Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2004, 18(2), 377–382
!2004 National Strength & Conditioning Association Research Note
Department of Exercise and Wellness, Arizona State University, Mesa, Arizona 85212.
.Peterson, M.D., M.R. Rhea, and B.A. Alvar. Maxi-
mizing strength development in athletes: A meta-analysis to de-
termine the dose-response relationship. J. Strength Cond. Res.
18(2):377–382. 2004.—The efﬁciency, safety, and effectiveness of
strength training programs are paramount for sport condition-
ing. Therefore, identifying optimal doses of the training vari-
ables allows for maximal gains in muscular strength to be elic-
ited per unit of time and also for the reduction in risk of over-
training and/or overuse injuries. A quantiﬁed dose-response re-
lationship for the continuum of training intensities, frequencies,
and volumes has been identiﬁed for recreationally trained pop-
ulations but has yet to be identiﬁed for competitive athletes. The
purpose of this analysis was to identify this relationship in col-
legiate, professional, and elite athletes. A meta-analysis of 37
studies with a total of 370 effect sizes was performed to identify
the dose-response relationship among competitive athletes. Cri-
teria for study inclusion were (a) participants must have been
competitive athletes at the collegiate or professional level, (b)
the study must have employed a strength training intervention,
and (c) the study must have included necessary data to calculate
effect sizes. Effect size data demonstrate that maximal strength
gains are elicited among athletes who train at a mean training
intensity of 85% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM), 2 days per
week, and with a mean training volume of 8 sets per muscle
group. The current data exhibit different dose-response trends
than previous meta-analytical investigations with trained and
untrained nonathletes. These results demonstrate explicit dose-
response trends for maximal strength gains in athletes and may
be directly used in strength and conditioning venues to optimize
training efﬁciency and effectiveness.
. weight training, resistance exercise, sports condi-
The demands of competition have increased
steadily throughout time as sports scientists,
coaches, and athletes continue to systematical-
ly identify and specify auxiliary elements nec-
essary to succeed in sport as well as surpass predecessors.
As these performance demands have increased, so too
have the ‘‘stakes’’ associated with success. Winning has
become more recognized, admired, illustrious, and lucra-
tive than ever before in history. As a result, sports con-
ditioning and training has developed into a vital compo-
nent and determinant of success for today’s competitive
During the past half century, innovative exercise dis-
ciplinarians and professionals have methodically devel-
oped the basic principles of, and instituted new principles
for, the practice and implementation of sports condition-
ing. This growing emergence of the science of sports con-
ditioning, as an exclusive discipline in the ﬁeld of exercise
science, stems from the speciﬁc needs of competitive ath-
letes as well as the different training capacities of ath-
letes and nonathletes. The physical demands of sport are
generally greater, the training status of the participants
is usually much higher, and the possibility of injury is
more prevalent. Consequently, the need exists for effec-
tive sport conditioning protocols speciﬁc to the nature of
sport and sport participants.
In contrast to the former unilateral preoccupation
with the aerobic energy system that has historically driv-
en exercise science and sport conditioning, a multidimen-
sional approach designed to increase multiple compo-
nents of ﬁtness is employed in today’s strength and con-
ditioning programs. Of the various conditioning aspects,
strength training has become one of the most recognized,
accepted, and readily implemented conditioning modali-
ties for athletic populations. Furthermore, the study of
strength development determinants has subsequently
been recognized and embraced as a valid area of inves-
tigation in the scientiﬁc world at large (22). This concur-
rent acknowledgment has led to the widespread research
and use of different strength training programs for ath-
letic preparation at the recreational, college, and elite lev-
els of sport.
