Volume and Intensity: What You Need to Know to Reach Your Fitness Goals

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We’re going to start by answering a few basic questions. First, what is training volume? Training volume is the number of sets and reps that you need to complete during your workout. It can also include frequency of training (how many times per week). Second, what is training intensity? Intensity is essentially how much weight (load) you are going to lift.

There’s been debate about which is better for quite some time now. We’ll get to that a little bit later. For now, I want to address how much volume and intensity is required for you to reach your specific fitness goal. Whether it be muscular endurance, hypertrophy (growth), strength, or ALL 3… we’ve got you covered!

There is a fundamental understanding among the weight lifting community that training can go one of two ways:

  1. High Volume – Low Intensity (High sets and reps with lighter weight)

  2. Low Volume – High Intensity (Low sets and reps with heavy weight)

We don’t see high volume with high intensity or low volume with low intensity. It just wouldn’t make sense nor yield any kind of positive results.

Muscular Endurance

3 to 5 Sets / 12-20 Reps / Light Weight

This is the muscles ability to withstand repeated resistance for an extended period of time. People that train for muscular endurance usually do so intentionally to improve a repeated motion. It is common for weight loss clients as well. Athletes that compete in competitive sports and folks that take part in recreational activity may also train for muscular endurance. You will not see muscle growth in training with high volume and low intensity.


3 sets of 15 reps with the same amount of (light) weight for each set.


5 sets of 20 reps with the same amount of (light) weight for each set.

Muscular Growth (Hypertrophy)

3 to 5 Sets / 8-12 Reps / Moderate Weight

As volume decreases, intensity increases. Strength training for hypertrophy should be challenging. Typically with my mass building clients I’ll go one of 2 ways. I’ll either set them up with a 3 set, 12/10/8 rep count with increasing intensity for every set OR keep a constant 5 sets of 10 reps.


1st set, 12 reps, moderately heavy weight. Note that at the 12th rep, you should be struggling.

2nd set, 10 reps, heavier weight than the first; 10 reps should be a challenge to get to.

3rd and final set, 8 reps, heaviest weight yet; fighting for that 8th rep.


5 sets of 10 reps with the same (moderately heavy) weight for each.

Muscular Strength

3-5 Sets / 1-6 reps / Heavy weight

When training for strength, it is a must that your muscles experience overload. Reps to failure are acceptable. At first, some of my strength clients would question me when I told them their workout may resemble something like this:


1st set, 5 reps to failure, weight is heavy

2nd set, 3 reps to failure, weight is the same as the first but muscle is being exhausted.

3rd and final set, 1 rep, unable to lift any more. Muscle has undergone overload.

While 9 reps may not seem like a lot, it doesn’t take many to exhaust the muscle when lifting heavy weight. This is required for muscle growth. Typically for a one rep max, you would slowly work up to lifting your heaviest weight. Here’s another plan that I would have my clients follow for strength gain.

Another Example:

5 sets of 5 reps at a sustained heavy weight. This should be about 80% of your one rep max. For instance, if your one rep max for deadlift is 200 pounds, 80% of this would be 160 pounds. You would lift 160 pounds for 5 sets of 5 reps.

Now, back to the question that was raised at the beginning of this post… What is better, higher volume/ lower intensity or lower volume/ higher intensity? My answer is simple. You shouldn’t choose just one. In my humble opinion, I believe that it’s imperative that you utilize both. The human body adapts incredibly fast. Sticking with just one will slow your progress. They are both important because variety is crucial to getting results. Incorporating accessory exercises into your training regimen will help too! Don’t let your body adapt to just one form of training. It certainly won’t hurt you to train for endurance, growth and strength. 

If you need help with a strength program, I still have spots available. Just click HERE and LET ME HELP YOU!

Until next time…


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I'm an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. I worked in a gym setting back in Florida for over 2 years, training one-on-one clients and leading group fitness classes. I absolutely loved it, but once we moved across the country to Colorado, I decided to take the opportunity to pursue a slightly different career! My obsession with exercise and love for writing collided, which is how I became a fitness lifestyle writer.

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