bodyweight training enthusiasts do, and that’s doing too much volume, too often. You’ll see some people doing as many as 400-500 push ups several times per week. This is entirely too much volume and can lead to shoulder issues in just a couple months.
While barbell squats are the “king of exercises” in the gym, their bodyweight counterpart is an excellent endurance, conditioning, and calorie-burning movement. They can really cause your quads to burn when you first start doing them, but once you’ve acclimated, sets of 25, 50, or even 100 reps are more than doable.
Just be sure not to fall into the trap of doing too many, too often as with push ups. 250-400 total reps is more than enough. Don’t think you have to do thousands of squats almost every day as some bodyweight training aficionados would have you believe.
An intangible benefit to doing high volume training with bodyweight squats is that it works your mind almost as much as it does your body. Unlike other exercises, very rarely will a person ever hit the point that they reach muscular failure. This means that most trainees quit mentally long before they do physically. If you have enough mental toughness, you can almost assuredly “do one more rep”.
High volume training should have a place in your program as long as you’re doing it with the right types of exercises. Sometimes, it’s needed because a muscle group is stubborn, such with calves or forearms. Other times, it’s because there’s a definite conditioning element to the movement, such with swings or bodyweight squats. Or it just could be that you’re doing isolation work to finish off the muscle. Be smart about it and you’ll definitely see improvements.
You may also be interested in learning about German Volume Training which focuses on a different way of putting on muscle.