The 2002 American College of Sports Medicine
(ACSM) Position Stand, ‘‘Progression Models in Resis-
tance Training for Healthy Adults’’ (21) is signiﬁcant be-
cause it examines, afﬁrms, and reinforces the research
that has established various principles that facilitate con-
tinued and optimal strength development. Speciﬁcally,
the position stand emphasizes the necessity of imple-
menting ‘‘progressive programs’’ for healthy individuals
seeking to experience muscular conditioning beyond that
of general muscular health and ﬁtness. The distinguish-
ing prerequisite of a standard progressive training pro-
gram is chronic alteration of certain training variables,
including resistance, number of sets and repetitions, ex-
ercise selection and order, and rest period length (21).
Additionally, the statement establishes a requisite in-
crease in resistance training intensity and volume to ac-
company increased training time and experience.
Despite the widespread consensus of the administra-
tion of progressive training programs for athletic com-
munities, disparities still exist regarding the most appro-
priate ‘‘dose’’ of training to elicit maximal gains in mus-
cular strength (i.e., ‘‘optimal response’’). Most notably, the
dose quantiﬁcations of intensity, frequency, and volume
have emerged as being among the foremost disputed
training variables. This explicit dose-response relation-
ship, however currently intangible, would be an invalu-
able asset to all strength and conditioning professionals
as well as sport science researchers. Seasonal time con-
straints for sport signiﬁcantly inﬂuence the capacity to
optimally develop trainable characteristics of an athlete
or group of athletes. A consequential, critical need exists
to maximize the efﬁciency and effectiveness of sport con-
Establishing and substantiating sport conditioning
modalities by way of meta-analytical procedure is at pres-
ent novel but effectual for optimizing training effect. The
need for appropriately designed, speciﬁc strength train-
ing ‘‘prescriptions’’ in the athletic community is escalating
as the competition between today’s sport participants
steadily increases in quantity and quality. Research has
shown that there exists a continuum of trainable adap-
tations that appropriately correspond to a certain popu-
lation, based on the training experience and/or training
status of that population (21). According to this continu-
um, the rate of improvement in muscle strength on ini-
tiation of a given training prescription decreases with in-
creased training experience and current level of muscle
conditioning. Faster rates of muscular strength improve-
ment at smaller doses of resistance training are typical
during earlier periods of training or for previously un-
trained individuals and are likely attributed to neural ad-
aptations resulting in enhanced motor unit activation
(11). Furthermore, innovative investigations have begun
to discover that there also exists a continuum of the dose-
response relationship of certain training variables and as-
sociated trainable adaptations for different populations.
The most convincing of these investigations came from
a meta-analysis of strength training research (39). In the
analysis, 140 research studies, with 1,433 effect sizes,
were examined and carried out to ascertain the dose-re-
sponse relationship for trained and untrained individu-
als. Effect sizes were calculated and reported for intensity
of training (deﬁned as percentage of 1 repetition maxi-
mum [1RM]), frequency of training (deﬁned as days per
week for a given muscle group), and volume of training
(deﬁned as the number of sets performed per muscle
group). Effect sizes were used to present different dose-
responses per training status of the participants. It was
found that untrained individuals demonstrate maximal
strength gains when training at 60% of 1RM, 3 days per
week, with 4 sets per muscle group. For trained individ-
uals, results showed that maximal strength gains occur
when training at 80% of 1RM, 2 days per week, with 4
sets per muscle group. This extensive meta-analysis is
signiﬁcant to the body of literature because it identiﬁes
differences in the optimal doses of training to elicit max-
imal responses in strength between untrained and
trained individuals, it strongly supports the recent pro-
gression model outlined by the American College of
Sports Medicine (21), and it offers objective data that may
be directly used for exercise prescription in untrained and
trained populations. This type of study is critical, as it
essentially eliminates the ambiguity that surrounds the
fundamental training prescription variables for speciﬁc
populations, thus maximizing the potential trainable ad-
The recent meta-analysis by Rhea et al. (39) suggests
that the dose-response differs based on training status of
the participants. In their research, it was demonstrated
that the effort-to-beneﬁt ratio is different for untrained
and trained individuals, such that maximal increases in
strength are attained through different quantities of the
training variables. If the principle of progression holds
true, the dose-response trends for athletes will differ from
those exhibited for lesser-trained populations. The pur-
pose of this investigation was to identify a speciﬁc dose-
response relationship for intensity, frequency, and vol-
ume of training and the resultant strength increases by
calculating the magnitude of gains elicited by various pro-
tocols in an athletic population.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
Literature searches were performed for published studies
that included strength measurements before and after
strength training intervention programs among competi-
tive athletes. Computer searches of Science Citation In-
dex, National Library of Medicine, Sport Discus, ERIC,
and Medline were performed. Hand searches of relevant
journals and reference lists obtained from articles were
conducted. Criteria for study inclusion were that partici-
pants must be competitive athletes at the collegiate or
professional level, the study must employ a strength
training intervention, and the study must include neces-
sary data to calculate effect sizes.
