There are all sorts of groups of bodybuilders in the gym, at varying levels of experience and development. Just as their years in the gym dictate their physiques will be different, their nutritional, supplement, and training requirements will vary as well. When it comes to set volume, different levels and types of bodybuilders also vary what kind of volume they use.
Beginner bodybuilders often enter the weight room and jump right into unbalanced workouts. They do way too many sets for certain body parts, and neglect others. They grow imbalances as a result, and then modify their routines as they notice differences in muscle growth. Typically, beginner bodybuilders use too many sets. This can short-circuit their growth, as most beginner bodybuilders suffer more from overtraining than anything else. After a few bouts with the flu, and a few years of making minimal gains in the weight room, they will often consult bodybuilding magazines, message board members, or more advanced local bodybuilders for advice. At that point they will learn to limit their volume and they will progress to the level of intermediate bodybuilder.
Intermediate bodybuilders typically train in the 12 to 16 set per day model. They make good progress with this for several years, until it begins to stall as their bodies, and more specifically their recovery ability, advance to the point of no longer being challenged by the 12 to 16 set workload. As they solidify the muscle base, and then work to add to that foundation using isolation sets, it’s time to raise the set number from 16 to 20 and beyond. When that can be done and progress is still being made, the bodybuilder has become advanced.
More experienced trainers do need more sets – a higher volume – in order to continue achieving gains and adding muscle to their frames. This is perhaps the key misunderstanding that beginner and intermediate bodybuilders have. They see bigger bodybuilders doing more sets, and they figure that is the key to being that big – completing more sets. What they do not realize is that these more advanced bodybuilders may have been training for much longer, and their bodies are conditioned to endure this workload.
Busy bodybuilders often use low volume training because that’s all their schedules allow. They arrive at the gym, quickly warm up, and hop right into heavy sets, completing fewer sets with near-same results by utilizing high-intensity methods like drop-sets. This is acceptable as long as the same level of muscle stimulation occurs.
Remember that there is a place for high-volume training. It’s intended for advanced athletes. And the only way to become an advanced athlete is to train intelligently – and moderately – as one moves through the beginner and intermediate stages.