We regularly preach the core fundamentals of building muscle; regular resistance training at sufficient volume and frequency, making use of the core compound movements, utilising progressive overload to ramp up intensity over time.
These principles, along with adequate nutrition and recovery, are the keystones of building muscle and they have been proven effective time and time again.
But we hope that we also make clear that these principles are not absolutes but rather recommended ranges to work in and around.
Take training volume as a prime example.
Most research and training experience will suggest a range of around 10-20 working sets per muscle per week for optimal hypertrophic outcomes (i.e. muscle size increase). This is, however, a broad range and there is a big difference between 10 sets of chest exercises per week and 20.
In practice 2 trainees may see very similar results despite training at opposite ends of the suggested range.
Conversely they may see very different results if training at the same volume.
Training frequency follows a similar path.
We know that training a muscle twice a week provides far better hypertrophic results than once per week.
But you may find that certain muscles require training 3 or even 4 times a week to see the results you want.
Conversely, other muscles may grow just fine with a single hard session each week.
It’s the same story with rep ranges, weight, intensity, how close you train to failure and a plethora of other training metrics.
There will never be an exact number for you to work too and even approximate ranges may change depending on your current training plan and goals.
The key point is, there is no exact answer for any training metric, and you can’t know what works best for you until you try it.
To this end you want to embrace the fun of experimentation and learning what works best for you and best helps you reach your training goals.
Plan your training in 6-8 week blocks (or a timeframe that works best for you) and experiment with different training frequencies, volumes, rep ranges, intensities within the recommended ranges to reach your personal goals.
This is also why planning, recording and reviewing your workouts is so important as it provides the benchmarks and records of what you tried and thus allows you to make changes and measure the improvements (or otherwise).
That said, you don’t want to be making changes too often and need to give your training a decent amount of time to assess the impact. And it’s best to have a specific focus for each training block.
For example, you may want to experiment with frequency and volume for just one muscle group at a time.
Finally, we would always recommend a cautious approach that sees you start at the lower end of the volume, frequency, weight etc. ranges and slowly increasing intensity over several weeks.
So experiment and see what works best for you at the different stages of your fitness journey.
Be the lab rat, but also be the scientist and record, observe and tweak as needed.