Coding of Studies
A total of 37 studies (1, 3–6, 9, 13–20, 23–35, 37, 38, 40–
48) were read and coded for the following variables: de-
scriptive information (gender and age), frequency of
training, mean training intensity, number of sets per-
formed, use of creatine, training to failure (use or not of
RM training), and periodization of the training program.
Frequency was determined by the number of days per
week that participants trained a particular muscle group.
Intensity was coded as the average percent of 1RM used
throughout the training program. Volume was recorded
as the number of sets performed (per muscle group) dur-
ing each workout.
Coder drift was assessed (36) by randomly selecting
10 studies for recoding by a separate investigator. Per
case agreement was determined by dividing the variables
coded the same by the total number of variables. A mean
agreement of 0.90 was designated as an appropriate level
of reliability in the coding procedures.
Pre/post effect sizes, representing a standardized mean
difference, were calculated with the following formula:
[(posttest mean !pretest mean)/pretest SD] (7). Descrip-
tive statistics were calculated, and 1-way analysis of var-
iance was used to examine differences in effect sizes by
variable and training protocol with level of signiﬁcance
set at p!.05. Trend plots were developed, based on de-
scriptive data, representing a dose-response curve for fre-
quency, intensity, and volume.
Mean effect sizes data are presented in Tables 1–3. These
data demonstrate that maximal strength gains are elic-
ited among athletes who train at a mean training inten-
sity of 85% of 1RM, 2 days per week, and a mean training
volume of 8 sets per muscle group. Trend plots identiﬁed
that the magnitude of strength gains decreased with
training above 8 sets. Because of the lack of sufﬁcient
effect sizes for a mean training intensity above 85% of
Table 1. Mean effect sizes for frequency of training.*
Days/week Mean "SD n
* Days/week #number of training sessions per muscle group
per week; n#number of effect sizes.
Table 2. Mean effect sizes for volume of training.*
Sets Mean "SD n
* Sets #sets per muscle group per workout session; n#num-
ber of effects sizes.
Table 3. Mean effect sizes for intensity of training.*
% 1RM Mean "SD n
* RM #repetition maximum; n#number of effect sizes.
1. Dose-response for intensity.
2. Dose-response for frequency.
3. Dose-response for volume.
1RM, it is unclear if higher intensities would result in
greater strength improvements. Dose-response curves
(Figures 1–3) identiﬁed that training at lower volumes
(1–3 sets) and intensities (50–70% 1RM) elicited minimal
strength improvements among athletes. Effect sizes for
training frequency showed no additional beneﬁt to train-
ing 3 days per week over 2 days.
Participants using creatine, periodized training pro-
grams, and training protocols that involved training to
failure elicited greater magnitudes of strength gains (p$
0.05). However, these variables did not signiﬁcantly alter
the overall dose-response trends exhibited in the data.
Subsequent analysis would be necessary to determine po-
tential dose-response differences between varying crea-
tine supplementation procedures, periodization models,
and training programs to failure. In addition, effect sizes
were similar (p%0.05) for both men and women. Coder
drift was calculated to be 0.94; thus, the coding process
was found to be reliable.
