In order to grow we need to send a signal to the body that tells that particular muscle to grow, otherwise nothing will obviously happen. Lifters on steroids can create that signal by taking steroids. The steroid itself signals the muscle to grow and recover quickly, which is what allows them to handle so much volume, and time in the gym. The NATURAL lifter however, can only create that signal by placing a load on the muscle (aka working out). That signal is maximized after a workout but normally comes back down after 24-48 hours back to baseline. If we know this, then we know ideally we want this signal elevated back up after 48 hours so that the body is continually being told to grow (like the enhanced users). So it makes sense then, to spread your volume out, and hit the muscle more frequently throughout the week to create that signal. If you only did a chest day, then you’re spending the rest of the week with no (or a very weak) signal towards that muscle.
When you workout with more weight than you did the week before, or for extra reps, you are sending that signal to grow as well. We have a minimum recoverable volume (least amount of total sets per muscle to stimulate growth), and maximum recoverable volume (maximum amount of total sets per muscle before you can’t recover properly and hurt your gains). It is within this range that we individually all have a unique amount of sets it takes to create enough stress for a particular muscle to grow.
For some it may only take 10-12 sets to get your chest to grow. Others may need 15+ sets. This is where adding isolation exercises to add more volume without overworking the nervous system can help. The point is, I can write the perfect program, but it ultimately takes time and self experimentation in the gym to figure out what the optimal range is for you. Usually you take one lagging muscle group, and slowly build the sets up over a training phase until you can’t properly recover from that volume. Once you hit that, you’d take a deload week and allow your body to catch up to the weeks of volume you’ve built up to allowing what’s known as a supercompensation effect to take place and reap the muscle growth.
Keep in mind that it is for the more intermediate to advanced lifter who has more than 3-4 years of proper programming, and consistent eating under their belt. A more novice lifter will grow off less sets as the minimum effective volume is going to be less.
Note: Every set you should be working at an RIR (reps in reserve) of 1-2. That essentially means every set should be taken until you only have 1-2 more reps until your form crumbles. This ensures you are pushing it hard enough, but not so hard you couldn’t recover from it. I’ve spent way too much of my lifting career not focusing on this enough and wasted a lot of time stuck on light weight because I just didn’t push week to week.
This is also why you should be TRACKING your workouts. If you struggle to put on size, then you don’t have the luxury of winging your workouts. That’s the reason you’re struggling to begin with so start recording. It’ll hold you accountable to making sure you are improving on some aspect of your workout whether its sets, weight, or reps.
Linear Progression (better for lifters < 3+ years proper lifting) – Each week lower the rep by 1-2 and increase the weight 2.5-5lbs.
Week 1 – Bench Press 3×10 with 135lbs
Week 2 – Bench Press 3×8 with 140lbs
Week 3 – Bench Press 3×6 with 145lbs
Double Progression (better for lifters > 3-4+ years) – Take a set rep range for a given exercise, and each week try and increase the reps until all sets hit the upper limit. Allows for continued progress when you can’t continually up the weight by 5lbs every week of linear method.
Week 1 – Bench Press 3×10-12 with 135lbs (let’s say you hit 12,11,10 reps for each set)
Week 2 – Bench Press 3×10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,11)
Week 3 – Bench Press 3×10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,12)
At this point since you’ve hit all sets for the upper end, you can now up to 140 and repeat the cycle till you hit all sets for 12 reps again.
Frequency: Should be trying to stimulate the chest 2-3 times a week, to maximize the muscle building signal that a weightlifting exercise creates on that particular muscle. Every 4-6 weeks, you could change up the exercise if you find you are no longer making progress, not feeling it work the muscle, or need to mix it up.
10-12 total sets for the week split up evenly among your 2-3 workouts that include chest.
Every 3-4 weeks you should be changing the rep scheme or going up in weight, to create a newer stimulus that’ll help further progression as you get more comfortable with a lift and weights start increasing less and less per week.
Weeks 1-4 – 6-8 reps (more of an intensity phase focused on strength)
Note: You can go higher rep for the more isolated movements as they probably don’t need to be in such a low rep range and could cause a bigger injury risk.
Weeks 5-8 – 10-12 reps
Weeks 9-12 – 12-15 reps (more of an accumulative phase focused on volume)
Progression: Try to use linear progression for compound lifts, and double progression for more isolated lifts.
For more advanced lifters (3-4+ years proper lifting): If you find the chest is a lagging body part, you can also increase the total weekly sets by 1-2 sets each week, AS LONG AS you are properly recovering. This will help ensure continued progression during a high volume phase, as your body adapts to its minimum effective dose for a particular muscle group. Again, should only be done to 1-2 muscles groups in a cycle NOT all.