The Value of Volume

Are high volume or low volume routines better for building mass?

The Value of Volume
Chris Lund


In Arnold’s day, high-volume training of 20-25 sets per bodypart was common, but you ushered in the era of one or two sets per bodypart. Does that mean high-volume training was wrong? 


No training method is wrong. What matters most is the quality, not the quantity, of your training. With that as my guiding principle, I arrived at workouts of one all-out set per exercise (similar to what Mike Mentzer advocated). That’s where I got maximum benefit, and more would be counterproductive.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and his contemporaries felt the same about their high-volume training, and there’s no doubt they were getting the most out of every set. If you’re able to progressively get more out of successive sets, why stop before you reach counterproductivity? 

The correct volume (sets per bodypart) is in the eye of the bodybuilder. My adherence to my one-set principle may have misled you to conclude that mine is the only valid program, but I always qualified it by saying that’s what worked best for me. I also warned that it should not be attempted before first meeting other qualifications: namely, (a) an expert level of experience as a bodybuilder, (b) ability to perform every set properly, (c) with maximum intensity, (d) beyond total fatigue of the muscle. All of those criteria, not the number of sets, add up to training quality. 

The same can be said for high-volume training. Far be it from me to say Arnold’s training was wrong. It’s what worked best for him, and it worked because he met all four criteria for training quality. Even with 20-plus sets per bodypart, Arnold could sustain superhuman intensity; although, I should say understandable human intensity, since he and his buddies worked out at the original Gold’s Gym, with its vast sidewalk windows, allowing views of bikinied Venice Beach bunnies. Who’s going to do only one set and leave in the face of temptations like that?

Intermediates should use neither low-volume nor high-volume training: they lack the experience, muscle control, strength and intensity for the former, and the psychological strength and endurance for the latter. Premature attempts at low volume with weight beyond their capacity usually result in injury or a wasted movement, and premature attempts with high volume invariably result in overtraining. 

If you are an intermediate, pick a median number of sets per bodypart — 12-14, say — divided among three or four exercises. This will enable you to practice control and pyramid your intensity, producing the quickest, proportionate muscle growth. As your intensity and strength improve, you will be able to reduce your volume, while still keeping the equation balanced between “just enough” and “not too much.”



  • Bench Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 6-10
  • Incline Dumbbell Presses | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-10
  • Flat Dumbbell Flyes | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-10
  • Cable Crossovers | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12


  • Weighted Chins | SETS: 4 | REPS: 6-10
  • Barbell Rows | SETS: 4 | REPS: 6-10
  • Seated Pulley Rows | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-10
  • Pulldowns | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8-12


  • Squats | SETS: 4 | REPS: 6-10
  • Leg Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 6-10
  • Leg Extensions | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10-12
  • Romanian Deadlifts | SETS: 3 | REPS: 6-10