High intensity vs high volume for muscle growth

08 Feb 2022

High intensity vs high volume for muscle growth

What should be done to build muscles?

You know that gym requires regular and challenging workouts during a long period of time. Lifting progressively heavier weights an athlete gets muscle tension and damage which change the chemistry in the muscles. Here the hormones take part. Testosterone is the most efficient one contributing to muscle growth. Mostly it is bound in the organism and only training with heavy weight helps to release more testosterone and to make muscles sensitive, activating their growth. The athlete should avoid adaptation and that is possible when he adds stress overcoming the achieved levels, lifting heavier weights, and replacing a training program with new ones.

The bodybuilders know that the size of the muscles increases if an athlete challenges them all the time, boosting the level of weight and volume. Thus he manages to achieve muscle hypertrophy – the state when the fibers of the muscles become damaged. The body gets things going to remove the injuries by fusing the fibers. As a result, the muscles become larger.

The question is what challenge is enough to enable the body to function like that. You can put stress on your muscles in both ways as many bodybuilders do. Are both methods efficient to the same extent? The arguments “volume vs intensity” continue running.

What is volume and intensity?

Volume describes how much work an athlete is able or expected to do. In other words, how many times he repeats the exercise and how many sets he performs in the gym.

Intensity means that the workout is complicated and involves heavy weights to lift. It is about a constant increase in weight.

In the global sporting community it is widely accepted that the above types of training are not available at a time meaning that an athlete can’t have it both ways. He should either make more repetitions with lower weight or use heavy weight with less repetitions. So, what kind of workout is able to cause the fast and easy muscle growth? What is better: volume or intensity for muscle growth? You can easily measure them to understand. Volume is measured by duration (the hours spent on workout) and the amount of repetitions, sets. Intensity is measured by the weight lifted or exercising speed (for instance, running or walking).

What should be preferred?

The athletes build muscles by contracting them at the required intensity for the required period of time. It is vital to follow the principle of progressive overload increasing tension. And that can be done by two ways only:

  1. increasing the amount of repetitions and/or sets but using lighter weights making the muscles contract not very intensively but for quite a long time.

  2. using heavier weights but making relatively few reps, making the muscles contract intensively but not too long.

It can happen that the tension will be almost the same at the end of both workouts. The difference between volume and intensity is that the latter helps to achieve hypertrophy goals better. While performing a lot of repetitions without heavy weight exhausts the muscles and enhances endurance of an athlete. If you need to build cardiovascular endurance, you are recommended to apply both approaches, because the heart and lungs are actively working. You can compare the influence of intensity and volume workouts on the cardiovascular system with two activities: climbing up the hill or walking along the flat road on the condition that the distance is the same.  It depends on preferences: whether you want to walk longer almost effortlessly or spend less time but make more effort. In both cases the heart rate will increase but the muscle growth will be different.

Thus, if the weights, which an athlete uses, are too light, they will hardly cause sufficient tension to make muscles grow even if a lot of repetitions are done. We’d say that in the battle “volume vs intensity for hypertrophy” intensity will win. It is possible to choose different numbers of sets with minimum reps. If you want to lower the volume to the highest extent, you may perform only one set to failure for each exercise. In order not to spoil a low-volume workout, it is important to reduce the quantity of exercises too.

We hope we have answered all questions about volume and intensity in training. Summering up, we should confess that whatever approach is chosen, it is vital to provide optimal variety, changing the exercises quite often to avoid adaptation.