Effect of training volume on strength and muscle size

(03-06-2013) Increasing muscle mass is a commonDumbbell curl goal for many men training in gyms. There are many variables to consider when designing a training program aimed at increasing muscle mass. One of these variables is the amount of sets or series per exercise. Most research on the matter recommends performing three sets per exercise over one, except for those just starting with strength training. The difference in recommendation between beginners and more advanced athletes is difficult to explain, and researchers from Japan claim it is due to differences in study design and subjects characteristics. To find out the effect of training volume on strength and muscle size the Japanese scientists performed a very innovative study.

What have the researchers done?

To determine the effect of training volume on strength and muscle size, the researchers recruited eight sedentary untrained subjects, whose right and left arms were randomly assigned to training with 1 or 3 sets. This way, the subjects functioned as their own control groups and the problem of genetical variations between subject groups is solved. The subjects performed a seated dumbbell preacher curl to ensure strict form. Training was performed 2 times per week for a period of 12 weeks. Training intensity was kept at 80% of 1RM.

What were the results?

The results are depicted in the figure below.

Effect of training volume on strength and muscle size

Figure 1: Relative increases in muscle strength and muscle size











After 12 weeks of training the 1 set arms increased their strength by 20,4% whereas the 3 sets arms increased their strength 31,7% on average. Cross-sectional area increased 8,0% in the 1 set arms and 13,3% in the 3 set arms. All values increased significantly compared to baseline measurements. The increase in cross-sectional area was significantly greater in the 3 set arm compared to the 1 set arms.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that performing 3 sets per muscle group for sedentary subjects is more effective than performing just one set per exercise despite general exercise recommendations.

What does this mean for me?

When just starting resistance exercise, you will achieve larger increases in strength and muscle mass using three sets per exercise than while using one set per exercise.


-Sooneste, H., Tanimoto, M., Kakigi, R. et al. Effects of Training Volume on Strength and Hypertrophy in Young Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27, 1, 8-13.