(This is a simple reduction of the recent November 2017 NSCA Journal with recognition to the research performed by Amirthalingam & Mavros et al.)
The typical adage of less is more falls in the line with the law of moderation. The typical adage you will hear in any gym and by generic programs from trainers is “3 sets of 10 reps” or what they consider their golden standard. However, there are many options to induce stress like eccentric reps, 1.5 rep schemes, pause reps, accentuated eccentric reps, pyramid (up or down), drop sets, supersets, and circuits. However, simply performing more sets with the same intensity can also provide the simpler bonus of more total training volume (TTV). So what happens when you train more? Can you achieve a greater result with the adage “less is more?”
Amirthalingam & Mavros et al. (2017) decided to pin two groups together: one performing 10 sets of 10 reps and the other performing 5 sets of 10 reps. Some context before we go any further…
Anecdotally German Volume Training (GVT) originated in the 1970s and only was used for two exercises in selection for a total rep scheme of 100 reps per exercise. Intensity was set at 60% 1RM or 2RM to keep metabolic stress high with only a 60-90 second rest period.
The purpose of the study was to compare muscular adaptations between both groups. Both groups performed bench pressing, lat pull-down, dumbbell lunges, shoulder presses, and upright rows for the 5 or 10 sets. The study also added in three additional assistive exercises to facilitate the volume that the participants would typically experience.
In the end body composition for both groups improved, however the 10-set group did not outperform the 5-set group in muscular hypertrophy. If anything the 5-set group saw significantly greater muscular strength and greater trunk and arm muscle thickness.
Conclusion: Less is More
(With an understanding of volume ~ don’t just perform 7 minutes of exercise and call it a day)
So it seems the law of diminished returns also holds truth to the world of muscle as well. Fatigue after a point starts to set in with anyone. Running high volume then does seem to have a breaking point. That’s then a good case for an individual approach for each person because training experience and goals all differ. Remember to always challenge yourself and never stick with the simple “3×10” approach.