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I am 24 years old and a beginner when it comes to fitness in general. I recently started doing calisthenics regularly. I do 3 workouts per week. One workout consists of a push, pull, core and leg exercise. Namely I do push ups, inverted rows, lying leg raises and deep squats; 4 sets of each.

This question is in regard of my push up volume. I can do about 6-7 push ups maximally (I am a tad overweight at 98kg, and a beginner when it comes to strength training, that's why the number is so low). I do 4 sets of push ups to failure. I was wondering: Is this volume enough to trigger decent adaptations in hypertrophy and pushing strength?

The reason that I am asking is that doing 6-7 pushups simply doesn't feel very taxing. With squats for example I do 25-30 per set and after each set I feel quite exhausted. I also feel my quads starting to burn after about 20 reps. With the leg raises I do about 12 reps per set, and I can feel my abs burn towards the end of the exercise. Doing 6 push ups just feels "pleasant" in comparison, even though I do reach failure.

I think it is a generally accepted fact that working in the 6-35 rep range does stimulate hypertrophy equally as long as sets are taken close to failure. I also think most people would agree that 9-12 sets per muscle group per week is enough for a beginner to stimulate hypertrophy sufficiently. So viewed under this light my volume should be good enough, right? I just really am unsure because unlike the other exercises it doesn't feel like I am "going hard" even though I do reps until I can't push my own weight up anymore.

Any further insights on this would be much appreciated!

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I think it is a generally accepted fact that working in the 6-35 rep range does stimulate hypertrophy equally as long as sets are taken close to failure. I also think most people would agree that 9-12 sets per muscle group per week is enough for a beginner to stimulate hypertrophy sufficiently.

Stop doubting yourself. You just answered your own question perfectly!

If you're wondering why squats feel more taxing for you, there's two reasons for that:

  1. Squats use larger muscles to do more work, and hence expend more energy per rep, putting higher demands on the cardiovascular system. In general, a set of squats to near failure will leave the trainee gasping for air at the end, but a set of bench press to near failure generally won't. The smaller muscles used in the bench press just don't consume enough energy to be systemically taxing.
  2. You're working in a far higher rep range for the squats, which means greater demands on the anaerobic glycolytic energy system, resulting in that characteristic "lactic acid burn". If you were to switch to weighted squats, such that you were working in a similar rep range to your pushups while also being equally close to failure, you'd very likely find that you wouldn't get the quad burn.

Also:

I just really am unsure because unlike the other exercises it doesn't feel like I am "going hard" even though I do reps until I can't push my own weight up anymore.

Discomfort is not a good indicator of the effectiveness of a resistance exercise.

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  • Thank you for the clarification! It really does seem there isn't a good reason to work in the higher rep ranges like I do with squats then, if you can achieve the same hypertrophy with low reps and save yourself the discomfort. Maybe I should look into some progressions for pistol squats and do those instead Mar 7, 2023 at 11:58
  • The issue with pistol squats is that they require either enormous ankle flexibility, or shoes with high elevated heels. People often get stuck on these and think they're going close to failure when they're actually just hitting the limits of their flexibility and not being able to go lower without losing balance and falling backwards. They also don't really work the hip adductors, unlike regular squats. But they can be good to add in as an additional exercise, for variety. Mar 8, 2023 at 4:47

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