Volume or intensity for maximum effect: strength and mass

It has been the world-old question discussed over and over again in many articles. You cannot clearly define what is more important for mass and strength gains. Both the intensity and volume are extremely important, and their improper selection can lead to a training disaster. The volume is the total work per session (number of sets x amount of exercises for each group) and within a week. The intensity tells us about the scale of perceived exertion; it may be associated with relative weight.

A practical example: a beginner placed 30 sets on the chest in his plan. He spent the next few days with muscles pain that prevented him from any chest training. Such muscle groups like triceps or shouldes may also be overtrained in this case (key muscles taking part in many variants of bench pressing). On the next training session the amateur athlete can expect a drop in performance, and him maintaining progression will be complicated. Besides, "destruction" of the chest is not a problem. What if someone is tempted to do for instance 30 sets on their legs? After such hard training normal functioning (eg. walking up and down the stairs) will be extremely difficult.

What does research say about it?

In one study, published in August 13, 2015, 33 physically active men would do strength training:

  • age 24.0 ± 3.0 years,
  • weight: 90 ± 13.8 kg,
  • height: 174.9 ± 20.7 cm.

They were qualified for the following experiment. The men had done strength trainings for at least two years, the whole group's average experience was 5.7 ± 2.2 years. During the experiment the men trained for 10 weeks according to a fixed schedule. Before the proper experiment, the men underwent basic adaptative training which lasted for two weeks and covered six sessions, or one full week, containing 4 workouts and another with two workouts.

In the preparatory phase of the training, the following parameters were applied:

  • load: 80-85% 1RM
  • 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions,
  • 1-2 minute break between sets.

Then the men started the proper part of their training.

After two weeks of adaptation the participants were divided into two groups:

  • 14 were allocated to the volume group (VOL)
  • 15 were allocated to the intensity group (INT)

In the volume group the following parametres were used:

  • load: 70% 1RM,
  • 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions,
  • one minute break between sets.

In the intensity group the following parametres were used:

  • load: 90% 1RM
  • 4 sets of 3-5 repetitions,
  • 3 minute breaks between sets.

For the following 8 weeks the men followed such a scheme:

Day 1 (Monday):

  • back squats,
  • deadlift,
  • leg press,
  • lat pulldown,
  • barbell row,
  • barbell curl.

Day 2 (Tuesday):

  • bench press,
  • head down bench press,
  • dumbbels chest flies,
  • wide grip shoulder press,
  • dumbbell lateral raise,
  • tricep push downs.

Day 3 (Thursday)

  • squats,
  • deadlift,
  • barbell lunges,
  • rowing,
  • dumbbel pullovers,
  • dumbbel biceps curls.

Day 4 (Friday)

  • bench press,
  • head down bench press,
  • dumbbels chest flies,
  • wide grip shoulder press,
  • dumbbell lateral raise,
  • tricep push downs.

As you can see this is a hybrid training, one session covers legs & back & biceps, the second includes exercises on one's chest, shoulders and triceps.

Body composition was tested using a Prodigy™ device (Lunar Corp., Madison, WI) - DEXA method of Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry). In addition, USG photos of thigh muscle, vastus lateralis muscle, pectoralis major and triceps were taken.

Blood samples were taken four times:

  • initial (BL),
  • after exercise (IP)
  • 30 minutes after exercise (30P)
  • 60 min after exercise (60P)

Testosterone, cortisol, IGF-1, GH (22 kDa) and insulin levels were checked.