The results of the present study conﬁrm the existence of
a distinct dose-response relationship for strength devel-
opment in competitive athletes and, accordingly, support
the principle of progression for exercise prescription.
More speciﬁcally, the data offer a quantiﬁed description
of the magnitude of strength increases elicited per vari-
ous levels of training intensity, frequency, and volume
and demonstrate a differential dose-response relationship
from the previous meta-analytical investigation, which
considered primarily nonathletes (39). The deliberate sig-
niﬁcance of this type of investigation becomes apparent
when contrasted with individual strength training inter-
vention studies that examine only 1 or 2 training pro-
grams. Though critical to the body of knowledge, these
studies do little to reveal relationships between a gamut
of doses and the associated strength development. The
current meta-analytical procedure provides a continuum
of quantiﬁed strength increases elicited by a continuum
of training intensities, frequencies, and volumes.
The results of this investigation demonstrate that
competitive athletes experience maximal gains in
strength when training at a mean intensity of 85% of
1RM (Figure 1). These results are in line with previous
recommendations that have discussed optimal training
loads to elicit muscle strength in athletic populations (32).
As can be seen by the dose-response curve, minimal
strength increases will be elicited by a mean training in-
tensity of 50–70% of 1RM. Further examination of this
curve reveals that when approaching a mean intensity of
85% of 1RM, the trend of strength development increases
with increased intensity. However, because of a lack of
Effect sizes for mean intensities above 85% of 1RM, the
magnitude of strength gains above 85% 1RM was uniden-
The optimal dose of training intensity for competitive
athletes differs from that found for trained and untrained
nonathletes by Rhea et al. (39). In their study, maximal
gains in strength development were found to be elicited
by a mean intensity of 80 and 60% of 1RM for trained
and untrained individuals, respectively. This disparity in
optimal training dosage per population is likely a result
of gradual neural adaptations to lower training intensi-
ties that accompany prolonged training experience.
Therefore, a progression to higher intensities is required
to experience maximal strength gains (Figure 1).
Effect sizes for training frequency (2 and 3 days per
week) were similar with no additional beneﬁt to training
3 days per week (Figure 2). An important issue when con-
sidering these data is that frequency of training refers to
the number of times per week a given muscle group was
trained. Many of the training programs included in this
meta-analytical investigation incorporated split-strength
training programs in which different muscle groups were
trained on different days of the week. Therefore, these
data demonstrate that each individual muscle groups
should be isolated only 2 times per week, but strength
training may occur up to 6 times per week if the various
muscle groups are separated accordingly.
This analysis demonstrates that maximal strength
gains are elicited among competitive athletes who train
at a mean 8-set per muscle group training program (Fig-
ure 1). These data unequivocally demonstrate the added
strength beneﬁts that accompany higher training vol-
umes than is proposed by and used in low-volume train-
ing philosophies. Moreover, the data support a quantiﬁ-
able needs difference in training volume between com-
petitive athletes and nonathletes, such that athletes re-
quire a higher volume of training to elicit maximal
strength development. In the previous meta-analysis (39),
it was determined that a mean volume of 4 sets per mus-
cle group is optimal for maximizing strength gains in a
nonathlete population (both trained and untrained indi-
viduals). Conversely, for an athletic population, the cur-
rent investigation would suggest a training volume that
doubles this recommendation for maximal gains. This
obligatory increase in the training volume for competitive
athletes supports the need for progressive training dos-
ages among individuals with more training experience
and/or higher initial levels muscular ﬁtness. As athletes
adapt to lower-volume training, there is a need for grad-
ual increases in volume to elicit continued overload of the
neuromuscular system (10) as well as augmented stimu-
lation of the hormonal system (8, 12).
