Radical Gains: Get Big And Strong With One Plan!
Given that you're on Bodybuilding.com, you aren't interested in getting big or strong; you want to get big and strong! As a beginner, you can tackle both goals simultaneously with most basic barbell programs. As you gain experience and specialize your training, however, one of those goals will typically flag. The answer isn't to use separate programs that sacrifice one capacity for improvement in the other, but to use a smart program designed to improve both goals.
I've got just the thing. It's a painfully simple idea: Load up one week and lift big weight, and then get your high-volume pump on the next week to add size. Alternate heavy, intense lifting with high-volume training to build muscle and strength. By switching your focus week to week, you can control your program and obtain dual gains.
Before we dive into the details, I've got two caveats:
Your central nervous system (CNS) can fatigue rapidly, especially when exposed to heavy lifting. Athletes may be more conditioned to it due to the rigors of their training, but recreational lifters might not fare as well. It's good to limit heavy lifting days and numbers, but heavy "grinder" sets have their place and should appear in every strength-and-size program.
Cumulative volume refers to the workout volume on a particular day and during the course of a week. If you want your upper back to grow, how many horizontal pull variations are you doing weekly, not just daily? This will be crucial for size.
For strength, it's important to focus on quality for max lifts. It doesn't make sense to train to failure when the point is to stimulate the nervous system and recruit more muscle. We don't want to kill our nerves and have flat output!
I like to alternate a CNS, heavy-lifting week with a high-volume, high-rep week. An eight-week program of this nature will supercharge strength-and-size gains. As for the benefits:
- Most size-based programs ditch big lifts for isolation exercises. This can kill your max strength and lower absolute strength for more cosmetic size. On my program, you still get to work with heavy barbell exercises every other week!
- The neurotransmitters and CNS get fried during most heavy strength training, which makes recovery important. It could take several days for your body to return to normal depending on how much heavy loading you do. A high-volume week between heavy weeks is the easiest way for the CNS to recover. Focus on size when you're not focused on strength!
- You get a measure of fat loss benefits when you couple the hormone release of strength training with the low-rest interval of size training. Burn fat, build muscle, and boost strength? Perfect!
This is a general idea of what my program looks like week to week. Follow the ideas to help you build your own killer workouts for strength and size.
Day 1: Back
Day 2: Chest
Day 3: Legs
Day 4: Shoulders
Day 5: Arms (optional)
Week 1 / CNS Loading
Choose a major barbell movement for a given muscle group. For example, if you choose back, pick something like the trap bar deadlift, deadlift, or Pendlay row. Perform "ramping sets" by starting with a relatively light weight and going heavier on each set until you reach your "working sets." Go with 5 sets of 5 reps or 8 sets of 3 reps.
Finish your final working set with a "burnout set" at 60 percent of your heaviest load for as many reps as possible. The goal is to encourage more hormone release. Then choose 2-3 large movements like T-bar rows, seated rows, pull-ups, inverted rows, or single-arm dumbbell rows, and perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps for each.
Week 2 / High-Volume
Choose the same barbell movement for the given muscle group and employ a high-volume training method. This can involve anything from a simple protocol of 5 working sets of 10-12 reps to advanced lifting methods that increase time under tension, employ rest-pause sets, or involve strip sets.
Your leg day, for example, could follow German volume training for 10 sets of 10 reps, or you could try one of my personal favorites, ladder sets. Ladder sets involve multiple rep schemes with short intra-set rest periods. Watch them kill me in the video below.
Squat Ladder Set
Watch The Video - 03:32
Use five working ladder sets and limit your rest intervals to no more than two minutes between sets. This will be the primary movement for your workout.
Now, like the CNS week, choose 4 more exercises to perform as 2 supersets and perform a minimum of 12 reps per exercise. Keeping with the leg day example, two high-rep superset exercises could be:
Other good exercises include rear-leg elevated split squats, leg extensions, or deficit reverse lunges.
Deficit Reverse Lunges
Watch The Video - 00:20
The above ideas should show you how to structure the overall system. It's important to note that this program structure won't render the absolute greatest results for strength or size, but it will ensure that you don't lose your capacity for either. It will help you get and stay big, and allow you to keep heavy lifts in your routine. If you want to kill two birds with one stone, this is a sure-fire way to blast your muscles for maximum strength and size!
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I don't think so. My program is similar to this, but its designed a little differently. I would say if you want to follow this, on your heavy weeks, try to add 2-5 pounds to each lift. The whole point is to add mass one week, and then "teach" that newly added mass how to do things right the next week. I would try this for eight weeks or so. I wouldn't be surprised if your big three went up. Check out my current program titled: Steve's Strength and Density
You will lose a little bit of strength, and if size is your goal you will probably lose a bit of water retention in your muscle and kinda slow down muscle growth. You won't see a rapid decline in strength but probably by your fourth week of doing them you will see that you can do 5-10lbs less than you are used to now
From personal experience, I think so. Anytime I dis the deadlifts, it comes back to haunt me in the form of overall weaker core and lower body strength.
You can make up for it in other places, but to me, some exercises aren't worth missing.
Not being facetious, but I think you missed the title completely. "Size PLUS Strength". And "real" body builders don't need a strength program to ignite growth; the chemicals do that for them. Strength ---> More weight on high rep exercises ---> Gains. But everyone to their own.
Says the guy that is 6'4", 170, and only has pictures of his abs and arms...... And no, not ALL bodybuilders have done high volume and intensity. But thank you king bro for your highly educational and science-based comment.
LOL!!! - dwest62 took the comment right out of my mouth. I've never been 170lbs at my current height. Wouldn't be fun...Anyways, thanks for the comments on my article folks - appreciate it! :)
As mentioned in the article, it's a way to maintain both without sacrificing either.
There's more than one way to skin the cat my friend. Body Builders have also been doing 5x5 training for over half a century, and that isn't exactly high volume. I've actually had my best results doing the Ice Cream Fitness 5x5 after I did High Volume for over a year.
I don't really have much to say about this but guys calling someone out with height and weight isn't right he had his thoughts but no reason to call someone out. Maybe he just started and maybe he didn't at least we all go to gyms and workout. We are all trying be positive to one another. Sorry if this gets anyone made if you have a problem with it hit me up I don't care but don't call people out that's not right
Paul I agree about putting things a little more eloquently, however him attempting to call out a professional with a business isn't the best idea. And actually a lot of the top pros do not train heavy high volume 24/7. I think it is a very well put together article and has some solid points. Too many people don't understand the CNS function with working out and recovery. Many people perhaps even snowbro up there, over stim the cns with synthetic caffeine and rarely give it a chance to recover. Not to mention the proper nutrition to do so as well.
Best wishes to all, we are all crushing everyone that sits on the couch and just wants a better body.
I like to do workouts that help me put up more weight on my dead lift, bench, squats, and military press. Do you think just applying your principle to my workouts would have the same effect?
It sounds like your goals are more tailored towards a purely "strength" oriented program. This will give you marginal gains in both the strength and size department.
Great article! Can't wait to try ladder sets for squats, they seem intense. I have one question tho. My current workout program incorporates one heavy compound lift usually 4 sets of 6-8, followed by 3-4 more exercises with reps in the 8-12 range, 4 sets each and the same 4 day split. Is my current program more tailored to strength gains or size? My goal right now is to build muscle mass as opposed to strength.