How Much Training is Too Much? The Sweet Spot for Optimal Volume

Hey Angels and Alphas,

When it comes to training volume, there are two concepts you need to be familiar with: the sweet spot and the zone of optimal training benefit (ZOTB). Both are based on the idea that your body adapts to how hard you train it – so that if you do too much, your fitness will actually decrease over time, and if you do too little your fitness will decrease as well. 

However, at some point along the spectrum between not enough training and too much training lies the sweet spot, where your body gets the optimum benefit from your work.

What Is Training Volume? 

Training volume is the total amount of training you do in a week. It’s calculated by taking your average weekly hours, and multiplying it by seven. If you’re following a four day program, then you need to add fourteen hours per week to find your weekly training volume. 

For example, if an athlete trains with CrossFit Seminar six days out of the week that would be 30 hours (6×7) of total training volume.

Training volume has been found to have an inverse relationship with recovery. Higher volumes are generally associated with more fatigue and less effective gains during workouts. 

According to Maffetone, less than 16-18 hours a week was not enough. Other research has shown that optimal volumes vary depending on age and fitness level.

What Does ‘Too Much’ Training Mean?

Too much training volume can mean a number of different things. The two most common instances are either that you’re overtraining and need to take a break or that you’re training too often and not recovering well enough. In general, most athletes are overtrained when they’re feeling burnt out or feel like they’re not getting as much out of their workouts as they did previously. 

On the other hand, training too often can make it so that your body doesn’t have time to heal from any previous stressors, resulting in lack of progress or strength gains at best and injury at worst.

Are You Overtraining or Just Under Recovering

Since you’re reading this post, it’s safe to assume that you’re looking for the best way to gain as much muscle as possible with minimal effort. You’ve probably heard of individuals who train one hour a day and see rapid gains, whereas others feel they can never get an effective workout done in under two hours. 

A question that always comes up is which side of the spectrum do I fall into? What exactly is my training volume sweet spot? Let’s take a look at how many sets you should be performing each week and why. 

When we’re talking about training volume, what we’re really discussing are sets.

Some Rules of Thumb on Training Volume

1. Evaluate your training volume with the following three questions: How much did you sweat during the workout, how hard was the workout and how long ago was your last hard session (training volume increases when you’re recovering from an injury or illness).

2. If you are training a muscle group and have never worked that particular muscle before, it’s safe to do 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps of that exercise 2x a week. As you progress in strength, intensity and/or frequency increase. 

3. Varying stimulus is important to maintaining motivation and avoiding overuse injuries—keep changing up exercises!

Decrease in Performance Could be Caused by Underrecovering, Not Overreaching

All of us at some point in our careers will go through a period of decreased performance. This usually happens when you have been chronically overtrained and have depleted your adrenal glands as well as your fuel stores to meet the demands being placed on them. 

While it can seem counter-intuitive, this could actually be caused by not training hard enough and not recovering well enough. Additionally, if your training volume drops too low, it will take longer for adaptive changes to take place that would help improve physical functioning. 

While an undertrained state may feel better in the short term, over time it can lead to even greater problems down the road – so please heed this warning!

How Many Sets do You Need Every Week for Each Muscle Group?

There’s no right answer to this question, but a good starting point for most people would be 3-4 sets per muscle group. 

This should be around 10-14 reps, with 4-6 of those being heavy and focused on the area that you are trying to build. To maintain muscle size, this will generally mean going to failure somewhere in the 8-12 rep range.

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