In 1998, the ACSM addressed this issue of strength
training volume in the position stand ‘‘The Recommended
Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and
Maintaining Cardiorespiratory and Muscular Fitness,
and Flexibility in Healthy Adults’’ (2). This position stand
presented an initial benchmark for the strength training
prescription of healthy adult populations, offering a train-
ing recommendation of 1 set per muscle group and 8–10
exercises per workout. The 2002 ACSM position stand
(21) revised this recommendation to accommodate those
individuals interested in attaining muscular conditioning
beyond that of general muscular health and ﬁtness. The
subsequent purpose of ACSM’s follow-up was ‘‘to extend
the initial guidelines established by the ACSM for begin-
ning resistance training programs and provide guidelines
for progression models that can be applied to novice, in-
termediate, and advanced training’’ (21 p. 365).
Clearly, the progression models now advocate in-
creased dosages of training to accompany increased train-
ing experience and/or initial level of muscular ﬁtness.
Low-volume training programs may be sufﬁcient to elicit
strength development in untrained individuals but will
eventually lead to diminished returns as these individu-
als adapt and become more experienced (21). It is a sub-
sequent necessity to establish the optimal doses of resis-
tance training to facilitate maximal strength development
for given populations of more training experience. Cur-
rent data are consistent with the progression model in
that higher volumes of training are necessary for athlete
populations than is even needed for trained nonathletes.
For athletes, effect size data demonstrate a relatively
small mean effect size for 1-set-per-muscle-group training
interventions (mean effect size #0.32), a moderate effect
size for 5-sets-per-muscle-group interventions (mean ef-
fect size #0.64), and a high effect size for 8-sets-per-mus-
cle-group training interventions (mean effect size #1.22).
Consequently, these data demonstrate that the 8-set
training interventions elicit strength increases of nearly
1 standard deviation above that of 1-set interventions in
regard to magnitude of effect (Figure 3).
A note of clariﬁcation is warranted when discussing
the dose-response relationship for training intensity and
volume. This elucidation is crucial, as ambiguity and di-
vergence exists within the strength and conditioning com-
munity regarding ‘‘intensity’’ and ‘‘volume’’ designation.
In each of the studies analyzed, training intensity was
coded as the average percent of 1RM used throughout the
training program and training volume as the number of
sets performed per muscle group. This operational deﬁ-
nition for training intensity generates an objective, quan-
tiﬁable unit that is contrary to the more subjective mea-
sure of training fatigue, often exploited in ‘‘H.I.T.’’ pro-
grams. Additionally, rather than designating volume as
the total number of sets per speciﬁc exercise, total num-
ber of sets per muscle group is a more appropriate mea-
surement of the absolute stress applied to a given muscle
group. It should be noted that in accordance with this
classiﬁcation, many purported 1-set training programs/
philosophies may, in effect, be multiple-set training prac-
As previously mentioned, progressive training pro-
grams are marked by variation of resistance training de-
terminants (21). Many of the studies analyzed in the pres-
ent meta-analytical investigation incorporated periodized
training models in which training volumes and intensities
ﬂuctuated over the duration of the intervention (i.e., 3–7
sets at 70–100% 1RM). Therefore, it is necessary to qual-
ify current effect size data in that the dose-response
curves signify the mean training dosages. It is the posi-
tion of the authors that strength and conditioning profes-
sionals should not facilitate the implementation of resis-
tance training programs that employ prolonged durations
of constant training volumes and/or intensities.
Depending on the athletic venture, considerable degrees
of muscular strength, power, and endurance, as well as
neuromuscular control, aerobic capacity, agility, and
mental acuity, are often needed as an athlete competes
and progresses through the ranks. When applying the
current dose-response relationship for exercise prescrip-
tion among athletes, it is necessary to take into account
a ‘‘needs analysis’’ and assessment of the sport in ques-
tion as well as the individual athlete (32). It is essential
for the strength and conditioning professional to consider
the most appropriate training approach based on the fun-
damental limb movement patterns, energy system re-
quirements, and potential injury analysis for a given
sport. Further, for an individual athlete, initial training
status and training experience must be regarded, and
speciﬁc ﬁtness limitations should be emphasized. An ex-
ercise specialist or strength and conditioning coach can
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Address correspondence to Mark D. Peterson, mdpeterz@