It seems that everyone has a different opinion about what constitutes the ideal amount of exercise volume that would promote maximal gains in muscular size and strength. Bodybuilding is notorious for the "more is better" philosophy, which means that the more you do, the greater the muscle gains. This, however, is based on nothing more than 'Bro science." While most current exercise science studies do suggest that volume or how much exercise you do is an important aspect of promoting muscular hypertrophy, exactly how much volume is best and how much will lead to overtraining and slow to no muscle gains was until recently an ongoing debate in bodybuilding and exercise science circles. In reality, the optimal number of sets has varied widely over the years. In the 40s and 50s, most bodybuilders trained their whole bodies three times a week. Training the whole body limited the amount of effective exercise volume, so the average number of sets per exercise was three sets, usually with a repetition range of 8 to 12. All the great bodybuilders of that era trained in this manner, such as Reg Park, Steve Reeves, John Grimek, and others. By the late 60s, both the frequency and exercise volume had risen considerably. Split routines, which involved training different muscles on different days throughout the week came into vogue. This system featured training each muscle three times a week, but rather than train the entire body in one workout, the muscles were divided into groups trained on different days. The number of sets also increased because the shorter workouts characteristic of split routing training made a greater training volume possible. As such, total sets per muscle group ranged from 15 to up to 30 sets.
But it soon became evident that training with that much volume, hitting each muscle three times a week, proved excessive for most bodybuilders. The split routine then further evolved into training six days a week, but training each muscle twice a week. This was the way that the majority of elite bodybuilders in the 70s trained, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Sergio Oliva, and others. The average training volume remained high on this newer type of split routine, again averaging 20 to 25 sets per muscle group.
But around 1970 a maverick and eccentric person named Arthur Jones appeared on the bodybuilding scene. Jones made his initial appearance into bodybuilding (although he had been a recreational bodybuilder for years) at the 1970 AAU Mr.America contest, held in Culver City, California. I attended that contest, and I recall wondering if alien spaceships had invaded the Earth when I stepped into the lobby of the contest venue. What stood in front of me was an array of blue machines, the likes of which I had never seen before. These strange machines turned out to be Jones' inventions, which he called "Nautilus machines." The machines were so-named because they featured a cam that resembled . . .