Should you do less volume in the cut? According to three experts

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When cuting, you will be in an energy deficit for a longer period of time. That has consequences for your strength training. For example, the capacity to recover from that training will be less great. Therefore, it seems logical to reduce the training volume during the cut, so to do fewer sets. But is that true? A thorny issue, on which three renowned coaches shine their light.

BRAD SCHOENFELD

Many fitness coaches see two good reasons to reduce the volume during the cut: on the one hand you will not be able to achieve muscle growth and your goal is muscle maintenance, on the other hand your recovery capacity is smaller and you will therefore have to do less volume than during the bulk.

Hypertrophy researcher and author Brad Schoenfeld also held the same opinion for a long time: you do fewer sets in the cut. But scientific insights are constantly evolving. His own recent review, for example, has made  him doubt.

That review is a literature review that includes fifteen studies examining the relationship between training volume and calorie level. Schoenfeld and co come to the conclusion that reducing volume during a calorie deficit offers no benefits. In fact, to some extent the data suggests that doing fewer sets actually has a negative effect on muscle retention. Incidentally, this negative effect was mainly found in women, something for which no clear reasons were found.

The findings contradict what many fitness coaches have been saying for years. But in a blog article, Schoenfeld points out that many of them mistakenly refer to a well-known study by Bickel et al. This study showed that young, moderately experienced strength athletes are able to maintain their muscle mass at only 1/9 of their regular training volume. Important note: the participants were not on a calorie-restricted diet. And it is unlikely that one will get by with only 1/9 of the volume even with a calorie deficit.

Schoenfeld notes:

The available evidence challenges the commonly held opinion that lifting volume should be reduced during a caloric deficit, with some evidence favoring higher volumes in the preservation of lean mass.

Schoenfeld also notes that the differences between individuals can be large. There are several factors to consider if you want to put research results into practice, such as training status, training volume before the cut, size of the energy deficit, body fat percentage and the amount of cardio you do. For example, loss of muscle mass in the cut is almost inevitable with very low body fat percentages, regardless of the training volume.

ERIC HELMS

Schoenfeld’s colleague Eric Helms adds some nuances to this issue.

According to him, in principle there should indeed be no essential difference between training in the bulk and training in the cut:

The way you should train for hypertrophy is the way you should train for hypertrophy. Regardless of whether you’re in a calorie surplus or calorie deficit.

So you should always aim for progressive overload, even if that will probably not give you muscle growth in the cut.

However, you should keep in mind that training causes fatigue, for which you have less recovery capacity available in the cut than in the bulk. That’s why, according to Helms, it’s okay to moderate the volume a bit, but:

It should probably still be the most you can do given your ability to recover from it.

In practice, according to Helms, that means doing a little more than two-thirds of your volume in the bulk. You also try to optimize your recovery, for example by inserting a deload week every five to six weeks . You can also slow down on other aspects of your training, such as the relative intensity (the number of Reps In Reserve).

MENNO HENSELMANS

A new study, by Roth et al. (2022), examined the training results of experienced strength athletes in two groups: medium volume and high volume, both during a calorie deficit, for six weeks. Coach Menno Henselmans devotes a critical review to it on his site.

The outcome of the study is that there is little or no difference between the two volume groups, looking at muscle thickness, fat loss, loss of lean body mass or strength development.

Nevertheless, Henselmans, based on his practical experience as a coach, recommends a lower volume than when bulking. After all: an energy deficit logically implies a recovery shortage. Henselmans:

In my experience, a 20-33% decrease in training volume when cutting compared to when bulking works well for most people.

This recommendation is in line with Eric Helms’s.

CONCLUSION

Training volume in the cut has not been studied nearly as much scientifically as volume in bulking. The existing literature does not provide convincing results.

But from the training practice of renowned coaches, we can say that you should continue to train as much as possible in the cut as in the bulk, but with a smaller recovery capacity. Because of the latter, you use a slightly smaller training volume in the cut than in the bulk, i.e. about 20-33% fewer sets.

Keep in mind that this kind of advice is very general. The optimal training volume in the cut depends on individual factors, including training status, body fat percentage and the size of the energy deficit.

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