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Posted 1 year ago

Maximum recoverable volume and Minimum effective volume

Maximum recoverable volume (MRV) and Minimum effective volume (MEV) were relatively new terms for me a couple years ago: although they were concepts I had a basic understanding of, I had never really looked at them in depth. And now, whenever I use those terms with new clients, I am often met with a blank expression. Therefore, the purpose of this article is discussed maximum recoverable volume, minimum effective volume, and how (and why!) you can work this out for your own individual needs.

Maximum recoverable volume

Maximum recoverable volume (MRV) is the maximum number of sets that you can do for a certain body part across the week and be fully recovered going into the next session/rotation. If you were to surpass this number of total sets for that individual body part, you could get weaker and encounter some sort of injury, rather than get stronger and cause an increase in muscle mass.

On the flip side of that, you have a minimum effective volume (MEV). This refers to the least amount of sets you need to do across the week to see growth and development for an individual body part. Doing anything under this number will probably lead you to simply maintain where you’re at or see a plateau in growth.

Let me give you a personal example to illustrate this. Personally, my quad volume across the week for the past 3-4 years has stayed been 7-8 sets across the week, split into 1-2 sessions. When I am in a gaining phase, I do not need to push the volume up, as they have always been the body part that has responded the most to stimulus compared to everything else in my physique. Equally, when I am in a dieting phase, the overall volume is low enough for me to be fully recovered for my next session and still make progress. Therefore, I have found my sweet spot for MEV and MRV – I can annihilate my quads with this volume in my sessions and recover enough between sessions that I can see weekly progress too.

I should add here that this doesn’t mean you need to go away and only do 7-8 sets for your quads, as there is a great deal of interpersonal differences between us – that’s why coaching is individualised, as what works for one person might not work for another.

How to figure out your MRV

The best way to start is to look at the current volume of training you are doing for each body part across the week. By that I mean examining how many sets of chest, delts, quads or glutes etc that you are you doing.

Once you have figured it out, ask yourself: what is that total amount of sets across the week doing to me? Is it allowing you to get stronger in each session? Are you seeing significant growth in that body part? Are you feeling fully recovered the next time you come back to train that area?

If you aren’t asking yourself some of these questions, now’s the time to start. Of course, it goes without saying that to figure this out, each set must be taken to complete muscular failure. On top of this, your recovery levels may vary as your calorie intake increases/decreases, meaning you might be able to handle more volume or less depending on what your current goals are.

Let’s assume that you are in a gaining phase, and you are trying to add size to your glutes. You’ve calculated your current volume and can see that you’re doing 8 sets of glute work across the week. If you wanted to see more of a response, you could simply start by adding a set every other week to your session(s) and noting the response (e.g., check-ins, measurements, log-book progress, recovery assessment etc).

If you keep slowly adding volume, it won’t be long until you reach the point at which you start to see a detriment to performance in your sessions; and it’s at that point that you’ve found the maximum recoverable volume you can handle. If you have noticed a slight dip, this is the point in which you’d reduce volume ever so slightly (by 1-2 sets) and holding training load where it’s at through your gaining phase.

Minimum effective volume

Of course it goes without saying that in a gaining phase, if you are prioritising a certain muscle group that you’d like to bring up, others muscle group will need to have less volume and may potentially not grow as much. It would be great to bring up everything at the same rate, but it’s usually not realistic or feasible to do so.

So if you were really trying to stimulate your glutes for them to grow, your quad volume might need to drop by 1-2 sets. Why? Well, most leg exercises place a huge demand on the central nervous system; thus, if you tried to increase volume on your quads as well, you may not see as much growth in your glutes simply due to the fact your CNS is fatigued going into the glute exercises or your next leg session.

You then need to ask yourself, what is the minimum amount of sets my quads to need across the week to grow and get stronger? Ass stated earlier, this is known as the minimum effect volume (MEV). If you are unsure, simply start by taking a set or two away at a time. You may find that you can get by on very few sets, especially if your goal is to only see a small amount of growth or even maintain that muscle group’s musculature.

This does not need to be a complicated maths equation: simply base it around your current volume and adjust to meet your own individual needs. You may not even need to reduce volume anywhere, whilst still increasing it in the area you are prioritising.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, taking note of the weights you lift every week is essential to be able to manage this (as well as to progress your physique). In doing so, you’ll have invaluable information moving forward in regards to programming and your current goals.

Differences between sexes

By now, you are already aware that the MRV and MEV differs from person to person. However, it is also worth noting that there can be big difference between males and females when it comes to these factors. This is mainly due to females’ superior ability to recover from training. Not only that, but they tend to be stronger (pound for pound) and as such, can handle more volume in specific areas across the week.

This can be a hard pill to swallow for some of the lads reading this, but I’ll be completely honest with you: every time I have trained with a female athlete, they often kick my ass. Not only do they lift more than me (relative to their own body weight versus the weight on the machine), but they also do more sets than me and are genuinely ready to perform another set quicker than me (quicker recovery).

This is mainly due to hormone differences between the sexes, and ultimately means that MRV and MEV will be very different for females relative to males. If we use Clara and myself as an example, when it comes to glute volume I will do 9 sets across the week, whereas she does 18-20 sets (almost double what I do!!). Yet if you pull our volume down slightly, we don’t see as much growth, and if you push it up, we can only handle an extra 2 sets or so before recovery is affected.

With that example, I hope to illustrate the difference between us both but also the fact that we’ve found what would appear to be our sweet spot for growth in that particular muscle group, which has mainly come down to trial and error over the years. It’s only been a recent change for me that I’ve pushed my glute volume up, as prior to this I was only doing 5 sets across the week. Since doing so, though, I’ve seen significant increase in musculature as my strength continues to rise across the board. Similarly, during Clara’s off season, we pushed her glute volume up by 4 sets over the space of a few months and held it there, and the difference in her physique is especially visible now that she’s lean (compared to 2019).

In summary, if you can work out the maximum number of sets across the week that you can recover from, as well as the minimum amount of sets you need to grow, it can be hugely advantageous. Start by adding/subtracting 1-2 sets every other week until you find your limit, and if you do find you aren’t recovering or getting stronger, adjust it accordingly. MRV and MEV differ hugely from person to person, but more so between males and females.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons